Komagata Maru

This morning I attended the commemoration of the one-hundred year anniverP1040449sary of the Komagata Maru, a gathering of Vancouver Sikhs and east Indians.

On May 23rd, 1914, the Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour carrying 376 passengers from Punjab, India all seeking asylum in Canada. The Komagata Maru passengers were subjects of the British Empire and many had fought for Britain. “We are British citizens and we consider we have a right to visit any part of the Empire,” said Gurdit Singh, the Hong Kong-based Sikh businessman who had chartered the Komagata Maru. However, Canadian immigration authorities prohibited the passengers from landing and no-one was allowed on or off the ship. For the passengers, this caused considerable hardship from lack of food and water, access to medical attention, and lack of communication with their families. Their legal counsel, J. Edward Bird, was denied the right of access to his clients for weeks.

Why? Canada’s Continuous Passage ReKomagata Maru Passengersgulation of the time required that immigrants to Canada arrive by a single, direct journey 
from their country of origin. This policy was viewed as a roundabout means to exclude Indian 
immigration and to preserve - in the words of a popular song of the 
time - “White Canada forever.” The law was challenged in Canada’s courts. However, after being stranded for two months, on July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru was forced to leave. When the ship arrived in Budge Budge, India on September 29th, riots broke out and many of passengers were killed by the British Indian police.

The Komagata Maru incident of 1914 is one chapter in a long struggle to create 
a Canada that resists racism. Archived documentation including Harper’s apology is available here: http://komagatamarujourney.ca/incident.  The Story of the Komagata Maru, a co-production between India’s Salman Khan Films and Toronto’s First Take, will begin shooting next year in India, Britain, Hong Kong and Canada.

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My sabbatical year

The year 2013-14 was one of change and re-orientation. I went to Michigan to visit family as my father had been ill during the past year. When I returned to Montreal, I began exploring areas of professional interest and upgrading my skills:

Archival and Records Management were specializations entirely new to me.  In Archival Principles and Practice, I learned about the postmodern  archival mandate of archives which today highlight “process rather than product, becoming rather than being, dynamic rather than static, context rather than text, reflecting time and place rather than universal absolutes – these have become the postmodern (context) for analyzing and understanding (archival) science.”

Having had experience in proposal development and fund-raising, I considered furthering this skill. The course, « Recherche, analyse et gestion de l’information et des données », part of the Certificat en gestion philanthropique at the Université de Montréal examined how to work with donor information to identify new prospects, map donor relationships, define various levels of giving, relationship management, and analytics. This knowledge could be useful in the right context.

I discovered Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling and began taking their workshops: Oral History Interviewing, a seminar on Ethics in Human research, and conferences by creative oral historians. Oral History aims to capture and preserve stories from an individual perspective for local history for archives.

Finally, I continued to improve my français écrit through the Program de francisation du Ministère de l’Immigration, Culture et Communication du Québec.

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My Preoccupation with Traditional Knowledge

Reductionist science and the marginalization of traditional, local knowledge (TK) has preoccupied me since working at Ecological Agriculture Projects (1989-1995), a resource centre at Macdonald College of McGill University. We were a small, dedicated team of agronomists and information management professionals developing access to an immense and unique body of ‘grey literature’ describing ecological agricultural principles and practices. This special collection of knowledge produced by farmers for farmers contained concepts not included either in the Library of Congress subject-headings. So that in developing access to the collection, we hired graduate students with expertise in ecological agriculture to develop a new classification system and to assign classification to documentation.

Bodies of knowledge represent different ways of knowing. The fact that this body of knowledge was neither collected nor disseminated within the mainstream of academic journals, and barely part of research agendas, highlighted one means in which a dominant knowledge system narrows our field of vision, ignoring other ways of knowing the world.

The pressures of modernization and cultural homogenization threaten indigenous systems and practices – in agriculture, in medicine, and resource use. Around the early 1990s, traditional knowledge began to be recognized as an innovative approach to conserving biodiversity as well as for its commercial uses.  The trend to commodify TK represented a danger as it could ignore the social structures that have generated this knowledge and the livelihoods on which many indigenous communities and the knowledge itself depend.

The Convention on Biological Diversity addresses ex situ preservation and favours conservation of TK within socio-cultural and ecological contexts of the systems. How to incorporate traditional knowledge in working with farmers, in development programs in order to protect culture and livelihoods? What strategies and incentives can be used to encourage inclusion of indigenous communities as equal partners in the collection and exchange of TK?

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Following a contract with IDRC researching Plant Genetic Conservation and intellectual property issues, I decided to carry-out fieldwork on TK as part of my M.A. in Anthropology. The USC Canada-Nepal “Seeds of Survival” program mandated to save threatened crop varieties and to promote strong rural communities and healthy ecosystems around the world inspired me further. In May 2004, I traveled to the Nepal office in Kathmandu in May 2004 with a research plan. I was to accompany two agricultural field officers into the mid-hills of the Himalayas.
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Beginnings

Six SiblingsWhere did this journey begin, what set me on my path to become a librarian and a seeker of knowledge?  Every Friday evening as a child, the four older children walked with my father across the entire length of Chandler Park to the Detroit Public Library. I left with as many books as I could carry – stories, traditional fairy tales, adventure tales such as Robinson Crusoe, Island of the Blue Dolphins.

miss rumphiusA fictional character who I admired as a child is Miss Rumphius. This children’s book by Barbara Cooney depicts the life of the Librarian, Miss Rumphius. She brings stories to children and adults, and a desire to do something to make the world more beautiful. She leaves her mark by planting beautiful lupins over the entire countryside.

Years later in Montreal, I completed my undergraduate degree in English Literature where I studied the canon of Western literature from the Ancients to the Moderns. E.M. Forster’s his depiction of the culture clash in British India portrayed in A Passage to India opened my eyes to the world.  The character of Mrs. Moore in Forster’s Passage is wise and respectful of other cultures and has spiritual leanings. In contract to Adela’s cerebral perspective and fear of mystical qualities, Mrs. Moore relies on her heart to make connections. She is open to the Hindu tenet of the oneness and unity of all living things. Such a portrayal was radical for Colonial Britain in 1924.

geralyne wildflowersI enjoy exploring the countryside and generally bring along a plant or bird naming books: Wildflowers across the Prairies and Birding Tanzania for example. I enjoy walking and observing, stopping to look up the precise name of a flower, a tree, or a bird. In my home library, I refer to Mrs. Maud Grieve’s “A Modern Herbal,” first published in 1931, giving medicinal and culinary properties, conventional wisdom, and cultivation from all over the world. Susun Weeds’ became the source for herbal remedies, taking her “bone remedy” of nettles and herbal teas with medicinal value.

I began my career in 1989 as an “Agrarian Librarian.” One of two information professionals and two agronomists at EAP, we were passionate about our mission: to make ecological farming practices accessible to farmers across the planet. Director, Dr. Stuart Hill, a professor of entomology, revolted against agricultural practices in Canada, so unlike methods in England. He started collecting farmers’ knowledge published in magazines, newsletters, bulletins, and organic research reports produced by farmers. We created the database along with a classification system and indexing terms. I oversaw the work of graduate student assistants who analyzed, classified, and filed the documents. A wonderful learning experience, I learned about Composting, Rotations, Permaculture, and Biodynamics.

Becoming aware of the political nature of “grey literature” which exists quite separately from the conventional stream of published information, Traditional Knowledge was the subject of my Master’s thesis, and the topic of my next post.

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