The Flygskam Scam


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In reading and thinking about my eco-anxiety, I’ve recently learned of a Swedish neologism that describes a new way of thinking about air travel: flygskam: flight guilt. I expect that like hygge, flygskam will soon be a part of the English lexicon. Because so many of us have eco-anxiety. Which is definitely not hygge.



Flygskam :: Flight guilt 

Back when I was teaching my Theory in Anthropology courses it was challenging but not impossible, in the early 90s, to get students to imagine a society where the rules of capitalism did not pervade *all* actions, choices, perspectives. World systems theorists  from the late ’70s (eg: Emmanuel Wallerstein and Jane Schneider) and ethnographies from Oceania helped enormously, as did my own insights from participant observation and research in Tonga. But by the ’00s, it became harder and harder to get students to that place of intellectual flexibility required to recognize other, non-capitalist social systems, other social-economic formations, as viable, as really real.  While the originally contested concept of ‘culture’ as constructed by anthropologists became so mainstream that I could spend less time teaching what ‘culture’ was, recognition that non-capitalist relations to the environment and other species did exist became harder and harder to achieve. Maybe I became a poorer professor, but for me, students struggled more and more to think without capitalism as the default for society.
It is axiomatic in anthropological theory that it is difficult to ‘see’ [think\imagine] without one’s cultural lens affecting one’ perceptions. That axiom is the core of the participant-observation methodology, the idea that living as others live provides an avenue for seeing and thinking with a different cultural world view, leading to an appreciation and valuing of differences and  possibilities for critiquing one’s own status quo. The method works. 
But, as globalization pushed, and capitalism –as neoliberalism– achieved further, wider, deeper, capillary and rhizomic relations, I struggled to find ways to describe social formation alternatives to capitalism that didn’t sound to students like othering of indigenous peoples, or romanticized history, or science fiction. Despite my commitment to the ethnographic method, and Paul Mason’s work on post-capitalism aside, it seems to me now that literature –Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler– is possibly the best avenue for reflecting on alternatives to a capitalist mode of ecosystem-destruction relations, simply because globalization and neoliberalism has completed the colonial plot. There are no contemporary sample societies to point to as unaffected, materially and culturally –not my beloved Tonga– by capitalist modes of production, by what Greta Thunberg neatly described as “fairy-tales of eternal economic growth“. Not even the famously xenophobic Sentinalese of the Andaman Islands are unaffected. Else why would they have the highly effective defense system that resulted in a wanna-be missionary’s death?
Eco-anxiety abounds, even among those who do not recognize they have it. It constantly surprises me that so many people think rivers are for viewing, maybe boating on, maybe fishing from, on the right day, in the right place (but catch and release or beware of how many you eat; avoid the belly fat, where the heavy metals concentrate). The default thinking of a river is not as something to drink. Unless with filters and purification tablets. Or in an emergency. It wasn’t always like this. I have lived with, I remember, environmental beauty appreciated via sight, smell, sound, feel, and yes, taste; without eco-anxiety. 
This is what I’m pondering, with my 3:30AM jetlagged brain, as I read Naomi Klein saying: “the fact that for so many people it’s so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first”.
Winter is here, but I can’t be hygge because I have flygskam. But my flygskam is not really a product –in the foucauldian sense– of my eco-anxiety. My flygskam is an indicator, evidence of another axiom: that capitalism atomizes. It induces us to think and respond and benefit as lone individuals, not as interconnected members of a system.  Capitalism works,  insidiously, to disguise it’s own capillary power, and to normalize those who control the capital that influences the global political, economic and social options and actions that are causing the climate crisis (while also exacerbating racism, sexism, poverty, disparity, war, alienation of indigenous lands, etcetera). I’m supposed to feel my flygskam on my own, rather than notice the scam, and scammers, that it signifies. That’s the capitalism mode. 
Is there a Swedish (or Sentinalese, maybe?) word for the anger I feel towards those who are blocking the systemic changes we all need to preserve this planet’s ecosystem? I want it; need it. 
November 12, 2019.
Some interesting links:
Mason, Paul [2015] PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future. Wikipedia summary:
Schneider, Jane [1977] “Was There A Pre-Capitalist World-system?” Peasant Studies 6:1:20–29.  Find it here:
Wallerstein, Immanuel [1974] The Modern World-System, Vol. 1: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press.
Burawawoy, Michael [1979] Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process under Monopoly Capitalism. University of Chicago Press
Weiner, Annette B.  [1979] Women of Value, Men of Renown : New Perspectives in Trobriand Exchange. University of Texas Press

December 6, 1986 & 2017; The Resilience of Violence, 2.0

MeTooUpdated from a 2015 post:

28 years ago today; I was pregnant, happy, optimistic for my child, who was being born into a world that had just breached the Berlin Wall. It seemed like peace was breaking out all over. And then, Dec 6. Montreal. L’Ecole Polytechnic.

It was a terrible shock. Not just that a single shooter would attack students at a university. But that he would specifically order classes to separate into groups of male and female, and then shoot, murder, slaughter, the women only. And then repeat in other classes.

Suddenly, the entire nation, was confronted with a terrible truth: as people listened to the reports, some realized they’d momentarily expected -and accepted- the idea that the shooter might separate the victims by sex, so that he could shoot the men. That he targeted the women was a surprise, an affront.

The tragedy of L’Ecole Polytechnic gave Canadians a double shock: We realized our attitudes to violence had been blunted by patriarchal assumptions that included the horrid acceptance that males were legitimate targets for violence. Equally, our understanding of violence against women had been dismally, willfully, complicitly, naive. The value of feminism as a necessity, even as it was being described as the murderer’s motivation, was confirmed.  The optimism of Berlin was washed in the horrors, the guilty insights, of Montreal. 22 days later, I gave birth to a daughter.

Now, 28 years on, we have Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (& men), and Black Lives Matter, because people of colour are vastly more likely to be killed by the state, or have their deaths ignored by the state. We have the #MeToo campaign, and Time Magazine has declared the “Silence Breakers” to be their Person(s) of the Year, because so many women are OVER being sexually harassed or assaulted (or both). Violence Against Women has been raised to iconic, professionalized status. It is now possible to use the acronym of VAW and be widely understood while condemning patriarchy, the ubiquitous and resilient inequities between sexes, and while arguing for services, policies, legislation, and/or education to mitigate VAW. Good steps have been taken. But not enough, else all the women – myself included – who wrote #MeToo on our social media, and the Silence Breakers would not have had any silence to break. But just as bad is the fact that unlike in 1986, when it seemed like peace was breaking out all over, we have violence expanding: wars in Syria, Yemen, refugee crises in Europe, North Africa, and most recently Myanmar and Bangladesh (and not enough being said about the violence in refugee camps and the trafficking of child refugees), the violence in Mexico… it has only been a year since  Americans voted in a man who bragged about his history of sexual harassment and assault. Now they are about to send another multiply-accused pedophile to the Senate.  While the USA has banned immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations on the grounds of violence-prevention, they have themselves allowed an average of 12,843 people to be murdered with, and another 20,000 (average) to suicide with, a gun. TerroristsVsGuns-USA

Violence, is resilient.

As I wrote in 2015, in the first version of this post, acceptance of violence itself has not moved on much from the guilty horror of 1986.  Mothers’ children continue to be slaughtered. Today, as every Dec 6, I condemn the craven political decisions that permit the means for violence; I mourn for those mothers who suffer the catastrophe of violence against (or by) their child, and offer a grateful whew to the luck goddess that I am not in their cohort.

[Image credit: The European Danse Macabre, Alberto Martini, 1915, via @LibroAntiguo ]

Failing The Moral Test: Canadians Must Redress Our Nation’s Abuse Of Children

the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children*

On Valentine’s Day, 2017, Justice Edward Belobaba of the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that the Canadian government breached agreements and failed in its responsibility to indigenous peoples, for its part in a child-welfare program that saw thousands of Ontario’s children removed from their parents, communities and cultures. Now referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, between 1965 and 1984 some 16,000 children deemed by provincial social workers to be ‘at risk’ were apprehended from their parents and communities, then fostered or legally adopted by non-indigenous families. The Ontario protocols became the template for other provinces, ramifying indigenous families’ distress across the country. In many, possibly most, cases the parents who had their children apprehended were themselves victims of a prior form of state-sanctioned kidnapping and enfranchisement: the residential school system. If the parents were not themselves survivors of residential schools, perhaps suffering the now-recognized symptoms of PTSD or abandonment trauma, they were likely subject to poverty, poor education, underemployment, and the generalized public discrimination and ‘anti-Native’ racism that was the default in mainstream society until very recently.

During the Sixties Scoop, even if a social worker was not stigmatizing indigenous parents and children, and was trying to apply child welfare guidelines evenly to all cases requiring intervention, the parenting assumptions penalized at the very least poverty and denigrated non-European (WASP) traditional practices. Consider these scenarios: A mother of English or French or German ancestry could buy Woodward’s Gripe Water fromgripe-water the local pharmacist and use it to sooth her cranky infant. A mother of Cree, Mohawk or Anishnaabe ancestry who made a tisane including dill or fennel, sugar, baking soda, and watered gin could be accused of providing alcohol to a minor, be declared unfit as a parent, and have her child removed. Yet commercial preparations of gripe water had an alcohol content ranging from 3.6% to as high as 9%, even into the early 1980s (Blumenthal, 2000). A case of domestic abuse with a white family would see the police either ignore a woman’s complaints and leave her and her children with the abuser, or help them get to a shelter; with an indigenous family, it could lead to seizure and permanent removal of the children from their entire extended kindred.

It was the mundane level of hypocrisy, the willingness to assume that indigenous cultures’ parenting practices were by default inadequate and dangerous relative to ‘modern’ mainstream (a.k.a. white) society, and the wider implications and ironies of that attitude, that spurred me to write the following letter, in 1998, to Michael Enright and Avril Benoit of CBC Radio’s This Morning:

Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998

Subject: Spock’s influence

As a mother and a social anthropologist specializing in mothering and the influences of North American medical personnel in everyday life, I listened with interest to your panel of four mothers discussing their use (and non‑use) of Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care [originally published 1946]. Sheila Kitzenger and Sherry Thurren were also interesting, especially in their discussions of the context of maternal advice at the time that Spock was writing: his book was indeed a revolution for its time, in that it confirmed a mother’s abilities to handle situations, and advised a less regimented, disciplinary form of baby care, with more expressive loving from parents. However, the one question I kept expecting to come up was never asked:  “When everyone else in the medical establishment was advocating discipline, routine, formula over breast-milk, and telling mothers that they needed a doctor’s advice for all aspects of an infant’s care, where did Benjamin Spock get his path-breaking ideas?”
The answer would have been somewhat surprising, certainly to the thousands of American and Canadian families who do not know that the revolutionary child care advice they faithfully followed, and thought of as resulting from North American medical scientific breakthroughs, was in fact heavily modelled upon Polynesian and other First Nations’ child rearing practices. Benjamin Spock’s ideas came out of anthropology, not medicine.
Benjamin Spock was the pediatrician to the famous anthropologists Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and their daughter Mary Catherine. As your listeners may know, Margaret Mead’s first book, Coming of Age in Samoa [1928], focused on child rearing in Polynesia. She later did similar research in North America and other parts of the Pacific as well. Mead was tremendously influential in areas of social policy in the USA from 1928 to after WWII, but not all of that influence was overt. As her daughter later wrote about Mead: “Margaret’s ideas influenced the rearing of countless children, not only through her own writings but through the writings of Benjamin Spock, who was my pediatrician and for whom I was the first breastfed and self‑demand’ baby he had encountered” [from With A Daughter’s Eye, 1984, William Morrow & Company, Inc].
It is ironic that the great influence aboriginal peoples have had in contemporary North American cultural and medical practice has been so disguised. But there is an even greater irony here:  while at least two generations of white, middle class parents were following re‑packaged aboriginal people’s parenting practices and choosing to nurture and indulge their children for the sake of their good psychological development, First Nations parents were being forced to send their children away to residential schools: There, aboriginal children were subjected to the very discipline, authority and cold regimentation that Mead and Spock helped to discredit.
And we now have the temerity to ask why so much psychological damage is rampant in some First Nations communities, and how is it our concern!

Heather Young Leslie

I wish I had been more forceful in my 1998 letter. I wish I had spoken of racism, tragedy and abuse rather than ironies. At the time, I feared a more candid letter would not be read on air. It has taken so long for an appetite for the truth about generations of Canadian state-sponsored violence against children and families to come into the general discourse (even now, I suspect it is only the liberal-Canadian public who are paying attention). When Justice Belobaba agreed with the complainants that the Sixties Scoop resulted in widespread psychological traumas for the children, their extended families and communities, leading to psychiatric disorders, unemployment, violence,  incarceration and suicide, he was affirming what Indigenous-rights activists have been saying for a very long time, often to deaf or uncaring ears. Yet beyond the thousands of individuals, mostly children, harmed, entire Indigenous nations have suffered as generation after generation lost fluency in their languages, ability with ceremony, technical making and survival skills, intimacy with traditional territories and kinship networks; many simply died. Colonialism and colonization is war that never stops killing.

Although Canada as a nation has engaged with the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s investigation of the residential school system, and now publicly seeks ‘reconciliation’ with Indigenous peoples of Canada, and while our Prime Minister has promised to honour treaties and enact a ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship, there is much that has yet to happen before true reconciliation can happen.  While Carolyn Bennett, the current federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, has publicly stated that the federal government will not appeal Justice Belobaba’s ruling, her Ministry has spent millions vigorously applying every loophole they could to refute another child welfare case, this one brought to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, regarding the Government of Canada’s deliberate unfunding and policy blocking of First Nations Child and Family Services. The Tribunal’s Decision was that Canada, via the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, is purposefully discriminating against “163,000  First  Nations children  and  their   families   by  providing  flawed  and  inequitable  child  welfare services to  First  Nations  children and by allowing  jurisdictional  disputes  between and within governments to cause First Nations children to be denied  or experience delays  when  seeking  to  access  essential  government  services available  to  other children“. Despite claiming to welcome the Tribunal’s Decision of January 26 2016, Carolyn Bennett’s Ministry continues as of Feb 2017, to be non-compliant with the legally-binding ruling of the Tribunal. Further, she is speaking about trying to avoid a court-mandated settlement in the Sixties Scoop class action. The 16,000 complainants have requested damages of $85,000 each, less than one year’s middle-class salary, for a total of $1.3B. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have not, as yet, prioritized indigenous reconciliation and fair costs for federal responsibilities in the budget for 2017. 

Most Canadians do not know we are all “Treaty People“, nor how much has been taken from our treaty-partners, how much loss, pain and trauma still reverberates, though I think most people can empathize with having a grandparent or spouse with PTSD, with the fear of loosing one’s home, or the horror at the mere idea of having a child kidnapped, disappear, or commit suicide. While there is much resilience and goodwill within Canada’s Indigenous communities, there is much understandable anger and resentment too. The solution goes beyond the political will to admit wrong-doing, apologize and budget the true costs of complying with historic treaties and Supreme Courts’ and Human Rights Tribunal findings, though those are essential measures. There is reaching out by everyday Canadians to be done too.  A good place to begin is to learn what it is we don’t know: even those who say they are allies of Indigenous peoples, are supportive of the reconciliation cause, or are anti-racist, can learn more, and should.  This is a scenario where what you don’t know can hurt someone, probably a child and or her/his family.

I have three recommendations to start you off: The first is that all Canadians, young and old, multi-generational settler-descendent to first generation immigrant to refugee, read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s  reports, especially their Calls to Action. The second is to view the National Film Board‘s We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, Alanis Obomsawin’s latest documentary, which follows and makes easy to understand, the many-years history of the Human Rights Tribunal’s hearings and eventual findings. The third is to take the University of Alberta’s online course Indigenous Canada (enrolment begins March 2017; it’s free to audit, cheap to get a certificate). These are things that Community Leagues, Rotarians, Lion’s Clubs and other service organizations, book clubs, walking and yoga groups, church parishes, curling and hockey and baseball teams can do together. These are easy initial steps to reconciliation that all non-Indigenous Canadians can, and should, take.

That’s not the end of course. We all must know and agree to respect the Treaties that the nation-state of Canada is built on; learn what is in the treaties governing where we live now and where we were born (if there even is a treaty), lobby our provincial and federal governments to stop asking First Nations for just a bit more of their land, water  and wildlife habitat. A “nation-to-nation” relationship is like consenting to sex: “no” must be respected; it doesn’t mean “Try harder to convince me” or “If you say no, we’ll just take it”.  In general, we must be mindful of the place we inhabit, and what impact our actions have on our treaty partners, wherever we live. This is going to be tough for those who have benefited from privilege and not had to recognize treaty responsibilities, certainly. Reconciliation is a long, slow, multi-party process. It requires so much more than “I’m sorry”.  Now is the time for the non-indigenous peoples of Canada to paddle the boat. Because, to recycle a saying from my youth: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”** and this problem is one that persists in abusing children and their families. That’s not what we mean when we proudly exclaim our “Canadian values”.


*Hubert Humphrey. Remarks at the dedication of the Hubert H. Humphrey Building, November 1, 1977.
**Eldridge Cleaver. Presidential candidate speech at UCLA, April 10, 1968 (Listen at 51:05 mins), also speech to the San Francisco Barristers’ Club, September 1968.

A Screed* for 7/7/16

Police violence at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in New York City. Overshadowed by a different sort of violence, a vigilante-payback murderous sort of protest, in Dallas.

Heartbreak. Horror. Anger. Shock. 

Obviously, there will be lots of palaver about what needs to change. Gun culture for example. Prosecuting those who abuse the power of their position, who fail to serve / protect. Training (re-training) (better training) (anti-racism-training) of police.

And maybe before the training,  recruitment, but:

How to entice better recruits? What sane person wants to work in a racist, sexist, phobic organization?

And while we in Canada may subtly congratulate ourselves for not having the (scale of) problems that they have in America, let’s not forget we too have discrimination and sexism

Our RCMP are but one recent example.

*A Screed is a song of protest, of vilification. 

The Lost Jingle Dress


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img_2031-1The Lost Jingle Dress is my first ‘published’ piece of creative nonfiction. The story lauds the small, tight-knit community of Jasper, Alberta. I wrote it in 2014, and it was performed by Stuart McLean in 2016 for the CBC Radio program Vinyl Café. It aired in the story exchange segment of the “Indigenous Music” episode of June 3 & 4, 2016.

Stuart McLean’s performance of The Lost Jingle Dress is archived in the Education and Research Archive of the University of Alberta’s Libraries, here. Forgive the amateurish sound production. This version was recorded from the public radio broadcast onto a private-owned iphone 5 in m4a format.


Myths perpetuated by the Ghomeshi trial (re-blog)

(Re-blog from

A Toronto court heard final arguments Thursday in the trial of former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi.
Ghomeshi is charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking to overcome resistance related to allegations brought forward by three female complainants.

While the defendent’s guilt or innocence will be determined by a judge based on evidence presented in court, Ghomeshi’s defence strategy has been widely criticized, with suggestions the aggressive cross-examination of witnesses in the high-profile trial is revictimizing the complainants and discourages women from reporting sexual assaults in the future.

Now, some question if Canada’s criminal justice system is “structurally ill-suited” to deal with sexual assault cases?
Here’s what experts and observers have to say about five of the more dangerous myths the Ghomeshi trial has pushed into the public square:

1. “Consent can be implied, retroactively”

Throughout the trial, Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Heinen, has sought to raise doubts about the relationship between the complainants and her client after the alleged assaults took place.

In all of this, Macleans’ Anne Kingston observes, “the defence appears to be trying to establish some sort of retroactive implied consent, which, of course, is moot: at the time of the alleged assault, the future hadn’t occurred.”
However, Canadian law is quite clear that this is ultimately irrelevant to the issue of ‘consent’.

“If you examine this [Ghomeshi] trial,” says University of Ottawa law professor Constance Backhouse, “basically because the victims gave consent to some things — before, during and after the alleged non-consensual behaviour — we’re all making assessments that they are not believable about the non-consensual part.”

And in the eyes of the law, none of this may matter: “the Supreme Court has said that a person cannot consent to an assault that causes bodily harm,” says University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman. “If a sexual activity causes bodily harm, a person cannot consent to it.”
Recent polling done by the Canadian Women’s Foundation found that while 96% of Canadians agree sexual activity between partners must be consensual, over two-thirds of Canadians (67%) do not understand the legal definition of ‘consent’.

2. “Survivors go directly to police after an assault”

Heinen also questioned why one complainant did not go directly to police after the alleged assault.

“I didn’t go to the police because I wanted to go home,” the woman answered. “I didn’t go to police because I didn’t want – this,” referring to testimony before the court.

That response is consistent with statistics on sexual assaults in Canada. In 2014, Statistics Canada reported only 5% of all sexual assaults in Canada are reported to police.

“Sexual assaults perpetrated by someone other than a spouse were least likely to come to the attention of police,” another report from Statistics Canada adds, with “nine in ten non-spousal sexual assaults were never reported to police.”

3. “Survivors never go back to their abuser”

Heinen introduced evidence suggesting one complainant’s contact with Ghomeshi after the alleged assault challenged the credibility of the allegation itself.

This isn’t necessarily surprising, experts say. Survivors of abuse typically “manage the violence” through a range of responses to a traumatic experience, including “denial” and “self-blame” before they actively seek help.

“Many leave and return several times before their final separation,” reads literature prepared by the BC government for victim service workers. Some reasons include emotional attachments to the abuser, emotional abuse, threats or fears of continued violence, social and cultural pressures, or financial dependence, to name only a few.
As Keetha Mercer of the Canadian Women’s Foundation told Chatelaine:
“There are many reasons why a survivor would contact her abuser. These may include wanting to get closure or addressing what happened. Many survivors struggle to break off contact with their abuser because the nature of abuse includes undermining their self-esteem and confidence. They may feel controlled by their abuser, which is a hard feeling to shake even after they have left.”

4. “Women lie about being sexually assaulted for fame and attention”

Ghomeshi’s lawyer suggested one complainant’s allegations were motivated by fame and attention, stating she was “reveling in the attention” and pointing out how her number of Twitter followers had “skyrocketed.”

Except the trial process is arduous, often re-victimizing survivors. And as Toronto lawyer David Butts points out, the current system is “basically trial by war,” so who would volunteer to put themselves through such a distressful process?
“That is probably the worst thing to do to complainants who are coming forward to talk about very intimate and distressing violations of their sexual integrity … Moving away from an adversarial model, I think, is going to be necessary because look at the Ghomeshi trial — who would voluntarily put themselves through that?”
Not only that, but only 42% of sexual assault trials end in a conviction. 47% see charges stayed or withdrawn.

5. The stereotype of the “perfect” victim 
Ghomeshi’s defence has also attracted criticism for its “extreme focus on inconsistencies” in the complainants accounts of events, “including information that may appear to some as irrelevant,” and using these to suggest complainants are stricken with “false memories.”

Macleans’ Anne Kingston says this strategy of asking “very personal questions” is “pretty extraneous but just poked holes in issues that should have nothing to do with the charges at hand.”

“It’s totally irrelevant to whether she wanted to be punched in the face,” says UBC law professor Isabel Grant, who says the focus on inconsistencies is irrelevant to the issue of consent, but instead plays into stereotypes about women’s sexuality.

Canadian novelist Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer observes that Heinen’s cross-examination implies “that the woman has to be this hygienic, innocent, perfect bystander in these cases” – constructing an impossibly unrealistic image of what a credible victim looks and sounds like, irrelevant of the facts of the case.

“She seems to articulate that they wanted it, that they produced the violence,” Kuitenbrower adds. “And then when it happened, they came back for more.

 Tags: #Sexual Assault #Violence Against Women #feminism #Jian Ghomeshi #gender equality #Criminal courts


Smoke + Mirrors: Marie Henein’s lawyerly tactics in defense of Ghomeshi

[Feb 9, 2016. Some thoughts on the Ghomeshi trial, as the third complainant’s testimony and examination is completed, and as we wait for Judge Horkins to rule on admissibility of a fourth witness]

We knew that the complainants alleging assault and other charges against Jian Ghomeshi would face severe, rigorous questioning intended to discredit their testimony, from highly credentialed and skilled lawyer Marie Henein. As a dear friend and one-time courts reporter has pointed out to me, society needs this to happen. We want a defense lawyer to be vigilant and ardent; a person’s liberty is at stake. We don’t want to live in a society where a state lawyer does not have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that an accused should be convicted.

However there is questioning to discredit testimony and there is “whacking”. The latter is a nefarious tactic which occurs almost exclusively in sexual assault cases. It depends on aggressive, verbal accusations, double-negatives and sexist stereotypes. The goal is to confuse and intimidate a witness so that what they say isn’t what they mean or want to say. There are many who are questioning the ethics of this tactic, noting that it is something that, like torture, fails to provide actual truths. Whacking also depends on the legal system’s assumptions that linear, chronological testimonies can be elicited from participants in traumatic events and that such ‘clear’ testimonies are more credible. Therefore, if a witness’ verbal re-telling of a traumatic event can be deconstructed, it is likely false, or exaggerated. This expectation is based on false assumptions rather than research evidence about how traumatic memory actually works and how women often react during assault. It depends on negative stereotypes about women and victims of sexual assault in particular.

So, to recap, whacking is a courtroom tactic of intimidation particularly popular in defense of sexual assault, which is intended to discredit a witnesses’ and complainant’s testimony.

Ghomeshi’s lawyer, the brilliant and fearless Marie Henein, is renowned for her whacking skill. In the Ghomeshi case however, I think Henein’s intention is to do more than just discredit the testimony through intimidation. There seem to be three key legal points that the case hinges on (I’m not a lawyer, but this is what I understand from reading the criminal code, and various pundits and researchers): First, was the violence consensual, from the beginning and during; second, is there a pattern, i.e.: ‘similar facts’ that can be permitted to weigh in a verdict; third, were the ‘serious harm’ actions really severe enough to be the kind of harms our criminal code says we cannot actually give consent to? I think what lawyer Henien’s strategy is a five-part smoke and mirror trick designed to address these three points of law, and one point of judicial hubris:

1) She is trying to imply that Lucy Decoutere and the two other complainants gave on-going consent, that they welcomed and therefore participated in the hitting, choking, hair-pulling, etc. This is intended to distract the judge from the point that there is no evidence of prior consent in the first instances.

2) She is trying to prevent the judge (and public) from recognizing and believing the complicated psychology of how the brain reacts to and processes trauma, including how women post-assault may seek approval from the aggressor or try to remediate a sense of  their unacceptable ‘victimhood’ by choosing ‘participanthood’ post-hoc. This does not gainsay the fact that prior and/or on-going consent had to have been given, and that failure to deny consent is not the same as giving consent.

3) Significantly, Henien seems to be trying to elide the point that Canadian law doesn’t actually permit us to consent to serious harm.

4) She is also trying to circumvent the ‘celebrity as authority figure’ factor that Ghomeshi represented for the complainants: the fact that he was a highly regarded personality with influence in the media-arts-entertainment industry and the women were in early-career stages with aspirations in that business meant that Ghomeshi’s actions were extra compelling, in both his potential and effect as a perpetrator. He had the glamour (in the old Celtic sense of disguising evil with beauty). I wonder if Monica Lewinsky might not have something to say about the complicated emotions that happen when one thinks of one’s idol as a friend, or even romantic partner?

5) More speculatively however, and this is where the mirrors become truly smokey, I think Henien is playing a long head-game with Judge Horkins. I think she is trying to trade on the rather fuzzy boundaries as to what actually consists of consentable sexual violence, and to push the judge into fearing making a ruling that establishes a new precedent, but could be overturned on appeal. Judges hate having rulings overturned and Henein is trying to make the judge concerned about his own legacy.

In the latter (5), I suspect Henien could succeed, simply because Ghomeshi and his past ‘intimate partners’ do not seem to me to be credible as exemplars of a BDSM community. So if Judge Horkins makes the ruling that Ghomeshi is guiltyon the grounds that Lucy Decoutere could not give Ghomeshi permission to choke her as part of sexual ‘play’, I would expect that ruling could be contested, simply because there are very likely members of the BDSM community who could make the legal argument that choking can be legally consentable; orgasm via temporary asphyxiation, for example.

In the former (1 – 4), While Henien seems to be going for a determination of on-going consent to ‘rough sex’, I suspect that she could fail, simply on points of law – no judge can fail to note lack of evidence of initial consent, implied or otherwise, permissible or otherwise, and because there is similar fact evidence that Henien has not successfully contested

As yet.

As I write this, Henein has begun trying to discredit the ‘similar fact’ evidence; complainant 3 and 2 have been shown to have shared their stories, as women, and victims often tend to do as a part of processing a trauma. But in the eyes of the law, that story-comparing leaves Henein scope for the argument that the 3 women colluded in their testimony, thus devaluing the strength of ‘similar facts’ evidence.

At this point, as I see it, it comes down to two things: Is Judge Horkins susceptible to Henein’s smoke and mirrors? and does Crown Attorney Gallagher have some Windex up his sleeve?


Some links very much worth reading: 

re: Traumatic Memory & Sexual Assault

Re: Giving testimony as a sexual assault complainant:

re: Marie Henein

re: Whacking

re: Canadian Criminal Code, and Consent to Harm

Canadian law imposes some limits on freedom to consent to violent sexual activity


To Follow or Not; Paying Attention to the Ghomeshi Trial


I’ve been resisting following the Ghomeshi trial. Partly, I’m enabled by circumstance–a temporary fragility of anato Continue reading

“Refugees” Welcome, Canada? 

 There are so many types of “refugees” and many ways to describe them. We have used terms like Displaced Persons (“DPs”), Victims of War, Illegal Immigrants, Asylum Seekers, Émigrés; each label is polysemic, encoding semantic and political trajectories backwards and forwards in time. Compare the representation of Elsa, the heroine of Casablanca, as she bends legal and moral rules in order to escape Morocco under Nazi control, with representation of contemporary Khurds or Syrians as they flee the war front which has taken over their doorsteps. Or compare the representation of heroic Rick, who condones Elsa’s and Victor’s attempts to escape and conives with the shady Signor Ferrari, with contemporary human traffickers. 

However labelled and represented, refugees are the subject of much professional expertise, policy, surveillance and document-anxiety. The United Nations has an entire bureaucratic directorate, a High Commission -the UNHCR- devoted to the fact that refugees exist. People who are called refugees (or DPs or illegal immigrants, etc.) are characterized by their nation of origin, by their sex, gender, religion, age, education, medical needs, income-potential, work experience; sometimes we characterize refugees by their experience with violence and/or hunger; sometimes we recognize a refugee by how long they have been in limbo, that physical and psychological state of deterritorrialization also known as a ‘refugee camp’; a place which itself might actually be a town in everything but official municipal policy and potential for its residents to plan a future for themselves.  

No matter how it is described, being a refugee sucks. As poet Warsan Shire says, no one flees home unless “home is the mouth of a shark”. 

In Canada these days,  we are saying “Refugees Welcome” and congratulating ourselves on having Canada back. We say “refugees welcome” in sympathy with the middle-class seeming people currently fleeing the Syrian conflict, but also in  opposition to what we see and hear from the bombastic rhetoric of  American presidential candidate-wannabes; and we feel very good about ourselves. 

But our much-lauded new government, while aiming to put a dent in the current disaster of asylum-seekers’ deaths and bring some 20,000 refugees to Canada, and in simultaneously seeking to defray racist fear-mongering about ‘extremist Muslims’, is prioritizing ‘safe refugees’ – those vetted by the UNHCR. So those receiving Canadian welcomes are privately sponsored, or coming from long-term, well-provided camps in Lebanon & Turkey. We are delayed in meeting our national target partly because those acceptable to Canada are themselves sometimes reluctant to relocate so far from their home terrains. They are not the people we see being rescued from boats in the Mediterranean, pressed against yet another border fence in Hungary, or rushing trucks heading into the Chunnel.   

I bet some of the 3000+ people sinking and freezing in the French winter-mud of the Dunkirk suburb/fenced refugee camp of Grande Synthe (AKA ‘The Jungle’) or squatting in a refugee hell on Lesvos would be happy to accept a Canadian welcome. 

We could meet our goal of 20,000 and more if we actually welcomed #refugees. 

*Photo credit @Msf_Sea

Follow suggestion: Mohammed Ghannam @MohGhn, (Jan 10, 2016). 

December 6, 1986 & 2015: The Resilience of Violence

26 years ago today; I was pregnant, happy, optimistic for my child, who was being born into a world that had just breached the Berlin Wall. It seemed like peace was breaking out all over. And then, Dec 6. Montreal. L’Ecole Polytechnic.

It was a terrible shock. Not just that a single shooter would attack students at a university. But that he would specifically order classes to separate into groups of male and female, and then shoot, murder, slaughter, the women only. And then repeat in other classes.

Suddenly, the entire nation, was confronted with a terrible truth: as people listened to the reports, some realized they’d expected -and accepted- the idea that the shooter might separate the victims by sex, so that he could shoot the men. That he targeted the woman was a surprise, an affront.

The tragedy of L’Ecole Polytechnic gave Canadians a double shock: We realized our attitudes to violence had been blunted by patriarchal assumptions that included the horrid acceptance that males were legitimate targets for violence. Equally, our understanding of violence against women had been dismally, willfully, complicitly, naive. The value of feminism as a necessity, even as it was being described as the murderer’s motivation, was confirmed.  The optimism of Berlin was washed in the horrors, the guilty insights, of Montreal. 22 days later, I gave birth to a daughter.

Now, 26 years on, we have raised the approbation of Violence Against Women to iconic, professionalized status. It is possible to use the acronym of VAW and be widely understood as one condemns patriarchy, the ubiquitous and resilient inequities between sexes, and argues for services, policies, legislation, education to mitigate VAW. Good steps have been taken. But not enough.

The acceptance of violence itself has not moved on much from the guilty horror of 1986, and mothers’ children continue to be slaughtered. Today, as every Dec 6, I condemn the craven decisions that permit the means for violence; I mourn for those mothers who suffer the catastrophe of violence against their child, and offer a grateful whew to the luck goddess that I am not in their cohort.

Pauvre Paris. Reflections in the aftermath of November 13, 2015



When I lived in Paris (1986), young Algerians, especially men, were the most despised members of the city’s society. They hung out, smoking cigarettes on streets and trying to chat up girls in public plazas like Trocadero because what else could they do? No one would hire them. Neighbourhoods like Clichy, where the North and Central African immigrant population was high, were scary and considered unsafe at night, in the same way that parts of New York City at around the same time were considered dangerous at night. I was warned to avoid the Algerian men because they might be pickpockets, and to ignore (“don’t encourage”) the ‘gypsies’ –Arabic speaking women begging outside banks and in the Metro. Nevertheless, I saw many people gave them cash, and many of us living there participated in anti-racism events, just as much as we visited galleries and museums and bookstore-cafes. It was a complicated, beautiful, confusing, compelling place. Most certainly a Moveable Feast, as Hemmingway called it, Paris has continued to nourish me ever since.

When I was last in France (2013), in the south the contrast between communities like Arles, Aix and Orange, and Beziers and Marseilles was striking: The local economy was clearly suffering. It was palpable where the Front National and Marine LePen were strong, and where those of Algerian/North African (multi-generational) ethnicity were discriminated against. It reminded me at the time of the work of anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler, who wrote about the rise of French fascism in the south of France, and of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who studied both post-war Algeria and French notions of identity and ‘distinctions’ between classes of people.

Even though there have been major attempts to counter racism from within French society —Touche pas à mon pote for example– as anthropologist Keith Hart describes in his open letter to his daughter (Nov 14’15), France laid the groundwork for radicalization of Daesh/ISIS/ISIL type terrorism  with its foreign policies and unacknowledged role as a colonial aggressor. This includes massacres in Mali and Vichy, militarism and colonization in the Pacific and Central Africa, and partnering with Americans in attacks against Islam-dominant areas, including the current campaign against Syria. Various domestic policies, like banning non-officially recognized francophone names and face veils, while intending to support secularism, have actually not helped. Sadly, l’horreur of Paris 13 Nov. 2015 will, probably, lead to greater political support for the hawks: the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, pro-militaristic, pro-fascist and neo-Nazi elements in France and other parts of the EU. We will hear that it is necessary to relinquish freedoms in order to protect liberté, and solidarité will be purchased with rhetorics of anti-immigration and victim-blaming.

Poor Paris! A city which so celebrates life and light, but has suffered so much violence and death –from the Viking invasions, to the French Revolution to the Nazi occupation to the Student Riots to Charlie Hebdo and now the Bataclan.

Poor Paris! A city which showcases beauty and art, whose striking urban plan –streets running into and from central intersections like multipointed stars– was intended by planner Haussmann in part to allow for policing of mobs and military defense of multiple zones from a single position. That beautiful plan, which means each intersection provides locations for monuments and vistas to others, required massive expropriation and depopulation of  low-income communities.

Pauvre Paris. The city known for love of life and beauty, as devoted to bookstores, music, philosophy and feminism as to fashion, capital of a nation whose motto espouses fraternité, egalité and liberté, is built on a seamy, bloody, history of destruction, discrimination and the profits of colonialism.

What does it say about me, about we, who knowing all this, still mourn for Paris-the-place as well as murdered and shocked Parisiens-the-dwellers? For me it says that the ideals of fraternité, égalité, liberté, des belles lettres and des beaux arts are *important*. Mythic they may be in much of everyday reality, but they are important. And for that–not the colonialism in Africa, not the Nuclear testing in the Pacific, not the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand, not France the militaristic hawk– but for that Other, mythic, romantic, ideal of love, life, light, books, thought, beauty, art, democracy, liberty, fraternity, equality; for that dove, that moveable feast, I say #ViveLaFrance.

50 major public research organisations in Europe adopt four new common principles on Open Access Publisher Services

DOAJ News Service

In a press release published yesterday, 50 Science Europe members agreed on 4 new common principles expected for publisher members when providing payments/subsidies for Open Access venues. The first principle states that journals must be listed in DOAJ, Web of Science, Scopus or PubMed.

The new principles adopted by Science Europe aim at setting minimum standards for Open Access publishing services provided by scholarly publishers. These general – and at the same time very practical – principles will help ensure scholarly and technical quality and cost effectiveness of Open Access-related services in all fields, from sciences to social sciences and the humanities. As scholarly publishing makes its transition to an Open Access system, and as service providers change their business models, the outcome of the transition will depend on the added value and quality of the services provided.

Of course, this is fantastic news for DOAJ. It underlines our…

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JASON ANTROSIO’s 1st response to the Anthropology-Haters


Jason Antrosio, author of the Living Anthropologically blog, wrote a great response to the flurry of neo-liberal detractors who began declaring anthropology as a poor option for university students. As Jason points out: Anthropology may be the worst major if you want to become a corporate tool, but it is the best course of study if you want to help change the world for the better.  Take a read. Even though written in 2012, it’s still very relevant. Then stroll over to  Paul Stoller’s discussion of anthropology as a university major and critique of the rankings systems that think universities can be compared just like blenders. After that, I recommend reading Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s “Engaging Anthropology: The Case for a Public Presence” (Berg 2006/Bloomsbury 2012).

But begin with Antrosio’s bow shot across the neo-liberal ship of ‘education as merely pay-cheque preparation’.

Metrics: An Addendum on RAE / REF

The Disorder Of Things

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts...

We have had overwhelming support from a wide range of academics for our paper on why metrics are inappropriate for assessing research quality (200+ as of June 22nd). However, some have also posed interesting follow-up questions on the blog and by email which are worth addressing in more depth. These are more REF-specific on the whole and relate to the relationship between the flaws in the current system and the flaws in the proposed system. In my view the latter still greatly outweigh the former but it is useful to reflect on them both.

Current REF assessment processes are unaccountable and subjective; aren’t metrics a more transparent, public and objective way of assessing research?

The current REF involves, as the poser of the question pointed out, small groups of people deliberating behind closed doors and destroying all evidence of their deliberations. The point about the non-transparency and unaccountability…

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A 5-Step Approach to Reading Scholarly Literature and Making Notes

Reading academic literature is a skill that all college and university students must acquire, but as professors, we don’t always think about how that happens.  Equally, making usable notes  is an important routine that all students should develop, as soon as possible, but again, this is rarely taught.

This is ironic, because we expect our students  to read many, many, many things! Having good notes, and learning how to process those readings efficiently, will make a student’s career so much easier and more successful. To this end, and based on my own experiences as a student, I’ve developed a five-step exercise which is intended to help students read, take notes on, remember and qualitatively assess, scholarly literature –especially that based on research.  I’ve used it for several years, with very good feedback. Yesterday I updated my teaching tool. Today I’m posting it here for feedback.

The problem: SteampunkGoggle1

While students will likely have read numerous books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, graphic novels, zines, essays or (at least) twitter feeds by the time they enter university or college, academic reading has different purposes, expectations and responsibilities, It requires a different approach. In addition, being an undergraduate often means having a huge reading load to accomplish in a short period of time. Having so much to read, and so much content to absorb, can be daunting. it can be hard to know what to focus on.  There are two common mistakes. One is to read the book, chapter, or article as if it were a novel, focussing on the plot, ‘characters’ and  ending. This is especially true when reading ethnographies or case studies. Secondly, when trying to take notes, without some framework for filtering and organizing the information they are reading, it is easy for a student to fall into the trap of re-writing (practically) the entire article into their study notes.  That is such a waste of energy and time!

The Solution:

What I’ve found is that if students are taught to standardize how to read and make notes on research literature, in the long run they can  build an annotated, standardized bibliography of everything they have read, and ultimately save time and remember what the literature says.

The steps outlined below are designed to help students standardize their approach to reading scholarly literature, organize their note-taking, and to help them clearly identify the argument that each scholar is presenting. The five steps are intended to help students avoid making the two common errors. I hope they work for your students too!

Reading Critically

The first thing students need to realize about reading academic literature is that the content is authored by a researcher (or team of researchers) who has collected and analysed some sort of data, and is presenting her/his analysis as a contribution to generalized knowledge and/or theory-building. I tell my students over and over: Researchers are making an argument: “I did Y, and I found X, which is important because XYZ“.  Researchers rarely say that something is proven unequivocally. As such, the information in scholarly literature is contingent; contingent on the quality of the data collected, the appropriateness of the methodology, and accuracy of the analysis. It is contingent on the potential for new information or theoretical insights to alter the interpretations.  A student’s  goal as a reader is to assess the quality of that argument, and decide how it fits with other research that they have read. This works better, with an organized, strategic approach to reading and taking notes.

The Exercise

Step One:            Read the article until you get to the point where the author tells you what s/he will be arguing. Sometimes we refer to this as the thesis Statement. Writing styles and conventions vary across disciplines, so this thesis or argument or what the paper (or book or chapter, etc) is about may appear in the first paragraph, or even as far in as the second or third page.  Look for statements like “This paper will argue”, or “I will suggest that” or “this paper reports on a study into…”.  When you get to this point, stop, and write down the thesis statement.

Step Two:           Flip to the end of the paper (chapter, book, etc). Find the concluding statement. This may sometimes be referred to as ‘Results’ or ‘Findings’ (especially in more quantitatively focussed research). It may be a section, or an entire chapter called ‘Conclusion’. Read the conclusion and make notes as to what the author is saying s/he has found.

Step Three:         Go back to the beginning and read lightly, looking for the methodology. How was the data collected? Is this a randomized double-blind trial? Is this based on interviews? Self-reported in a survey? Participant observation?  Document the methodology in your notes.

Step Four:           Now you can read the entire article, chapter, book. As you read, look for data that the that the author(s) present as evidence to justify their conclusion.  Take notes as to this evidence – what is presented that specifically supports the conclusion(s)? If you are reading a long article or book, it will help you to record the specific page numbers for where the evidence is recorded. Be aware that in anthropology, what counts as ‘evidence’ is likely to be anecdotal and or observational – it may be a story or a type of ceremony recorded by the researcher, or statements made to the researcher by interlocutors.

Step Five:            When you are finished Step Four, think about the evidence presented, and the arguments made on the basis of that evidence. Do you agree with the researcher’s interpretation of the data? Would you interpret the material differently, to come to different conclusions? What about the quality of the data / evidence presented? Does it seem reliable? Is it possible that the researcher could have misinterpreted or misrepresented what they’ve used as data? Is there evidence of bias?  As you become more skilled in the literature, you will be able to consider: Has the author accurately applied the evidence to theory, or has the researcher misrepresented or misinterpreted what other theorists have written?  Record your interpretations and opinions, your alternative interpretations and/or reservations about the article. (If you are reading a book, repeat this step for each chapter, and then for the book as a whole).

There are numerous annotated bibliography software options. An Excel spreadsheet can be designed to allow for a searchable database. Endnote is popular, with good reason – it offers features far beyond the annotated bibliography.  But I find that typing into a computer is a distraction when reading a book (even an e-book).  To that end, I developed a template that students can use to structure their notes. The info recorded here can always be added to a digitized database later.

Date & Citation:
Step 1: Thesis Statement:
Step 2: Conclusion:
Step 3: Methodology:
Step 4: Evidence | Data:
Step 5: Assessment | Critique:
(Repeat Step 5 for each chapter of a book)

More Resources:

Mount Mercy University. Reading a Research Article

Sand in My Syllabus; Teaching Anthropology ‘Way Off Campus

In December 2012, I was invited to Oslo to give a presentation on pedagogy. This is what I said:

I’ve taught anthropology in university classrooms; a lot. Many have been multicultural, and multigenerational. I’ve also been privileged to teach anthropology in some unusual classroom settings, for example, on cruise ships, in academic studies abroad (KulturStudier; Tonga Field School), and in the traditional territory of the Nisga’a First Nation.

In the campus classroom and off-site, my teaching philosophy is influenced by Chickering’s and Gamson’s (1987) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education:

  • Encourage student-faculty contact
  • Encourage cooperation among students
  • Encourage active learning
  • Give prompt feedback
  • Emphasize time on task
  • Communicate high expectations
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

While working as a Capacity Building Advisor, I was able to partake of a training programme called “Making a Difference”  that focused on adult education and change management. Two of the key lessons were that

  • people learn best when they are having fun, and
  • they accept new ideas when those ideas have relevance for them.

I think you’ll agree with me that one of the chief goals of anthropology as a discipline is to encourage the valorization of diversity; or to put it another way, to counter stereotypes and stigmas about the ‘cultural other’; countering stereotypes is, obviously, introduction of a ‘new idea’ .

Traditionally, anthropologists have done our stereotype-countering with entertaining lectures and monographs, whereby the anthropologist’s experience stood as proxy for the student’s experience: the anthropologist went, learned, returned and represented the ‘other’ to an audience of learners. We still do that in our university teaching today. We use stories and writings to represent the cultural other to our students – whether they be in a university classroom or the deck of a cruise ship.

— Sometimes this works to counter stereotypes. Often, it does not —

Therefore, I turn to teaching games to help make lessons more memorable, and fun. Good teaching / learning games are like a ritual: they offer multiple, polysemic, lessons. Teaching games offer the chance to draw analogies from one instance or experience, to another (like any good metaphor). They also provide a kinaesthetic experience to augment the usual oral and aural ways that students are taught. My favourite is the Partnership Toss Game.

How to play Partnership Toss
A group of people stand in a circle; the circle should be at least 1.5 metres in diameter; more is fine, but not beyond 3 meters. One person tosses a small object (i.e.: a bean-bag) to another person, anywhere across the circle. That person tosses the object to a different person and so on, until everyone has received a toss of the bag and it eventually makes its way back to the original thrower. Then the group has to repeat the exact pattern of tosses – remembering who tossed to whom, in what order, over and over again. When the group has the pattern complete and begins to do it rapidly and automatically, the teacher/facilitator introduces a second bag; now the group has to repeat the pattern with two bags. then introduce a third bag. If things go well, and the pattern is maintained and rapid, the final step is to pull a thrower (any) out of the circle and see what happens. Usually, there is lots of laughter.

What does this game teach? Among other things, players spontaneously conclude that:

  • Groups of people can learn and perform complex tasks,
  • The outcome of the task depends on individual members doing something quite simple and limited
  • Communication helps keep complex tasks and patterns flowing
  • When routines become established, we don’t have to think, we can just act automatically
  • That we can have fun when doing our part, take pleasure from a routine task done in partnership
  • But there can be a limit to what the individuals in a group can do when asked to take on more of the same task
  • Even the best-practised routine can fail if over-loaded, or if one member/segment of the system breaks down or is removed.

Overall, we can use this game to draw several analogies, for example, on the theme of “Partnership Makes Complexity Easier” –such as in a Polynesian or Melanesian or Tamil village; stereotypes about ‘simple’ village life do not represent the complexity of the system.

Penn State University has devised some diversity teaching games  that I like to use, depending on the class level / background experience:

Five Moments
Give each participant a piece of paper. Have them write down the five moments in their lives that were most important for shaping who they are today. Go around and have each person share two or three events in their life. Facilitate a discussion on how the major events in life are universal and are not a respecter of people’s differences.

Stereotype Wall
Place posters on the wall that have titles of different groups (such as ethnic groups, genders, sexual orientations and socioeconomic classes). Have people walk around the room and write something that they have heard about these people or a way in which this group of people is stereotyped. Facilitate a discussion on where these stereotypes came from and if they have veracity.

Chain of Diversity
Pass out six slips of paper to every person. Have each person write down a similarity and a difference that they have concerning other people in the room on each slip of paper (for a total of six similarities and six differences). Have members share two of their strips. Then, using glue or a stapler, link all of the strips together in a chain that shows that, no matter how divided people may be by their differences, their similarities will always bring them together.

As you may be able to guess by now, I am a fan of experiential learning, creative classrooms and of the transformative power of the ethnographic experience. In my opinion, nothing teaches anthropology as well as learning by doing. I tried to do this myself with my ethnographic field school in Tonga.

Ethnography itself is undergoing a remarkable efflorescence, both outside anthropology and within. This is coupled with an increased interest in ethnographic training. Around 2005 – 2007, the US-based National Science Foundation [NSF] awarded several grants for training in ethnographic methods. The one I am reporting about here, is a particular ethnographic field school which is, to the best of my knowledge, unique.

Exactly how does this field school differ from most ethnographic field schools? Emphasis on participant observation, taught (in part) by observing participants:

The Ethnographic Field School; Tonga, was collaboratively designed with the residents of the village where the field school was to take place.

In the early stages of the project development, I travelled to Ha’ano, a village where I have had ongoing and deep relationships for over a dozen years. In village meetings, small group and individual meetings with village elders, and with members of the women’s development committees, we strategized about questions related to pedagogy and content: We asked ourselves, how and what to teach students who might become ethnographers in the future? I had my own ideas about criteria, but I wanted the hosts of the school, and the people usually relegated to the role of ‘observed’ and ‘interviewed’ to say what, and how, they wanted the students to learn.
We agreed that the underlying principles of the school should be as follows:
The ethnographic field school would provide an experientially rich entré to doing ethnography in the ‘classic’ sense.
The students should enjoy the experience.
The village and island residents should enjoy and benefit from the Field School.
The students would acquire respect for Tongan culture, society and people.
The students would appreciate the covenant of reciprocity and respect that underlies the long-term ethnographic encounter.

Building on these principles, we agreed that key elements of the Fieldschool would be:
Cultural orientation and lessons in social etiquette prior to staying in the village.
Classes on ethnographic ethics, mapping, kinship, participant observation, interviewing, visual and written field notes, Tongan culture, history, economy, politics, ecology, fishing, farming, textile-making, child-rearing, ceremony and language.
Classes in anthropology to be taught by academic professor, classes on Tongan ethnography to be taught by Tongans.
Tongan culture experts identified as potential interviewees or invited to teach in their areas of expertise to be paid or offered honoraria.
Students homestay in the village; one student per family; they participate in household chores as if a son or daughter of the household.
The Field School would reimburse the village, each homestay family, and provide tranlation assistance to students.
All ethnographic information recorded by students during the fieldschool to remain unpublished.

Based on those meetings, I drafted a field school proposal, and submitted it to the Study Abroad Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. When the proposal was accepted, and with financial support from the Centre for Pacific Islands Studies, I hired a particularly skilled and well-respected Tongan woman as Field School Assistant, to help make arrangements, coordinate travel, translate documents, and act as curriculum development partner.
Thus, from the outset, the fieldschool was participatory, culturally-sensitive in design and action-research oriented.

While the students learned to be participant observers, the villagers learned to be observant participants in the training of ethnographers. In essence, people most used to being the subjects of research were recruited as active educators of a future crop of anthropologists:

In addition to acting as home-stay hosts, village residents were active teaching partners, providing

  • guest lectures in the classroom,
  • hands-on lessons in the gardens, reef, fishing boats and weaving houses, and
  • ethnographic interviews on subjects negotiated between student, villager and instructor.

Perhaps most significantly, the villagers acted as evaluators of the students’ performance, contributing to the students’ final grades.
The most radical differences between my Ethnographic Fieldschool: Tonga and other forms of field school training lay in the privileging of local needs, and repositioning of knowledge, pedagogy, curriculum content, and authority to teach to those who are normally constructed as interlocutors rather than instructors.
The fieldschool offered fun, information, but also the praxis of subverting usual forms of power coded into the researched-researcher relation. I am very proud of this model.

Unfortunately, not all students can participate in a multiweek long ethnographic field school. However, even a short visit — like the one I did recently for KulturStudier in Pondicherry India — can be very important.

Last month, at my request, the Kulturstudier India team organized a field visit to a village (We tried to organize three day-trips; two went awry through no fault of the team, but the third, was accomplished very well). Special mention must be made here for Senthil Raja, Kavitha Ramkumar and Marie Nyhuus, who did a lot of the ground work, including running all around Pondicherry, drawing on personal connections, and giving lots of hours on top of their usual tasks; to Laurie Schmidt also, for endorsing the concept.

The main goals were to
1. Give the students a chance to experience actively the village they’d been viewing passively through bus windows.
2. Give the students a real life example that they could use to reflect upon when reading or discussing written materials to do with governance, gender, village life, education and/or the presence of religion in everyday life.
3. Test the opportunity to institute a regular village visit into the Religion and Power program.

In the last week of the anthropology lectures, the anthropology students walked from the study centre at Kailash Resort to Pooranankuppam, Pondicherry – புதுச்சேரி – in Tamil Nadu, India.

We met with the Vice-president of the village panchayat (an elected official at the local government level).  He escorted us through the village, on foot, introducing us to some other members of the village leadership, and showing us some of the significant sites within the village – including the public gathering / performance space, the government school, the market, the government food-distribution store, and the central temple. We had great fun seeing inside the elementary school, and performed an impromptu song for the students in one classroom; we exchanged gifts, and had a question & answer session with two members of the panchayat.  After 2.5 hours, we went back to Kailash for lunch.

While not exactly an ethnographic field school, it was an important learning opportunity.  How for example, does it fit within Chickering’s and Gamson’s  7 principles?

  • A field trip is a form of active learning; It makes discussions of village leadership more relevant because students have a context, they can remember, not imagine, the village leaders they met.
  • Students were able to ask questions –of the local experts- and receive an prompt feedback. They didn’t have to remember to look it up later.
  • The visit was structured in time, and space, so students knew to pay attention now, to stay on task.
  • In terms of respecting diverse talents and ways of learning, experiential, learners had the opportunity to touch and smell, as well as see & hear; it was kinaesthetic as well as oral & aural.
  • That particular walking visit didn’t go beyond the student-faculty contact that already existed, but it did put that contact in a different context. Insofar as the visit modelled ethnographic interviewing for students, it added value to the student-faculty contact.
  • It didn’t go beyond student cooperation that already existed (but it could do, if properly structured).
  • Expectations were communicated in terms of socially appropriate dress code; students were asked to prepare questions in advance. Whether these are ‘high’ or just ‘normal’ expectations is open to discussion.

How does it fit the 2 pearls criteria?

  • In post-program evaluations, 53% of the students rated the visit as “very good”
  • 33% said it was good.
  • No one said it was poor or very poor.

Anecdotally, immediately after the visit, students reported a better understanding of what a panchayat is, how it works, and a better impression of the way local governance works in Pondicherry.

So: a small start, but an overall success.

This being said, no matter what type of classroom, and no matter how wonderful the experiences offered, a course needs to have some clear objectives / goals, and a clear idea of what the student will learn/gain. Ideally, those learning outcomes are integrated with the final evaluation, and the readings & assignments support the learning objectives and the final evaluation. When that is done, then the chances for success, measured by student performance and satisfaction, and by the satisfaction of the pedagogy team, are high.

There is a tool that I use when trying to create a well-integrated course design:

Questions for Formulating Significant Learning Goals

I ask myself: “A year (or more) after this course is over, I want and hope that students will _________…..” (achieve, apply, know, remember)   _____   (what?)

Foundational Knowledge
• What key information (e.g., facts, terms, formulae, concepts, principles, relationships, etc.) is/are important for students to understand and remember in the future?
• What key ideas (or perspectives) are important for students to understand in this course?

Application Goals
• What kinds of thinking are important for students to learn?
~Critical thinking, in which students analyze and evaluate
~Creative thinking, in which students imagine and create
~Practical thinking, in which students solve problems and make decisions
• What important skills do students need to gain?
• Do students need to learn how to manage complex projects?

Integration Goals
• What connections (similarities and interactions) should students recognize and make…:
~Among ideas within this course?
~Between the information, ideas, and perspectives in this course and those in other courses or areas?
~Among material in this course and the students’ own personal, social, and/or work life?

Human Dimensions Goals
• What could or should students learn about themselves?
• What could or should students learn about understanding others and/or interacting with them?

Caring Goals
• What changes/values do you hope students will adopt?

“Learning-How-to-Learn” Goals
• What would you like for students to learn about:
~how to be good students in a course like this?
~how to learn about this particular subject?
~how to become a self-directed learner of this subject, i.e., having a learning agenda re: what they need/want to learn, and a plan for learning it?

So why, you are asking yourself, did I call this lecture Sand in My Syllabus?

Sand is gritty;
It gets into your eyes, your ears, your hair, under your fingernails;
It abrades your skin;

Sand makes you aware of things you normally take for granted. Sand may be something common to the ‘way off campus locations I’ve taught (and one of the on-campuses too), but it is also a great metaphor for the ‘way off campus pedagogical experience, indeed, for the ethnographic experience.  Because in the same way that anthropology puts grit in our comfy stereotypes and cultural assumptions, once you start thinking about the requirements for teaching in non-university classrooms; such as to retirees on cruise ships, or to university students on away-from-home courses, the value of experience-near, and experience-rich learning opportunities abrades your usual ways of thinking about teaching. It puts sand in your syllabus.

I’m excited about the opportunities for ‘way off campus / ‘experience-near’ teaching because I think it does the job of breaking down stereotypes, of de-romanticizing the ‘other’ and making them the ‘neighbour, the partner, the friend’ better than does the university lecture hall. So I’m excited about ‘experience-near’ teaching because it makes my university lecture hall teaching better, too.

Let me wrap-up with some observations on what having sand in my syllabus has taught me about the past and future of teaching anthropology, and how best to align with the classic theme of deconstructing stereotypes, of making the exotic familiar and the familiar exotic:

In the Past, we had:

  • Reports sent to the armchair anthropologist (who wrote them into books and lectures)
  • Anthropologists went to the region, interviewed people from the porch (and wrote it into books and lectures)
  • Anthropologists went lived in the village (and wrote it into books and lectures)
  • Anthropologist spokes for the people / research subjects

Result: Learning based on anthro-Prof mediating between subject & student; (think Frazer, Malinowski, Mead, Firth….)

In the Future, we will have more of:

  • Subjects of research travel; Students travel too
  • Subjects can speak for themselves
  • Anthropologist / Professor’s role becomes that of learning coach and student mentor
  • Professor enables experience-rich learning opportunities
  • Professor’s role emphasises context provision

Result: Learning based on guided, experience -near interactions

Note that in this model, the professor is responsible as context provider and enabler of experientially rich learning opportunities. ‘Context’ includes the academic \ scientific literature, factual information, and perspectives on the public & specialized discourses on the subject matter. It includes the structure of the learning experience, and the integrated learning design.

The anthropologist professor is not replaceable, not redundant. But the style of teaching anthropology that we have had since WWII… well, that is replaceable.

It is my humble opinion that, while university-based education is irreplaceable, and the role of the professor\researcher is absolutely necessary, the learner interest in, and opportunities for, teaching ‘way off-campus are only going to increase. That is a good thing for the anthropological project of valourizing of diversity, of countering social, ethnic and gendered stereotypes, of dismantling the echelons of injustice, of exposing the selfishness of inequity, of confronting stigma, of thinking comparatively, of making the ‘exotic familiar and the familiar exotic’. In fact, anthropology is the discipline/praxis/perspective that is intrinsically well-situated for putting sand into everybody’s syllabus, and doing it ‘way off-campus.


Thank you to Kulturstudier, especially Dr. Thorgeir Kolshus and Dr. Rune Tjelland for inviting me to think about the subject of academic pedagogy in non-normal settings.



Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson (last accessed Dec 2, 2012)

Making a Difference and Making a Difference Training for Trainers (last accessed Dec 2, 2012)

Penn State Diversity Activities for Youth ad Adults  (last accessed Dec 2, 2012)

Anthropology Students Show their Creativity (and courage)


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Set Them Free, They’ll Grow Wings

I occasionally teach a course at the University of Alberta. It’s called Anthropology 207: Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. The class is intended to give students who are majoring or minoring in anthropology an introduction to the foundational ethnographers and ethnographies of our discipline, the lessons we’ve learned about human society and culture, and a sense of what it is that motivates ethnographers, what it is we actually do.

The usual syntax for a single term course is to assign readings, usually from a text book and an ethnography, provide lectures and tutorials based on the themes in those readings, and evaluate the students’ acquisition of information and synthesis of knowledge with some sort of mid-term test, an assignment based on independent research with library materials, and a final exam. Sometimes the structure of the process can be counter to the intent. The excitement and verve of anthropological insights can get lost in mundane and logistical hoops of tests, essays, lectures etc. So I’m always looking to ways to make Introduction to Cultural Anthropology more interesting.

This term (Winter 2012), I assigned David Graeber‘s Direct Action; An Ethnography, and Thomas Hylland Eriksen‘s Small Places, Large Issues. I chose Eriksen because he provides a readable, yet intellectual, cosmopolitan (and non-nation-centric) perspective on cultural anthropology, because he very neatly encapsulates the iconic ethnographies and the historical issues that we anthropologists want our future colleagues to know about, and because Eriksen has a perspective on anthropology that matches my own: the idea that anthropologists should be relevant for the present, that in our study of the human condition, we should be paying attention to the social faultlines of inequity and disparity, and be alert to re-imaginings of the human condition. In other words, social and cultural anthropology should be a public discourse of the present. I chose Graeber because his book represents something unique for Canadian anthropology students: an ethnography about youth protests, and a particular protest that took place in Canada. It’s tailor-made for talking about contemporary issues of social justice, social organization and governance, gender, creativity, the relationship of the individual to the state, globalization and corporatization, freedom of speech and media, nationalism and Canadian vs USAian culture… many of the issues that are fundamental to contemporary life . The fact that Graeber was part of the planning for the stupendously, surprisingly, successful Occupy Wall Street protest of 2011, and that his ethnography was about the planning and execution of a precursor protest at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, was an added bonus in the ‘contemporary relevance’ tickbox.

Within the usual structure of a term course, the most enjoyable part of the pedagogical design process is coming up with ways to get students engaged, to let their natural creativity be harnessed to the task at hand: learning about cultural anthropology. So far, Alberto Gomes, at La Trobe University, has my vote for the best first class in cultural anthropology. The worst things a university professor has to think about fall within the realm of ‘policing’. Academic dishonesty, mostly plagiarism and cheating on tests, are the things that drive us crazy, and that suck inordinate amounts of time from what would otherwise be a pleasurable occupation: sharing interesting ideas and perspectives with bright young minds. Plagiarism is something the University of Alberta takes fairly seriously — though how successfully, I can’t say. Academic dishonesty is so rampant that it supports an industry of people who create essays for purchase, people who market them, people who create software to document plagiarism, people who sell that software, and people who create and administer policies designed to deal with student plagiarism. When Pulitzer Prize-winning authors like Jared Diamond and Deans of Medical Schools like Philip Baker get caught plagiarizing, being the thankless plagiarism-cop in an undergraduate anthropology class can feel like a war already lost (but an important battle nonetheless).

Part of my solution to the Pushme-Pullyou of student nurturing and policing is to design evaluation projects that are less likely to put students in the zone of temptation. To reduce the potential for students to ‘recycle’ papers, to get them enthused about the contemporary relevance of what they are researching, AND to get them to think outside of the box, so excited that they won’t want to cheat, I often ask the students to focus on a particular, timely, theme. In previous years my students have done their major assignments on trash, or on public spectacles like the Olympics and music concerts. I also encourage my students to show me the product of their research in a creative way – they can write an essay if they wish, but they can also create a video, use social media, produce a graphic novel or an epistolary. Making something publically visible is great incentive not to plagiarize.

This year, given the massive numbers of people involved in the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring, and given the fact that their assigned ethnography charts people who are part of a social movement questioning the corporatism of society and our political system, the Anthropology 207 student projects were focused on social movements (there is even a journal dedicated to social movement studies – I must be on to something).The students could write on any social movement, anywhere, even in any time period, so long as it was relevant to the present. The criteria were to use at least 10 scholarly resources in their research and to provide an anthropological analysis of that particular social movement. This could include considering how that movement was an aspect and reflection of the society and culture of its participants, how cultural symbols and aesthetics were evidenced in the activities, tactics and/or motivations of the participants, and/or what the strategies, forms of protest, etc. showed us about that society and culture. Students were provided with very clear marking rubrics that demonstrated my expectations of their paper, social or visual media, and were required to submit an outline in advance, so that I could steer them right if the topic choice was unwise.

The topics students picked ranged widely, from the Zapatistas to Apartheid, and tell us a lot about what today’s youth are thinking about. Gender, hacktivism, and animal-rights figured frequently. The Occupy Movement, surprisingly, was not well-covered. Nor was the Arab Spring, the Burmese Democracy Movement or the variety of other political activisms currently preoccupying our news. Perhaps this reflects the academic resources available more than a lack of interest in politics. The results are not perfect. Nobody followed all of the parameters in the rubrics, for example, and some of the projects look more like journalism than anthropological analysis. But hey, these are not professional anthropologists, these are undergraduate students. What they’ve produced is impressive.

I asked the students to be creative, to have fun, to learn something new and to put what they learned in Anthropology 207 ‘out there’ for the world to see. In a class of 75 students, 30 produced either a blog or a video. That’s over 1/3 who chose to step out of their comfort zone and grow wings. Many had never blogged before, let alone made a video with interviews, sets, props and graphics! I’m so proud of the courage the students have shown. I’m also thrilled with the way the bar has been raised in terms of quality and initiative, and that some students are saying they’re going to keep on blogging about their chosen subject, even after the end of term. Next year’s class has some great inspiration upon which to build!

See for yourself:


“Free Tibet”
“New Atheists Movement”
“Tea Party Movement”
“The Black Panther Movement”
“Anonymous: Internet Liberation Army,”


The Asexuality Movement

The Anti-Fur Movement

South African Anti-Apartheid Movement



Pro-Life Movement

Haida Lyell Island Blockade

Aboriginal Women’s Movement

The Occupy Movement

Anti-Gay Movement

Fair Trade Movement

The Zapatistas

LGBT Movement

The SlutWalk

Anti-Nuclear Movement

Jonathon Nyau: European Anti-Nuclear Movement

Fair-Trade (Coffee)

LGBT Rights

Native Sovreignty Movement

Animal Liberation Movement

Women’s Rights Movement

LGBT Movement

Anti-Nuclear Movement (Japan):

Movement to Decriminalize Marijuanna

Gay & Lesbian Social Movement

Make the Dangerous Choice to Dissent – Umair Haque – Harvard Business Review


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This is my first ‘re-blogging’. While I may retweet, I generally prefer to speak my own words.  But Umair Haque has captured my sentiments so well that I have to share him.  Haque blogs for the Harvard Business Review. Indeed. HBR. I admit, my presumptions about HBR were that it would be ultra-conservative. So the pleasing experiences that come from reading Umair Haque’s opinions are augmented by the surprise factor that I’m  reading them in the HBR.  I guess the adage about not judging books by their covers still applies. What applies even more is Haque’s message, one that resonates neatly with the Occupy Wall (Bay, etc) Street anti-inequity campaign currently sweeping North America.

Karl Marx didn’t quite see culturejammers Adbusters coming –he thought the revolution would come from the proletariat rather than artists — but he did predict that ‘the people’ would eventually reject the monopolization of their lives by a work-dominated system that demeans the workers and rewards those who exploit them politically, economically and in terms of cultural capital. And that’s what’s driving the current protests: what they refer to as corporatized and monied corruption of democracy.

Industrial revolution era Marx and his notion that the ultimate society was one without class-based inequities has clearly influenced our current post-modernism era Adbusters (Walter Benjamin too); perhaps they also influence Haque? Certainly Haque and Adbusters’  both are crystallizing what a lot of us are feeling: We’re fed-up with the current system of success for the few and inequity for the majority. We want more than to simply qualify for a mortgage. We want a life that is rewarding beyond the paper handcuffs of a pay cheque. Umair Haque says go for it.  Simply.

Make the Dangerous Choice to Dissent – Umair Haque – Harvard Business Review.

An Activist Toolkit Wiki For Canadians, the Canadian site devoted to progressive and  social justice issues in Canada is developing an Activist’s Toolkit intended to be a venue for sharing of information.  Its in beta form yet, but is already quite useful, with How-To-Guides, Software Tools, Workshop Outlines and sections for media and research.

I really like this! The concept reminds me of a book that was hugely influential in my middle-youth (when I was a 20-something): Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book. Published in 1971,  Steal This Book became a best-seller. It was a how-to for American dissidents who wanted to resist their government.  It was full of  then-radical tips such as how to send a letter for free (put your address on the “To” portion, and the intended address in the “Return” portion; leave the stamp off. The Postal Service would identify insufficient postage and return the letter to sender, AKA the place you wanted it to go to in the first place).  It also had some more problematic info, like how to make a pipe-bomb. Nowadays, we have Google and YouTube for that kind of advice. Likewise, political and corporate policies and procedures, not to mention laws and public attitudes towards dissent and activism, have changed. Steal This Book is now a nostalgic nod to a time when youth activism was prominent on the political landscape, mostly because it is a technological relic.  Which makes the new Activist’s Toolkit so relevant and helpful.  Its a wiki, meaning participants can change and add content over time.  Plus, it is Canadian.  The advice is relevant for our political system.

What do they have in common? The idea that a democracy works best when its citizenry are engaged, know how the system works, and can work in solidarity to make sure that our governments work on our behalf.


Enviro-Warriors of Madang and Info-Access: A David and Goliath Story


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People living in Papua New Guinea’s northern province of Madang, and especially those residing on, from, or around Astrolabe Bay with its extensive and relatively pristine coral reefs and marine life, have been involved for the past several years in a series of controversies related to mining and its potential impact on human and environmental well-being. This includes the town of Madang, the people living along the Rai, Rempi and northern coasts, the islands of Karkar, Long and Bagabag, the people working in the simple commodity and commercial fishing sector, and people using the Ramu river system for their fresh water.

Already included in this controversy are matters of lifestyle; human health; degradation of land, rivers and marine ecosystems; culture and language change; gender relations; economic development; political transparency, corruption and representation; local and national politicians and bureaucrats charged with financing social and physical infrastructure in challenging geographic and cultural conditions; assumptions that mineral resources are key to national wealth and local modernization; allegations of political corruption; lack of political representation; foreign-owned consortium of mining companies bidding for the right to develop a mine; xenophobia, racism and sexism; ethnic, gender, power and profit-related violence; ecological risk and destruction…. The list is long. These same issues are affecting numerous communities in Papua New Guinea, and have sparked a national and international cohort of social, environmental and legal experts focussed on mining and its impacts.

The Madang situation in particular seems to represent a microcosm of the whole. There, we see a David and Goliath type battle emerging over a mine and it’s refinery at Basamuk Bay. The actual nickel and cobalt mine is at Kurumbukari, over one hundred kilometers away, in the high foothills overlooking the Ramu river. It is being operationalised by RamuNiCo, a consortium headed by the China Metallurgical Corporation, who bought controlling interest from the original developer, Highlands Pacific. Basamuk Bay was chosen as the refinery site because it is near a deep water harbour suitable for large cargo ships and a low mountain of mostly limestone, suitable for neutralizing the sulphur used in the mineral extraction process. It is also conveniently close to a deep-sea trench, known as the Basamuk Canyon. The plan is for the waste slurry to be discharged into the head of an offshore canyon, in water depths of 150 m. This deep sea trench was thought to be an ideal site for depositing the mine tailings because it would keep them away from the land and reduce the risks of land-based pollution. This is the solution adopted by the Lihir mine, in Papua New Guinea’s New Ireland province. But no one asked the local landowners, especially the women whose identity and life revolve around their food gardens, nor the fishers who harvest from the ocean, if they wanted their local hill or sea to be used for a refinery. Nor did anyone fully understand the implications and potential risks of deep sea tailings placement (DSTP).

The argument has been that DSTP was safe because the Basamuk Canyon is so deep the tailings will never come back into zones useful to human life. The mine’s original developers also argued that there was so much silt carried into Basamuk Bay by the rivers, that the impact of any extra sediment would be a minimal. However, an alternative perspective, backed up by at least one independent report, is that the initial science was incorrect: the area is very geologically and tectonically active, and the tailings could in fact, upwell and effect the local reef and wider marine ecosystems, particularly around Karkar and Bagabag islands. Further, the quality of the mine tailings, even when neutralised by the limestone mined from Basamuk, would be more toxic to marine life than the silt carried down the rivers that drain into Astrolabe Bay. All told, DSTP would seem to herald disastrous effects for Astrolabe Bay, and perhaps the entire Bismark Sea ecosystem.

The David and Goliath part of the story? There is virtually no provision in Papua New Guinea to support individuals or communities who want to oppose governmental decisions. In Canada, by contrast, when First Nations peoples began to negotiate 20th century treaties with the Crown (Government of Canada), a fund was established by the government to enable the First Nations to hire independent specialists, lawyers, etc. so as to be able to negotiate equitably with both the government itself and the various corporations planning or already active in resource extraction over claimed lands. While Papua New Guinea has already entrenched traditional land rights in the constitution, and approximately 80% of the nation’s land title is held by traditional land-owners, in most cases those are people who are undereducated, perhaps illiterate, and certainly not able to negotiate on an equal footing with governmental and corporate lawyers, scientists, etc. There is no fund or bureaucracy there to support their interest, or to ensure an equitable process contra that of their national government, or the material interests of the corporations bidding on tenders. The situation has been ripe for exploitation. Some of the worst stories are of land owners’ being taken advantage of by their own clansmen, who see opportunities to further their own finances at the expense of their “primitive” kin. In such situations, locals have had to defend on champions and ‘enviro-warriors’ rather than their own government, to protect their constitutionally-given rights.

But it’s not a neat local vs government, evil miners vs simple locals kind of battle . Some landowners and many politicians want the mining project to go ahead. It means jobs and improved economy, for locals, the province and the nation. That revenue is necessary for funding education, health and transportation sectors, all keys to good development. The government needs that income in order to meet PNG’s Millennium Development Goals. Infrastructure development improves opportunities beyond subsistence farming and fishing. Those are good reasons. But is conversion to a cash economy a good thing, and is it ok to do it at the risk of a sustainable ecosystem?

These are the kinds of questions that a true democracy asks, and enables its citizens to ask. And some Papua New Guineans are raising those questions. But in any nation, raising these questions requires knowing how, and having access to information. Here are ways that people in Papua New Guinea are often disadvantaged: People have not been taught about how democracies work, about how to affect bureaucratic or political or corporate processes. Accurate and appropriate information is hard to come by. National news service stories can be biased, poorly researched and even more poorly distributed. Internet is non-existant in most parts of the country, and slow and expensive where it is available (if you know how to read and can use a computer). Often, it seems that the national bureaucracy seems to work for the political and economic leadership in opposition to the local and rural residents. Non-access to information and bureaucratic inefficiency is especially useful if the locals are suspected to oppose national plans. It’s easy for documents to be ‘lost’ and for exploiters to get away with shady deals, because the information necessary to stop them, and hence the institutional memory, is unavailable.

That’s why I’m posting the text of a particular legal writ here. I am not the author of the document included below. I don’t even have especially privileged access to it: It comes, courtesy of a Google-powered search, from the files of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide. For as long as the document is retained and accessible on their site, you can find it yourself here (or below). This is a historically significant document. I think it marks one of the first times an ‘enviro-warrior’ was able to use peaceful, legal means to make the PNG government listen to public opposition, and stop and re-think their national plans. If you read the document (below), you’ll get a very good sense of the history of the Madang situation and the key players in the current controversy over DSTP from the Basamuk Bay refinery.

The enviro-warriors I refer to include Tiffany Nonggorr, one of PNG’s few female lawyers. She’d be the pebble in David’s sling: She sure brought Goliath to his knees, at least for now! I would include bloggers Ramu Mine Watch and Nancy Sullivan. Nancy has posted most of the key results from the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences’ report on DSTP in Astrolabe Bay here, and Ramu Mine Watch has put the whole pdf file on his blog, here. Other enviro-warriors include George Ireng of Madang, who started the “We Say No to Deep Sea Waste Disposal in Basamuk Bay” Facebook page, and Eddie Tarsie and Farina Siga, local elected representatives and land-owners from the Rai Coast, who asked Tiffany Nonggorr to represent them in the legal action designed to ensure their voices are heard in the debate, in the hope their cultural and traditional relationship to the land and the ocean will be protected, now and for the future. The refinery is close to being finished, as is the pipeline for carrying the ore slurry from Kurumbukari to Basamuk Bay.

The unanswered question remains: if the tailings are not to be deposited in the Basamuk Canyon, where will they be put? All of us are implicated in this. Nickel has been part of the human cultural repertoire for approximately 5500 years. It was a major colonial and industrial era commodity, and it’s very much a part of our lives today. Do you own mutual funds with mineral shares? Do you wear jewelry? Use NiCad or Lithium-ion batteries? Drive a vehicle with metallic paints or chrome detailing? Use tools made from metal alloys? I bet you sometimes handle coins made from metal. Ever thought about why the Canadian and American five cent piece is called a ‘nickel’?


Eddie Tarsie for himself and in his capacity as Ward Councilor of Ward 3, Sidor Local Level Government, Madang Province.
First Plaintiff
Farina Siga for himself and in his capacity as Ward Secretary of Ward 3, Sidor, Local Level Government, Madang Province
Second Plaintiff
Peter Sel
Third Plaintiff
Pommern Incorporated Land Group No 12591
Fourth Plaintiff
Sama Melambo for himself and as Chairman of Pommern Incorporated Land Group
Fifth Plaintiff
Ramu Nico Management (MCC) Limited
First Defendant
Mineral Resources Authority
Second Defendant
Dr Wari Iamo in his capacity as the Director of the Environment
Third Defendant
Department of Environment and Conservation
Fourth Defendant
The Independent State of Papua New Guinea
Fifth Defendant



1. This is an application for Interim Injunctions pursuant to the Notice of Motion filed by the Plaintiffs 4 March 2010

2. The documents relied on by the Plaintiffs are:-

a) Notice of Motion filed 4 March 2010
b) Affidavit of Dr Phil Shearman sworn 3 March 2010
c) Affidavit of Peter Sel sworn November 2009
d) Affidavit of Eddie Tarsie sworn November 2009
e) Affidavit of Farima Siga sworn November 2009
f) Affidavit of Tony Sua sworn 3 March 2010
g) Affidavit of Sama Melambo filed 5 March 2010
h) Undertaking as to Damages by Third Plaintiff filed 4 March 2010
i) Undertaking as to damages filed 4 March 2010
j) Affidavit No 2 of Sama Melambo filed 11 March 2010
k) Affidavit of Dr Amanda Reichelt- Brushett filed 11 March 2010
l) Affidavit of Ticker Hayka filed 11 March 2010



3. The First Plaintiff is a customary landowner on the Rai Coast and the duly elected Ward Councilor of Ward 3, Sidor Local Level Government, Madang Province and by virtue of his office held is entitled to sue on his own behalf as a landowner and in his representative capacity on matters concerning the environment and the welfare of the people in Ward 3, Sidor Local Level Government, Madang Province who have customary land rights over the land of Rai Coast and waters in Astrolabe Bay.

4. The Second Plaintiff is a customary landowner on the Rai Coast and the Ward Secretary of Ward 3, Sidor, Local Level Government, Madang Province.

5. The Third Plaintiff is an adult male citizen and customary landowner on the Rai Coast of land and riparian rights and is entitled to sue on his own behalf.

6. The Fourth Plaintiff is Pommern Incorporated Land Group No 12591 which is the incorporated entity of a Landowner Group from Basamuk in Madang Province and is a registered disputing claimant.

7. The Fifth Plaintiff is a clan leader of Mebu Clan at Basamuk customary landowner disputing claimant at Basamuk in Madang Province and the Chairman of the Pommern Incorporated Land Group.

8. The Plaintiffs and the people the First Plaintiff represents have customary rights to and have relied and continue rely upon the shores, land and sea waters of the Rai Coast for their livelihoods, including for food, being protein, greens and seaweed for transport for people and goods, for washing persons, for traditional ceremonies and customs and for the aesthetic beauty of the areas.

History of the Ramu Nickel project

9. In or around January 1999 Ramu Nickel Ltd (a subsidiary of Highlands Pacific Ltd) lodged an application for a Special Mining lease for the Ramu Nickel project and lodged the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 for this project with the Department of Environment and Conservation (Fourth Defendant).

10. On 21 March 2000 the Department of Environment and Conservation approved the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 under the repealed legislation the Environmental Planning Act (repealed).

11. On 26 July 2000 the Special Mining Lease (hereinafter referred to as “SML”) was granted to Ramu Nickel Ltd.

12. The SML and Environmental Plan Approval was subject to numerous conditions including that the leassee shall comply with all the relevant legislation applicable to the lease including that administered by the department of Mining, Office of Environment and Conservation and the Bureau of Water Resources.

13. On 1 January 2004, the Environment Act 2000 came into force and amongst other things repealed the Environmental Planning Act, the Water resources Act and the Environmental Contaminants Act.

14. The Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval itself was technically saved however pursuant to section 136 of the Environment Act 2000.

15. In 2004 however the China Metallurgical Construction Company (hereinafter referred to as “MCC”), a Chinese State-owned steel company started negotiations to fully finance the operations, including rights to construct, operate and secure off take arrangements for the proposed Ramu Nickel mine.

16. On 9 February 2004 a framework agreement was signed in Beijing by MCC, Ramu Nickel Limited, Mineral Resources Development Company Limited and the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. Neither the Plaintiffs, nor any landowners were consulted or involved. The framework agreement states that those parties agree in good faith to form a Joint Venture to develop the project and that the “landowners” would be a party to the Joint Venture. The agreement records that that Ramu Nickel Limited and the State shall give the mine and all exploitation rights to MCC in exchange for only a 15% interest(to be divided 8.7% to Highlands Pacific and 6.3% to the State) and that MCC would be responsible for the 100% funding of the project.

17. A Joint Venture Agreement and also a Mining Development Contract was signed between MCC, Ramu Nickel Limited and the Independent State of Papua New Guinea in 2005 and the SML was transferred from Ramu Nickel Limited to MCC in or around October 2005.

18. A company was registered by its 100% owner MCC to manage and operate the Ramu Nickel mine project and that is the First Defendant.

19. The construction of the mine commenced in 2008 by the First Defendant, but the mine is not yet operational.

20. When operational, the Ramu Nickel mine will be a series of open cut mine pits and a beneficiation plant to produce ore slurry at Kurumbrukari in Madang Province. A slurry pipeline approximately 134km long will transport the ore slurry from the Kurubrukari mine site eastwards to the refinery plant at Basamuk Bay on the Rai Coast. The refinery plant will produce nickel metal and a cobalt salt product using acid pressure leaching technology.

The Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 and Environmental Approval

21. The Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 was prepared by NSR Environmental Consultants Pty Ltd, an Australian company that has advised companies on 25 ocean disposal projects clustered in 9 countries being Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, the Philippines, Chile, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Cuba and Canada.

22. According to the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999, the First Defendant will then dump 5 million tones of hot tailings into Astrolabe Bay each year for the life of the mine which is estimated at 20 years, totaling 100 million tones of tailings. The tailings will consist of mainly sediment and fines which will contain among other substances high levels of heavy metals including but not limited to manganese, chromium, nickel and mercury. It will also contain high levels of ammonia and sulphuric acid. The First Defendant will additionally dump waste rock and soil directly into the sea at Basamuk Bay during the construction and life of the mine as well as raw sewerage from 2500 people for 30 months.

23. Because of concerns as to the environmental effects of these tailings and waste disposal, in late 2000 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea commissioned the Mineral Policy Institute to undertake an independent review of aspects of the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 as complied by Natural Research Systems (herein after referred to as “NSR”). This was motivated by concerns for the well being of the Madang Community and an underlying desire for both development and environmental protection in Madang province (Aff Dr Phil Shearman – full report annexed.)

24. The selection of the team for this review was based on two criteria; independence and expertise. Consultants were required that had a track record of excellence in research in the region, who had experience in environmental impact assessments and who could talk authoritatively on complementary aspects of the Ramu Environmental Plan that involved deep Sea Tailings Disposal. Independence was crucial, individuals were needed who had not worked for the mining industry in Papua New Guinea and who were not aligned with “green” groups in other parts of the world.

25. After a search for suitable candidates , three eminent scientists from Australian institutions were employed being

a) Dr John Luick, an oceanographer and Lecturer in Ocean wave Theory and Scientific Consultant to the National Tidal facility at The Flinders University of South Australia (p17 report).
b) Dr Gregg Brunskill, a marine geochemist and research fellow at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville Australia (p18 report)
c) Dr Marcus Sheaves, a marine ecologist and Lecturer at James Cook University in Townsville Australia(p18 report).

26 Dr Phil Shearman, an Ecologist and currently the Director of the Remote Sensing Centre in the Biology Department at the School of Natural and Physical Sciences at the University of Papua New Guinea was chosen to author the final report and analise the three separate findings and reports of the scientists.

27 The fundamental findings of the reports were that NSR had compiled a well presented but fatally flawed case for the discharge of mine tailings via a submarine pipe into Astrolabe Bay and that further that there can be no doubt that disturbance on the scale of a Submarine Tailings Disposal operation will have significant biological impact.

28 The report found If the dumping is to proceed, then the potential consequences should be weighed against the environmental degradation which could result from both Submarine Tailings Disposal and other tailings disposal methods. The Government of Papua New Guinea did not have this option in regard to the Ramu Nickel Project as the Environmental Plan prepared by NSR gave no indication of the likely impacts or risks associated with the proposal and did not thoroughly examine alternatives to marine discharge.

29 Essentially the review found that the behavior of tailings discharged into Astrolabe Bay was not adequately explained in the NSR Environmental Plan. While NSR claim that tailings will be deposited safely on the deep floor of the Vitiaz Basin, on the basis of their own date, this is extremely improbable. The review found overall sheds significant doubt on NSR’s predictions about the biologiocal impacts of Submarine Tailings Disposal in Astrolabe Bay. (refer to report)

Events after Lutheran Report

30 The project was essentially put on hold from 2001 to 2006 after the SML had been transferred to MCC. Given the announcement that the Ramu Nickel project was to start, people in Madang started expressing concerns about it. An update forum was held at Divine Word on Monday 14 August 2006 and there, the Lutheran Church presented to Sir Peter Barter (the then Member for Madang, Minister and member of NEC) a copy of their report commissioned in 2000/2001 (annexed to the affidavit of Dr Phil Shearman). Sir Peter Barter described the report as credible and assured the church representatives that the issue would be looked at seriously. The people waited.

31 On 9 February 2007, a report was published in the Post Courier newspaper by a Clement Kunandi Victo, which highlighted the dangerous effects of the proposed dumping of the tailings on the fisheries resources in Madang. There was no response from Government.

32 On 14 January 2008, it was reported that 1.2 million Lutherans (the Plaintiffs and people at Basamuk are Lutherans) had petitioned the Somare Government to seriously look at the environmental impact of the Ramu Nickel mine, and that that action had been taken after Prime Minister Michael Somare rejected three attempts in 2007 by the ELCPNG head the late Bishop Dr Wesley Kigasung to receive the environmental study commissioned by the Church. It reported that Dr Kigasung had wrote to Sir Michael, his deputy and Mining Minister Dr Puka Temu and Environment and Conservation Minister Benny Allen to accept the report and seriously consider the mine’s pollution impact to the sea. Former Member of Parliament Sir Peter Barter joined with Dr Kisagung and requested that these politicians meet personally with Dr Kisagung. There was no response from the Ministers.

33 On 7 April 2008, a Newspaper report in the Post Courier stated that the Fisheries Minister Ben Semri had said that he would not allow mine tailings from the Ramu Nickel project to enter PNG waters and said that he totally opposed the submarine tailings disposal and it would be a major environmental disaster if true. He was reported as stating in parliament that the NFA documented and strongly opposed the idea and stated that “NFA will not be irresponsible to let destruction or pollution enter PNG seas.”

34 On the 10th of April 2008, a Post Courier newspaper report recorded Minister Semri as stating that 30,000 people in the country would lose their jobs and fish exports could be rejected if the waters of PNG were polluted with mining waste and that the NFA opposed any toxic form of tailings.

35 On 11 April 2008, the Post Courier reported that the opposition asked the government a series of questions during a press conference relating to environmental damage and asked and asked the Ministers of Mining, Environment and Fisheries to state what their positions were with regard to the much debated Basamuk Tailings.

36 On 18 April 2008, the Post Courier reported that the catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement saying they joined the increasing number of groups and individuals calling for a review of the environmental issues involving the Ramu Nickel project and stated that the submarine tailings disposal plan must not be allowed to go ahead.

37 On 13 May 2008, the Post Courier reported that the Head of the Lutheran Church of PNG, Dr Kisagung described the prolonged silence of Sir Michael Somare on their report into the effects of the Ramu Nickel mine waste on marine life in Madang Province as a matter of great concern not only for the church but also for the country as a whole.

38 Eventually Dr Puka Temu, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Mines, then announced in June 2008 that the government had commissioned a study to be conducted by the Scottish Association of Marine Science to study the environmental impact of the Ramu Nickel project on the Basamuk area., following widespread concerns over the proposed deep sea tailings disposal system (see newspaper report). The Minister said all stakeholders including the Madang Provincial Government and Landowners, particularly those at Basamuk, would be given a full report on the findings after the study was completed. The Scottish Association of Marine Science was actually tasked to (1) provide a report on the effects of the submarine tailings disposal operations at Lihir and Misima, (2) to provide a baseline study as to the marine environment at Basamuk in Madang Province and (3) provide a set of guidelines for submarine tailings disposal in Papua New Guinea.

39 The Scottish Institute of Marine Science then in November 2008 ran a Deep Sea Tailing Placement Conference in Madang which according to a Post Courier report dated 11 November 2008, ended with calls for the National Government not to pursue the submarine tailings disposal option until all uncertainties were resolved. This was in response to the presentation of Draft guidelines and criteria generally for deep sea tailings disposal. The findings of the team as to the effects of tailings was NOT presented at all, in darft or otherwise, as it was not completed nor intended to be so presented. The newspaper report also recorded the Governor of Madang as saying that the people are concerned and not satisfied with the current understanding of impacts on our livelihood and life and are not willing to accept the uncertainty of risks posed by deep sea tailings disposal.

40 The Plaintiffs have been waiting for the Final report by the Scottish Institute of Marine Science to be produced and made public by the government and assumed that the government would not allow the deep sea tailings disposal to go ahead without considering the final report. They were shocked to read then in the newspaper this year that coral blasting was to commence in March.

41 Also shocked to hear about the blasting was Telikom.

42 Telikom PNG and Pipe International are laying a new Fibre Optic Submarine Cable System between Sydney, Madang and Guam.This cable system is designed to be the principal gateway to the country for voice and internet traffic and through it will pass the majority of the country’s e-business as well as tele-medicine and education data. The cable laying into and out of Madang was completed in 2009. Telikom PNG is extremely concerned that Ramu Nico management (MCC) Ltd’s stated plan to place 5 million tonnes a year totaling 100 million tones of tailing waste on the seabed in Basamuk Bay, could leading to conditions for a future slide of heaped tailings down the submarine slope leading to a break in the cable. Based on available science and reports, a report was compiled which sets out Telikom PNG’s main concerns and the basis upon which the concerns are founded (aff Ticker Hayka).

43 Even on Ramu Nico Management (MCC) Ltd’s own predictions, that the tailings will slide down a slope in a continuous coherent flow to deeper water, the risk of a massive turbidity current being triggered by a tectonic event will be increased. In their Environmental Plan by NSR, terrestrial and seabed landslides, and earthquakes are considered a real threat

44 Such a turbidity current may be capable of breaking and washing away a section of the cable system. A similar turbidity current, generated by a tectonic event in the Luzon Strait in 2006 travelled 150 kms and broke a number of cables in the process.

45 If a break does occur, this would cause significant dislocation to PNG’s telecommunications services while a specialist repair ship was brought to PNG to recover and replace the cable. Apart from the specific cost of the repair operation, the cost to the country in down-time would also be significant.

46 Given Telikom PNG’s concerns they sent a letter in January to Dr Wang, the Technical Director of Ramu Nico Management (MCC) Ltd and expressed their concerns, enclosing their report and requesting a meeting. Telikom met with Dr Wang and he stated that they were reviewing their tailings disposal options and disposal sites and would keep Telikom informed as to their progress.

47 Telikom were not contacted again by Dr Wang or anyone from Ramu Nico Management (MCC) Ltd to date, so they were very surprised to see the Newspapers reporting that Ramu Nico was to commence coral blasting.

48 In addition to the potential break in the cable Telikom are extremely concerned that the blasting program announced by Ramu Nico so as to facilitate the laying of the outfall pipe will adversely impact or disrupt the operations of the telecommunications cable.

49 The Plaintiffs then requested a copy of the report from the Mineral Resources Authority as they assumed that the government must have received the report or they wouldn’t be allowing Ramu Nickel to proceed with construction for the dumping. They as yet have not received any information from MRA on this report.

50 The Plaintiffs however on 8 March 2010 contacted the Scottish Association for Marine Science and asked for a copy of the report. Dr Tracy Shimmield, the team leader for the report replied stating that the draft final report was with MRA and the department of Environment and Conservation for comments and then once the comments have been communicated to her, the Final report will be sent to the department of Environment and Conservation. She also stated that whilst the European Union paid for the report, the report could only be obtained from the relevant authorities.

51 The plain and disgraceful situation is the government is allowing the First defendant to go ahead with its proposed deep sea tailings disposal plan despite
a) There being in existence a credible, unchallenged and independent report compiled by 4 individual reputable marine scientists that essentially finds there will be a lot of environmental harm if the tailings dumping goes ahead and that the Environmental Plan of the First Defendant is fatally flawed,
b) Objection by the National Fisheries Authority to the dumping as it will endanger fish resources
c) Well known findings by the World Bank Extractive Industry Report in 2003 that “Submarine Tailings Disposal should not be used until balanced and unbiased research , accountable to balanced stakeholder management, demonstrates its safety. Whatever the outcome of the research, STD and riverine tailings disposal should not be used in areas such as coral reefs that have important ecological functions or cultural significance or in coastal waters used for subsistence purposes.”(annexed to Aff No 2 of sama melambo executive summary of the World Bank Extractive Industry Review dated 26 November 2003)
d) The Government not having received and considered and made available for public consultation the independent report it commissioned in response to community concerns on deep sea tailings disposal
e) Serious concerns by Telikom as to the safety of its new cables which are the future of e-communication in PNG
f) The land disputes not being finalized and no proper consultation with landholders or disputing claimants, effectively depriving them of proper consultation and negotiations over their land, and
g) There being in existence alternative means of tailings disposal that would not pose such an ecological risk.

Authorities Ignore the Plaintiffs

52 The people of the Rai Coast other than those at Basamuk have been completely ignored on questions of environmental impact of the mine. They have not been included in any compensation agreement with the First Defendant. Where the first three Plaintiffs live, there are no roads, no telephones, no electricity and no access to newspapers. Their access to Madang is by sea. The Fourth and Fifth Plaintiffs claim land within the land zone of the refinery and are registered at the Land Titles Commission and are therefore disputing claimants within the meaning of the Mining Act. They have not however been consulted in any way on the compensation agreements, nor have they been consulted with on the environmental effects of the mine. The 4th and 5th Plaintiffs objected to the formation of the Basamuk Landowners Association on the basis that the people involved did not represent the true landowners at Basamuk (see letter to Registrar of Companies – Aff sama Melambo) but their objections were ignored. The 4th and 5th Plaintiffs tried to engage directly with the authorities on the development but were ignored. In a desperate attempt to get information, the 5th Plaintiff joined the Basamuk Landowners Association at a annual fee of K200 – but it has been a waste of money as the Association has not represented his group nor has it provided any information to him. The 5th Plaintiff has also written to Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) stating that the basamuk landowners Association have no legal standing to represent the landholders and/or disputing claimants under the Mining Act and that his group must be dealt with directly as they are registered disputing claimants with status under the Mining Act – but he is still ignored.

53 The fifth Plaintiff also objected to a current graveyard with bones and decomposing bodies being relocated to land not accessible to his clan and wrote to the Mining Warden and the Governor and despite the Mining warden and the Governor telling the First Defendant not to relocate the graveyard without proper consultation, the First defendant did it anyway. The fifth defendant cites numerous occasions at Basamuk where the First defendant is not complying with its obligations but the authorities do nothing to correct the situation.

54 The fifth Defendant saw in the newspaper that the First Defendant had received permission from the Department of Environment and Conservation to blast corals to make way for the tailings disposal pipeline, but has no idea when and where this will happen or when the approval was given. He instructed his lawyers to write and seek information from the authorities and letters were sent and follow up phone calls were made, but the Department of Environment and Conservation has ignored the correspondence. The Mineral Resources Authority did respond but simply said they don’t have any copies of the Environmental Plan or the Environmental Impact Assessment and they should get copies from DEC.

55 The people of the Rai Coast in these proceedings are completely in the dark about the affect of this tailings and waste disposal on their environment. They have certainly not been consulted on which reefs are being blasted within days and the effects of that. The only report they have had access to says the dumping risks being a complete environmental disaster and that the dumping is certain to cause biological and environmental harm.


56 The power for this Court to order injunctions are found by combination of Section 155(4) of the Constitution, and Order 14 Rule 10 of the National Court Rules.

57 The principles upon which the Court can grant an interlocutory injunction are well settled. In the decision of Golobadana No. 35 Limited –v- Bank of South Pacific Limited N2309, delivered on 11 November 2002 by His Honour Justice Kandakasi, His Honour cited with approval the Deputy Chief Justice’s judgment in the Employers Federation of Papua New Guinea v Papua New Guinea Waterside Workers and Seamans Union and Arbitration Tribunal N393 (1982), particularly pages 3 and 4.
“However, the House of Lords had the opportunity to reconsider this principle in the case of American Cyanide Company v Essecon Limited (1975) 1 All E.R. 504. The House of Lords laid down the following principles in this case:-
1. Is the action not frivolous or vexatious? Is there a serious question to be tried? Is there a real prospect that the applicant will succeed in a claim for an injunction at the trial?
2. The Court must consider whether the balance of convenience lies in favour of granting or refusing interlocutory relief; and
3. As to the balance of convenience, the Court should first consider whether if the applicant succeeds, he would be adequately compensated by damages for the losses sustained between the application and the trial, in which case no interlocutory injunction should normally be granted; and
4. If damages would not provide an adequate remedy, the Court should then consider whether if the applicant fails, the Defendant would be adequately compensated under the applicant’s undertaking in damages, in which case there would be no reason on this ground to refuse an interlocutory injunction.
5. An important factor in the balance should, other things being even, preserve the status quo.
6. When all other things are equal it may be proper to take into account, in tipping the balance, the relative strength of each party’s case as reviewed by the evidence before the Court hearing the interlocutory application.”
7. A necessary precondition to the granting of an injunction is an adequate undertaking as to damages…

58 His Honour Justice Kandakasi stated, after summarising the authorities, at page 13 of the Golobadana case:-
“A reading of these authorities show consistency or agreement in all of the authorities that the grant of an injunctive relief is an equitable remedy and it is a discretionary matter. The authorities also agree that before there can be a grant of such relief, the court must be satisfied that there is a serious question to be determined on the substantive proceedings. This is to ensure that such a relief is granted only in cases where the Court is satisfied that there is a serious question of law or fact raised in the substantive claim. The authorities also agree that the balance of convenience must favour a grant or continuity of such a relief to maintain the status quo. Further, the authorities agree that, if damages could adequately compensate the applicant, then an injunctive order should not be granted”.
59 In the Supreme Court case of Craftworks Niugini Pty Ltd –v- Allan Mott, SC 525 [1997] the full Court held that the principles applicable to the granting of interim injunctions were well settled in our jurisdiction and that they were the principles as set out by His Honour, the Deputy Chief Justice (as he then was) in the Employers Federation case.

60 In the case of Ewasse Landowners Association Incorporated v Hargy Oil Palms Limited (2005) N2878, His Honour Justice Cannings determined that there was a third consideration based on the use of Section 155(4) of the Constitution. His Honour referred to judgement of CJ Frost in the case of Mauga Logging Company Pty Ltd v South Pacific Oil Palm Development Pty Ltd [1977] PNGLR 80and stated

His Honour held that, if an application for an interim injunction did not meet the conventional ‘tests’ in common law or equity, which form part of the underlying law, recourse could be had to Section 155(4) of the Constitution, which states:

Both the Supreme Court and the National Court have an inherent power to make, in such circumstances as seem to them proper, orders in the nature of prerogative writs and such other orders as are necessary to do justice in the circumstances of a particular case.

I will therefore determine the plaintiff’s application for an interim injunction by asking three questions:

• Are there serious questions to be tried? Does the plaintiff have an arguable case?

• Does the balance of convenience favour granting the injunction?

• Is an injunction necessary to do justice in the circumstances of this case ?

61 In the case of Gobe Hongu Limited –v- The National Executive Council, The Independent State of PNG and Others, N1920, Judge Sevua held that;
“the usual undertaking as to damages is a condition precedent to the granting of an interlocutory injunction”

62 The question of adequacy or inadequacy of undertakings should not necessarily affect a ruling of the court taken on the balance of convenience. Mauga Logging Co Pty Ltd v South Pacific Pil Palm Development Pty Ltd, which was followed in the case of Kurt Reimann v. George Skell (2001) N2093. The principles in these cases were referred to with approval in the Supreme Court case of Chief Collector of Taxes v Bougainville Copper Ltd (2007) SC853.



63 The First Defendant is about to commit gross private and public nuisances in the Basamuk and Astrolabe Bays and such activity is unlawful.

64 This activity of disposing tailings and waste into Basamuk and Astrolabe Bays by the First Defendant and consequently the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval will adversely affect matters of national importance within the meaning of section 5 of the Environmental Act 2000, being that these activities will adversely affect:-

(a) The preservation of Papua New Guinea traditional social structures; and
(b) The maintenance of sources of clean water and subsistence food sources to enable those Papua New Guineans who depend upon them to maintain their traditional lifestyles; and
(c) The protection of areas of significant biological diversity and the habitats of rare, unique or endangered species; and
(d) The recognition of the role of land-owners in decision-making about the development of the resources on their land; and
(e) Responsible and sustainable economic development.

65 The uncontested Lutheran church commissioned independent report predicts that this disposal of waste by the First Defendant into Basamuk and Astrolabe Bays and consequently the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval does not protect the environment from harm and is likely to cause Environmental and or serious environmental harm, and consequently this disposal is unlawful and contrary to ss7, 10 and 11 of the Environment Act 2000

66 This disposal of waste by the First Defendant into Basamuk and Astrolabe Bays and consequently the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval will adversely affect the beneficial value of the environment within the meaning of the Environment Act 2000 and will be detrimental to ecological health, public benefit, welfare, safety, health and aesthetic enjoyment and which requires protection from environmental harm.

67 This disposal of waste by the First Defendant into Basamuk and Astrolabe Bays and consequently the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval is not the best practice environmental management for this activity.

68 The disposal of waste by the First Defendant into Basamuk and Astrolabe Bays and consequently the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval is contrary to Goal 4 of the National Goals and Directive Principles of the Constitution and the scheme and spirit of the Environmental Act 2000 which is an Act to give effect to the Fourth National Goal and Directive Principle of the Constitution, in that it does not promote sustainable development of the environment and the economic, social and physical well-being of people by safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil and eco-systems for present and future generations, and does not avoid or mitigate any adverse effects of the activity on the environment.

69 Whilst the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval was initially saved by the transitional provisions of section 136 of the Environmental Act 2000, It is the Plaintiffs’ submission that the First defendant’s proposed dumping and the consequential the environmental harm caused by the activity being the disposal of waste into Basamuk and Astrolabe Bays is unlawful and not saved and allowed as immediately before the coming into the operation of the Environmental Act 2000 the First Defendant was not lawfully carrying on the activity pursuant to an approval under the repealed Acts.

70 The Environmental Act provides that

71 As the activity was not being carried on by the First Defendant or anyone else under Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval at the commencement of the Environmental Act 2000, the Activity must be subject to the Environmental Act 2000, and would not be lawful under that Act, for the reasons set out above in paragraphs 64 to 68 inclusive and ought to be restrained.

72 It is the Plaintiff’s contention and argument consequently that the defendants cannot rely on the Defence of Statutory Authority to deny the Plaintiffs’ claim of public and private nuisance.

73 Further, the activity of dumping waste into the Basamuk and Astrolabe Bays by the First Defendant in reliance on the Ramu Nickel Environmental Plan 1999 Approval or anything else, which in addition to the harms as set out in paragraphs 16 to 20 inclusive of this Statement of Claim will and/or will potentially cause (relying on the Lutheran report and the Affidavit of Dr Amanda Reinhelt-Brushett):-

o Ore slurry deposits and turbidity in shallow habitats
o Condition suitable to Tsunamis
o Biological and spatial interference on shallow water and deep water fishes and fauna
o Shallow water habitat change and burial of fauna
o Toxic effects from tailings
o Tailings brought onshore from upwelling and currents
o Turbidity Plumes of sediment, both toxic and otherwise, spreading out horizontally over hundreds of kilometres
o Adverse biological impacts on the Goldband Snapper and the Ruby Snapper
o Morality of Benthic Fauna over a large area
o Increased bioconcentration of trace metals and eco-toxicological risks to the food web
o Destruction to essential services being the new Telikom cables
o Irreversible damage to Corals, including biut not limited to their breeding cycles.
o Elevated levels of chromium, iron, manganese, nickel and mercury in the marine environment as well as extremely high levels of ammonia which
 will be ingested by benthic fauna (bottom of the food chain),
 may/will be acutely and chronically toxic to fish, crustaceans and cephlapods,
 will create sub-lethal affects as well, including reduced growth and gill damage

74 The First Defendant intends, unless restrained by this Court, to commit the said public nuisance and/or private nuisance and injure the Plaintiffs in their use and enjoyment of their customary land and water rights on the Rai Coast.

75 The Plaintiffs have an arguable case for nuisance and for declaratory orders involving the construction of instruments made under the Environment Act 2000.


Hardship, inconvenience, or prejudice to the parties

76 The Plaintiffs are being ignored. It is predicted that their families and future generations will risk suffering devastating consequences from the nuisance if this blasting and dumping is allowed to commence. Deep Sea tailings disposal is effectively banned in Canada and the United States and is recommended by the World Bank never to be used in these circumstances. This tailings disposal method is the complete contrary of world best practice.

77 If the miner is not restrained now from constructing further and commencing mine operation, the very rights that the Environment Act 2000 and the Constitution seek to protect, will be irreparably forfeited.

78 We have a credible, uncontested scientific report predicting there will be serious environmental harm.

79 If the Plaintiffs are wrong then it will only be a delay for the defendants to refine the tailings and dump the waste into the sea. The nickel will remain there. They can mine it later. It is not going to perish, unlike the Plaintiffs, the Plaintiffs’ Melanesian way of life, the fish, the coral and the benthic organisms.

80 The objects of the Environmental Act 2000 in section 5include protecting the environment while allowing for development in a way that improves the quality of life and maintains the ecological processes on which life depends. Thjis method of tailings disposal goes completely against that. The objects also mandates at section 5(h) that a precautionary approach to the assessment of risk of environmental harm be adopted and that we must ensure that all aspects of environmental quality affected by environmental harm are considered in decisions relating to the environment;

81 If the Plaintiffs are wrong, then there will be a delay – but this is necessary to ensure that a precautionary approach is adopted so that all aspects of environmental harm are considered. The government doesn’t even have the Final report iot commissioned to develop guidelines on Submarine Tailings Disposal and which was supposed to report on the effects of submarine tailings disposal at Lihir. The government is applying the OPPOSITE of a precautionary approach at great risk to the people and the environment of madang province.

82 Both the Government and the Miner knew of all the community concerns and the Lutheran report. The report by the Government was commissioned in mid 2008. The miner knew this. Nonetheless the Miner decided that in spite of all of this it would go ahead and construct the mine without waiting for the outcomes.

83 It is our submission that if the miner suffers prejudice then it accepted the risk of prejudice itself by its own actions by constructing the mine. It hasn’t constructed the tailings disposal yet because they haven’t blasted the coral to put the pipes in.

84 These environmental concerns are matters of “national importance” within the meaning of the Environment Act 2000. We are measuring a delay for the Defendants against losses for the future generations. It is incomparable.

85 What happens if the Plaintiffs are right ? What happens if there is no injunction, the tailings dumping commences in the sea (along with the rare sewerage and waste soil and rock) and there are gross nuisances ? What happens if the building up of the sediments creates conditions for a tsunami and that occurs ? What happens if the tuna migratory track changes to get away from the putrid water of the tailings ? What happens if the metals get consumed by the bethnic organisms are they die leaving a gaping whole in the food chain and fish die? What happens if fish species are toxic and humans consume them ? what happens if 50% of the coral from basamuk to Kar Kar stop bredding because they are sensitive to the metals in the tailings ? What mollusks for a kilometer each way contract cholera from the sewerage of 2500 ?

86 Will monetary damages be enough ? And even if they are (which is disputed) how do you get them from a State Entity in China – obtaining compensatory damages from Barrack in Canada or BHP in Australia is possible due to the common law system – but from China – with respect, not a hope.

Undertaking as to damages
87 Separate Undertakings as to Damages have been signed by 3rd, 4th and 5th Plaintiffs.
The Overall Interests of Justice and Bona Fides
Lack of Bona Fides of Miner
88 The First Defendant/Miner knew of the independent Lutheran scientific report, knew that there was widespread community opposition to the method of tailings disposal, knew that the government had commissioned an independent report and guidelines on submarine tailings disposal, but they have continued with the plan of submarine tailings disposal nonetheless. It is just deceitful to say that “look, we’ve spent x million and we can’t go back now”.
89 The First Defendant does not listen to landowners or local authorities or the mining warden (See affidavit of Sama Melambo). They were asked by the mining warden and the provincial administration not to relocate a graveyard at Basamuk, but they did it anyway.
90 The First defendant knew of the concerns of Telikom but is proceedings anyway.
91 There are constant deaths and injuries at the mine site, even today a Chinese worker has been killed in an accident.

Lack of bona fides of State entities

92 The government authorities have been completely derelect in their duties under the Mining Act and the Environmental Act.

93 There has been a failure to resource the authorities to determine land disputes expeditiously.

94 There has been a failure of government to follow the processes under the Mining Act to deal with the appropriate landholders for negotiations and consultations to come to a compensation agreement.

95 There has been a failure of government to expeditiously listen to the peoples concerns on submarine tailings disposal.

96 There has been a failure of government to enact and implement proper guidelines and laws for submarine tailings disposal.

97 There has been a failure of government to properly consider the Environmental Approval granted to the miner under the new Environmental Act 2000

98 The has been a failure of government to be truthful to its people as it eventually promised to get an independent report into the submarine tailings disposal and obtain guidelines – but has allowed the miner to construct and continue with a plan for submarine tailings disposal without first considering the report and its recommendations.

99 Either the government’s failures are indicative of complete incompetence or it is indicative of intentionally allowing development contradictory to the Constitution and the Environment Act 2000.

100 The Plaintiffs and others have tried to be heard but essentially the government has treated them with disrespect and contempt.

101 See Affidavits of Sama Melambo Number 1 and Number 2 and Tony Sua.

102 The State is also acting contrary to the Coral Triangle Initiative, which is an international agreement PNG has signed to.

103 The government entities involved being the 2nd to 5th defendants have not acted in any way bona fides.

Plaintiffs actions bona fides

104 The Plaintiffs have tried to be heard but are frustrated at every turn, particularly by the very government entities that are meant to regulate the system for the benefit of the people of Papua New Guinea. They have registered their disputes properly with the Land Courts and the Special land Titles Commission. They have directly informed the Developer of the disputes. They objected to the formation of the landowner association and its representation of all Basamuk landowners. They have waited 11 years for the State to resolve the land disputes. The Plaintiffs are suffering and will suffer and it is the fault of the miner and the government bodies responsible. The only place these Plaintiffs can now turn to is the courts to be heard and to protect them, their rights, their families and their future. They have tried to negotiate with the other stakeholders but are treated with a complete lack of respect or care.

105 Each landholder or disputing claimant is entitled to be part of the process from the beginning. The documents that form the basis of this dumping and blasting and the mine are not a state secret and should be provided to the Plaintiffs pursuant to their rights to be heard on the development of the mine under the Mining Act and pursuant to section 51 of the Constitution. Despite this the Mineral Resources Authority refuses to provide full information and DEC ignores them.

106 They have believed the government when it said wait for disputes to be resolved and then you will be involved and can have a say then. They have believed the government when Dr Puka Temu said wait for the independent report it had commissioned. And they have just been lied to.

107 The Plaintiffs actions have always been bona fide.

Is it is the interest of justice to grant the injunction ?
108 It is in the interests of justice that all relevant information should be provided to the Plaintiffs who require them to participate fully.
109 It is in the interests of justice that the miner be restrained from finalizing the preparations to dump waste and tailings as this intervention is the only way that will push the State and the developer to deal with all issues in accordance with the Law. They cannot be trusted to do this on their own based on past performance.
110 The plaintiffs have been patient, polite, waiting for the State to resolve the landowner issues and environmental issues but they have been severely let down.
111 The Plaintiffs have been fraudulently induced into waiting for a government commissioned report, believing that nothing was really decided until the report would be released. It is clear the government and the miner never intended to wait for the report but were content to deceive the people of PNG into believing they were.
112 It is in the interests of justice for the court to intervene in this development process of the disposal of tailings and waste to grant injunctions – which will in turn force the developer and the State to comply with the Mining Act and the Environment Act 2000
113 In coming to a decision, we submit the Court should refer to 2 separate but important pieces of Legislation.
Environmental Act 2000
114 The Environmental Act 2000 is the Act which gives effect to NGDP 4 of the Constitution and also the Act which is to protect the environment from Harm. We draw you attention to section 4 of the Act which sets out its objects.

115 Justice will be done if a decision is made by this Court that relects the objects of this Act and not the objective of development at whatever cost.
The Constitution
116 Section 25 of the Constitution places an obligation on all governmental bodies, including the court, to give effect to the National Goals and Directive Principles, and the relevant NGDP here is Goal 4.

Natural resources and environment.
We declare our fourth goal to be for Papua New Guinea’s natural resources and environment to be conserved and used for the collective benefit of us all, and be replenished for the benefit of future generations.
(1) wise use to be made of our natural resources and the environment in and on the land or seabed, in the sea, under the land, and in the air, in the interests of our development and in trust for future generations; and
(2) the conservation and replenishment, for the benefit of ourselves and posterity, of the environment and its sacred, scenic, and historical qualities; and
(3) all necessary steps to be taken to give adequate protection to our valued birds, animals, fish, insects, plants and trees.

117 section 25(3) obliges a decision maker, whatever the source of his power to give effect to the NGDP, so long as that is what parliament intended.

118 Parliament clearly intended for the environment to be protected from harm and for those decision makers to take a pre-cautionary approach.

119 It is in the interests of justice to grant the injunctions to give effect to NGDP4

Dated 11 March 2010

Nonggorr William Lawyers
Lawyers for the Plaintiffs


WS NO. 202 OF 2010

Eddie Tarsie for himself and in his capacity as Ward Councilor of Ward 3, Sidor Local Level Government, Madang Province.
First Plaintiff
Farina Siga for himself and in his capacity as Ward Secretary of Ward 3, Sidor, Local Level Government, Madang Province
Second Plaintiff
Peter Sel
Third Plaintiff
Pommern Incorporated Land Group No 12591
Fourth Plaintiff
Sama Melambo for himself and as Chairman of Pommern Incorporated Land Group
Fifth Plaintiff
Ramu Nico Management (MCC) Limited
First Defendant
Mineral Resources Authority
Second Defendant
Dr Wari Iamo in his capacity as the Director of the Environment
Third Defendant
Department of Environment and Conservation
Fourth Defendant
The Independent State of Papua New Guinea
Fifth Defendant
Section 34 Lot 19, Pena Place, Mt Hagen
Telephone: 542 2829, Facsimile: 542 2894
E-mail: tnonggorr(at)
File No: 200957/TGN/rk

Madang Anti-Violence Protest


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Dec 7 2009

It has been a tense week in Madang town. The response to the brutal home invasion, rape and torture of a woman who has been a pillar of the community for decades has been shock, anger and deep sadness. One of the few women in PNG to receive an OBE, Madang’s only “Dame” has contributed so much to the people of Madang Province. From hospital beds to rural school supplies to children’s education to support for the fledgling Provincial AIDS Committee, she has been there for Papua New Guineans. Now a rather frail, yet feisty septuagenarian, the lady was an easy target for the hooligans known to be living in the Provincial Health Department’s compound near her home.  The same thugs are suspected to have assaulted the Fred Hollow’s Eye Clinic Physician a few months ago, while he was on duty in the hospital.  In this same week, other women in Madang have been raped or murdered, and this form of violence against women has been increasing over the past two years. The fact that this latest attack was against someone who has done so much for the people has brought the escalation of violence, and in particular violence against women, to the forefront of public attention.  It has also made the international NGOs reconsider their position on being in Madang, and whether they should bring female staff or volunteers to Madang. Fred Hollows evacuated their staff. It is unclear when – or if – they will return to reopen Madang’s eye clinic.

Women’s groups, local politicians and grassroots ‘mamas’  and ‘papas’ mobilised to demand stronger support from the provincial administration. A protest was planned for this morning (Monday Dec 7’09), to march from Bates Oval in the centre of Madang town, to the Provincial Assembly. Late Sunday night, rumours and sms messages circulated, saying  that the protest was to be postponed until Thursday afternoon.  Consequently, this morning, many of us stayed home. We grumbled that changing the plan for a popular protest was a great way to dilute the action and weaken the need for government response. However, many Madang-ites did not hear that rumour. They showed up in force at Bates Oval and decided to hold the march anyway. As soon as news spread that the protest march was on, I  jumped in a vehicle with Nancy Sullivan and we raced toward the marchers. We arrived just as they were parading around the Assembly grounds, yelling “no more rape!” The governor Sir Arnold Amet, Provincial Administrator Joseph Dorpar and two members of Parliament, Ken Fairweather and John Hickey were ready to listen to the crowd, and receive a petition.  For the first hour, various women and men spoke, using a loud hailer. Women described being shot by their husbands, of having a child murdered. They reminded the crown and the politicians that women were the fundamental basis of the family, the community and life itself. We could not stay long enough to hear if people got around to calling for better community policing, more justice, and peace, as I hope they did.

The results of the protest are as yet unclear. But the mood of the crowd was not. People are clear that Enough is Enough. Handmade signs called on men to recognise that their son’s behaviour was modelled on their own, and that women deserved respect.  This may be Madang’s first popular protest against violence against women.  Meanwhile, the woman who was attacked is under medical care in her home, suffering the side affects from post-exposure prophylaxis against STIs, HIV, and the multiple physical injuries she suffered at the hands of men who local people are referring to as “the animals”.

For more commentary see:


photos I took with my iphone: