Why Real Canadians Give their Awards Back

Stompin’ Tom Connors did it.

stc_blkwht_300dpiIn 1972 Stompin’ Tom refused to play at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) after learning that he was getting paid $2,500 for a two hour show, while Charlie Pride was being paid $35,000 to play just six songs. At the time Connors had won Junos three years in a row for top country singer and Charlie Pride had only received one American award. Connors told the CNE directors that they needed to book at least 60% Canadian acts (and pay them proportionately to American ones) before he would play for them.  The CNE was hiring 95% Canadian talent and paying them 5% of the budget.

Then came the Junos. In 1978 Stompin’ Tom Connors packed up his then six Juno awards and shipped them back to the awards committee. He did this because of the “Border Jumpers”. The Canadians who live in the US, work in the American scene, write about American places and culture, and are celebrated by the Canadian Junos Awards. It can be argued that the Junos invite the “Border Jumpers” back for more publicity. Publicity is not what Tom was after, as he canceled a year of shows after returning his award to prove that he hadn’t done it for record sales or self-promotion.

Tom got crankier with age. In 1993 he declined induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Well, that’s what you’ll read in the news. The truth is, he told them, “to stuff it up their asses”. Best of all, before Tom passed away in 2013 at the age of 77, he left instructions that the Junos were not welcome to celebrate his life at the next awards ceremony. Talk about planning ahead.

hwfnlogo2_25a274100d4bb4fd61808d86cc99ca45There is another Canadian who has given back an award because of border jumping: Aaron James Sorenson. Sorenson won the Alberta Media Production Industries Association Rosie Award for his 2004 film ” Hank Williams First Nation”. This film has Canadian (mostly First Nations) actors, content, music and was filmed in northern Alberta. It’s a great film. It even inspired a TV series on APTN. Why did Sorenson return his award? Because Canadian tax money, in the form of grants, is going to Hollywood productions. Meanwhile, a government-funded 22.8 million film studio is being built in Calgary to encourage American film production with the argument that enticing Hollywood film productions in Alberta will stimulate the economy. Sounds like the same rational that has enabled Canadian oil sands to be  mostly owned by Americans. According to Sorenson, what happens is that educated and talented Canadians “end up packing cables” for American filmmakers rather than making their own films.

Even Sorenson went to work in the American film industry. But when he came back to his home in Dixonville, Alberta, he was reminded that Canadians have really great stories to tell. “Taxpayers and politicians are being duped into thinking they are supporting Alberta culture when really what they are doing is giving a direct grant to Hollywood productions so that we can solidify our position as a backlot for a foreign country and never develop our own film culture. Shame on Calgary Economic Development and all who know better who are supporting and promoting this robbery of Alberta taxpayers and Alberta storytellers. Stop giving our arts money to Hollywood. Now.”

This reminds me of the Canadian pastime of naming famous Americans who are actually Canadians. Stompin’ Tom was onto the border jumping musicians. All of the best American comedians are actually Canadians. But what about Canadian landscapes? “Brokeback Mountain”, “Legends of the Fall”, and “Unforgiven” were all filmed in our backyard in Alberta, but the gorgeous landscape shots are presented as American places. What does this do to our own sense of place and home? Places and their names are important threads in cultural identity. Ask the First Nations who had all of their places renamed by colonizers. Canadians shouldn’t be embarrassed to use Canadian place names in their stories, songs, books, and films. Thanks to Stompin’ Tom we can all sing about Sudbury and Tillsonburg. Let’s call Kananaskis, Kananaskis in our films.

Sorenson has decided to do something about all of this. He is developing a Canadian content on-demand internet streaming website called Mooseflix. It will have some Canadian classics and will release new Canadian productions “that don’t stink!”. In the meantime I will continue to be entertained by “This Hour has 22 Minutes“, “Trailer Park Boys”, and Tim Hus please and thank-you very much.


Having been in the news, many people have been asking me how the Petrocultures conference went that was in Montreal February 6-7, 2014. Rather than repeating my random responses of: “it was unique in that it wasn’t just academics speaking” or “I was terrified to present but met lots of interesting people” or student protestors locked us out!,” I would rather just tell people to “read my new blog on it,” so I’ve written one.


Each talk from the conference is available online. I hope this blog helps you wade through and find the black nuggets that appeal to you. You know, the Texas tea.

      1. My biases: I am a Warren Fellow at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada so I was a (minor) part of the advisory committee and I know and like all of the people who worked hard to put the conference together. Criticizing a conference is like criticizing a university class: it’s easy to do when you are a participant and not the one doing the work. People always put in more time than you can imagine on planning these kinds of events and they deserve our gratitude. My other bias is that I am an Albertan who has spent years working for First Nations in the oil sands region. Although the conference theme was on petrocultures in all of Canada, there was an inevitable focus on Alberta’s oil sands. Useful insights were shared, but I wondered how many people have actually been to northern Alberta?
      2. I presented on the second day of the conference and the lineup was as follows: Philip D. Moeller (US Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner), Steven Guilbeault (co-founder of Équiterre), Ezra Levant, Tzeporah Berman, then me. What humble PhD student wouldn’t find that line-up intimidating?  So I stumbled through my speech on the good, the bad, and the ugly of traditional land use studies that are being used as consultation with First Nations in Alberta. I hope the wild west reference is obvious. Apart from the lawyer, Katherine Koostachin, and journalist, Trish Audette the other speakers at the conference didn’t really address the impacts of petroleum on Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Sadly Eriel Deranger from Athabasca Chipwyan First Nation was unable to attend, and I’m sure her presence would have shone at the conference.
      3. The Big Guns:  The more famous people were well spoken, polished and did what was expected of them. Ezra Levant waved his arms and insulted everyone, Tzeporah Berman was impassioned and compelling, and Petrocultures co-director Imre Szeman was articulate, brilliant and heuristic. Check the schedule for other heavy hitters that might interest you.
      4. Puke in my Mouth: Liz Hannah the Vice President of Communications at Cenovus Energy gave a half hour commercial on how SAGD is a clean technology and that it brings wealth to people who would otherwise be pathetic and lost. It reminded me of a Rick Mercer skit. It made me laugh, shake my head, and puke in my mouth a little. What bothered me the most, is that no one mentioned the ten-month and counting four sites where oil is seeping out of the ground from the CNRL Primrose in-situ project blow-outs near Cold Lake, Alberta. CNRL has now DRAINED 2/3 of a lake to attempt to resolve the problem. I worked with an Elder from Saddle Lake First Nation last summer who used to fish in that lake. This situation needs way more attention.
      5. Divest McGill and the student protests: I met a lot of the students involved in Divest McGill and perhaps some from the protest. They are a brave and brilliant bunch of students and I wish I was more like them when I was their age.  They were at the microphones asking the tough questions and revealed the weaknesses of people in positions of power. I call on them to keep learning and do more research about the issues that move them.
      6. Memorable and inspiring: Talks by Sheena Wilson, Ruth Beer, Jennifer Gabrys and Brenda Longfellow. These people all blew my hair back. Their projects were useful, fascinating, and precise. Do yourself a favour and spend some time with Longfellow’s Offshore Interactive Blog and keep an eye on Beer’s Trading Routes project. Also play the online interactive game and film Fort McMoney. I can’t get enough of it.
      7. Cultural night: Ending the first night of a conference with art, snacks, and booze is ideal. Each of the featured writers or artists are worth checking out. Warren Cariou told a story that will stay with me. My significant other, Tim Hus, sang his songs that chronicle the history of oil  and oil workers in Alberta.
      8. Open up the valves and let the pipelines flow: I made lots of new friends, the kind that make me smile and give me hope, and I got to spend time with two of the only four other social scientists I know of doing research in the oil sands region, Tara Joly and Hereward Longley. I’m so glad to have these hilarious and ingenious individuals as colleagues, future co-authors, collaborators, and co-conspirators. Please check out their work.

Welcome to my website

Art by Janelle Baker (a different Janelle Baker!) http://janellebaker.blogspot.ca
Art by a different Janelle Baker!

I am currently a PhD student and Vanier scholar in anthropology at McGill University. My supervisor is Dr. Colin Scott and my research is on Cree perspectives on wild food contamination in Alberta’s oil sands region. I am a member the multidiscplinary research program on Indigenous Stewardship of the Environment and Alternative Development (INSTEAD) and the The Centre for Society, Technology and Development (STANDD) at McGill University. I am also a Warren Fellow at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

I work as a traditional land use research consultant to First Nations and Metis and as an instructor in anthropology at Athabasca University. I currently manage a traditional environmental knowledge project for the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) where we partner with and support a group of Elders from Fort McKay to observe berry health and quality in their traditional territory that is impacted by oil sands development. I am also the student board member for the Society of Ethnobiology. You can sign up for the student listsev here: http://www.freelists.org/list/soe-students

I found the artwork above by just searching my name in google. What is amazing and bizarre is that the drawing looks JUST LIKE ME. I contacted the artist, with the same name as me (Janelle Baker), and I’m buying a print of the drawing – how could I not!?