Stepping Into the Twilight Zone of Cultural Racism and the Oppression of Unearned Privilege

By Jacqueline S. Homan, author: Classism For Dimwits and Divine Right

Twilight Zone  ~ Golden Earring

“Help, I’m steppin’ into the Twilight Zone
Place is a madhouse
Feels like being cloned
My beacons been moved
Under moon and star
Where am I to go Now that I’ve gone too far
Soon you will come to know
When the bullet hits the bone”

On Wednesday September 28th 2011, I entered the Twilight Zone. The High Park Resources Group which oversees the activities of Toronto’s High Park met to discuss Scott Laver’s agenda for a proposed BMX “skills building” park in High Park on the Owl Mound and the parking lot contiguous to the Owl Mound and the Snake Mound. Both of these mounds are of cultural significance to the Native community. The meeting was chaired by Jorge Ture, the supervisor of High Park.

Scott Laver, a Parks Department employee and liaison for the BMX community, came to the meeting — not to present a polite request for a BMX park in High Park, but to ram this plan down the Native community’s throats with no regard whatsoever for the Indigenous people’s threatened and endangered culture. Laver said that the kids involved with BMX “skill building” will continue their recreation on the Native mound sites and wooded areas of High Park anyway — implying that city might as well accommodate them by sacrificing a Native sacred site so the precious darlings don’t mess up the rest of the park or interfere with other people’s peaceful enjoyment of the park.

Laver apparently had already decided to foist this upon the public without any intention of seriously considering alternative sites, three of which were suggested by Graham Seaman, Vice President of the Toronto Off Road Bicyclists Association (TORBA):

Option 1 – Open grassy area in Kings Mill Park
Option 2 – Open grassy area in Humber Marshes Park
Option 3 – Open grassy area in South Humber Park

Laver insisted that High Park’s current permissible uses be changed to allow for a BMX park to be built, saying, “Emerging demands of BMXing is incompatible with High Park’s current uses.”

He said that the parking lot next to the Owl Mound and Snake Mound “had been identified to accommodate a professionally designed skills park facility” that would offer technically challenging riding in a controlled environment. He also said that the City of Toronto’s Parks Department had hired a BMX park designer, Jay Hoots from BC, for the project.

Had the city checked out Jay Hoots, they would know that Hoots got his panties in a wad over losing the contract to build the Kitchener BMX park because he overcharged and then allegedly harassed the actual builder for out-bidding him. Jay Hoots will cost Torontonians more money — twice as much — for the same type of park that could be designed and built by locals with equipment and experience. Why aren’t the taxpayers of Toronto getting a say in whether or not a local contractor hiring local labor is used to plan and build the park?

Rastia’ta’non:ha, Director of the Taiaiako’n Historical Preservation Society (THPS), previously said “no” to this same proposal given by the Parks Department back in May and that this position remains unchanged. Laver argued that “the kids have nowhere else to go.”

Adrian Rhodes challenged that claim, pointing out that there were other more suitable areas that many BMXers also were agreeable to, including a small parkette just north of High Park and that there already were three existing BMX facilities, including the Wallace & Emerson BMX park.

Additionally there was an old unused hockey rink that could be converted for BMXing. But Laver said the existing places were unsuitable, that the kids had set fire to the ramps at Wallace & Emerson rendering it unusable, and that the hockey rink was a no-go because the kids want a BMX park in a natural terrain.

When it was suggested that the BMX park could be built in the Humber Bay area, which is a natural environment, Laver rejected that idea as well, saying “If we build it there, they won’t come. It has to be in High Park” — which implies threats of mayhem from the tantrum-throwing BMX community who bully others in order to get their way. Catherine Tammaro of Huron-Wendat descent and THPS Board member responded by asking why children and adults who had virtually destroyed a large area of forested oak savannah in the park and a sacred space, should be placated as a preventive to further illegal and destructive behavior on their part, in fact seemingly rewarding them for such behavior. She also suggested that all mounds in the park be preserved and protected which would bring admiration from the global community, rather than serving the wants of a very small, ill-behaved group.

Posts from the BMX community at Dropmachine.com forums suggest that BMXers are not the sort of people who believe the law applies to them. One of the posts states that “No one but the riders, ourselves, can determine what will make the park fun and desirable. Not the city.” These aren’t exactly the types who are willing to observe any ordinances and stay in their areas allowed by the city, regardless of what is built for them or where.

If these kids and young adult BMXers have such little appreciation for one of the sites they already had that they set on fire, why should these punks and thugs be rewarded for arson and vandalism by getting another one built for them on taxpayer money just so they can eventually destroy that one too? That money would be better spent on the poorest of the poor who have nothing, to give them a chance for something resembling a nice life.

Dirt jumps or BMX style tracks take up a LOT of room, disturb the landscape, and are not aesthetic. They also require regular maintenance — which costs money. Who will be forced to pay for that? Dirt jumps and pump tracks are pretty much dedicated to BMX. The price of a BMX bike ranges from $350 and go as high as $1,500. A used 2007 Gary Fisher Mullet BMX bike in good condition needing only the rear brakes fixed is going for $380 or best offer. So that leaves out poor kids who are lucky to be able to afford a $100 bike from Wal-Mart or Canadian Tire.

In the states, where tens of millions of poor people struggle just to stay alive, suffering without healthcare or any economic safety net, the price tag for one BMX bike that will only end up getting wrapped around a tree or dashed to bits on rocks could easily keep a family mired in poverty with no hope and no end in sight from freezing to death this winter by paying for utilities, firewood, or biomass pellets.

If a bunch of spoiled rich kids can afford the high-priced ticket of a BMX bike for their aggressive and dangerous sport, then they can afford to pay the costs of buying and building their own BMX facility without looking to Toronto taxpayers to foot the bill for this high-risk activity that is classist at its core since poor youth can’t afford to even get into the game. Any park subsidized by the public should not exclude society’s underprivileged; it should be accessible to all. Poor kids from Toronto at least could enjoy the free zoo at High Park, which the city is shutting down because it “can’t afford it.”

Is it fair that, owing to budget cuts and limited funds, one of the only recreational facilities that poor kids have should be shut down while monies from the public get diverted to pay for the designing and building of a BMX park that caters only to society’s more privileged teens and adults?

This is exclusionary and smacks of elitism and classism against Toronto’s poor youth. That issue alone outweighs any perceived advantage to a publicly funded BMX park that only affluent kids will benefit from. The adage of “live simply so that others can simply live” is apparently lost on the selfish BMXers, and on the city officials supporting them — due in no small measure to the dynamics of unearned social class privilege (who their affluent parents rub elbows with).

It’s also ironic that having a natural terrain BMX park is a non-negotiable “must have” when Scott Laver’s proposal was to put it in the tiny parking lot in High Park’s south east corner — especially when all of the other areas suggested were much bigger than a parking lot barely big enough to turn a car around in; a parking lot that many park-goers use — including members of various Native communities when they drive into Toronto for their ceremonies at the sacred sites.

Passing around a color-printed handout about Hoots Inc., a company located in BC, Laver said, “They’ve compromised on the activity side, and we’ve compromised on the nature side.” Rejecting all of the very reasonable suggestions for alternative sites because the BMXers must have High Park is no compromise by any definition. Laver’s demands that the Native community “be fair” about this was a slap in the face.

“Fair” means that everyone gets what he or she needs. The BMXers already have three existing places to go, plus many suggestions for additional alternative sites. But the Native communities, the Haudenosaunee in particular in this case, are not getting what they need. They cannot simply move their 3,000 year-old burial mounds and sacred sites — and they should not have to!

The majority of their burial mounds and sacred sites were utterly destroyed and desecrated when High Park was built up over the past 150 years — especially when Bloor Street was constructed and an untold number of ancient Native skeletal remains were unearthed. None of these remains and funerary artifacts were ever repatriated to the Native community. No one seems to know what happened to them. The cultural disruption caused by colonization followed by brutal assimilation policies have nearly wiped out all vestiges of Aboriginal people’s cultures. The continuity of a threatened population’s culture is a need; destroying yet another Native sacred site for someone else’s fun is not. The architects of the UN Declaration would agree.

All of this seemed to fall on deaf ears. Councillor Sarah Doucette, who supports Laver’s plan for the BMX park in High Park, said “Mothers don’t want their young children to have to cross Lakeshore Boulevard” in response to another suggested BMX site nearby outside of High Park.

But BMXing is a sport not engaged in by little kids. It’s a high risk activity enjoyed by teens and young adults up through their 30’s — hardly a demographic that wouldn’t be able to cross a busy street without their mommies at one of the designated cross-walks. BMXing has an injury rate that is high enough to result in being surcharged for health and life insurance, if not declined. BMXing is a very dangerous, high risk sport. Crossing Lakeshore Boulevard is not. People of all ages cross Lakeshore Boulevard all the time to catch the streetcar.

Matti Lehikoinen, a pro Downhill Mountain Biker and BMXer from Finland, suffered serious injuries more than once. In 2008, he fractured both wrists while BMXing, needing extensive reconstructive surgery because the fractures were so bad. 12 screws, 3 metal plates and 3 pins later, Matti was back on the BMX trail. He was injured again while racing at the Nordic Downhill Championships in Kungsberget-Sweden over the September 24th and 25th 2011 weekend. He was hospitalized and had to have brain scans. His partner Anna said, “Matti’s jaw, cheekbone, teeth, and nose are pretty badly damaged, and he will have surgery on Wednesday.”

Native rights to cultural preservation are only one of the major issues; liability issues for injuries and risks to public safety are another — passersby can be injured by BMXers. Is Toronto willing to cut off its nose to spite its face just to shove the Native community aside?

Cheryl Hart, who was also present at the meeting, sits on the High Park Resource Group’s board representing the Colburn Lodge which is concerned with maintaining High Park’s Anglo history, particularly the memory of John Howard — the wealthy British official who bought the land and established the park in the early 1800’s with the proviso that the Iroquois community remain stewards of the park among many other conditions.

In response to concerns about the destruction to the Native community’s long, rich history in the area and the loss of sacred sites, Cheryl Hart said, “there’s no historical value to the land.” Apparently, “historical preservation” doesn’t count when it is Aboriginal people’s history, traditions, and culture.

Councillor Doucette added that at a previous meeting, Laurie Waters, a Cree and board member of the THPS, said there would be no problem with putting a BMX park where Laver wants to put it because “there’s nothing sacred about a parking lot.” Yet, Laurie Waters states that she never said this. High Park is a very special place to Laurie as an Indigenous person who comes to the burial mounds for ceremonies honoring the ancestors.

BMXers won’t be content to remain within the area Scott Laver proposes; not with the tempting wooded and hilly terrain of the Owl Mound and Snake Mound right there. But that didn’t seem to concern Jorge Ture, who said that “there are procedures for getting Native burial grounds archeologically designated.”

But Toronto has a track record of using unlicensed archeologist Ron Williamson — an Indiana Jones wannabe who doesn’t have any love for Native people and who has engaged in shady practices. Toronto has a very ugly long-standing history of wiping out all traces of Aboriginal history and burying any evidence that it ever existed. There is plenty of archived information that proves a strong indigenous history of a vibrant and rich culture. Archived old newspaper articles cite the burial mounds in High Park and an ancient Indian tombstone — a petroglyph rock — which mysteriously disappeared during the late 1800’s when Bloor Street was put in.  It seems that Toronto’s non-Native city leadership is behind burying Native history, including the burial mounds, deliberately.

The attitudes displayed by Jorge Ture, Scott Laver, Sarah Doucette, and Cheryl Hart — all of whom talked dismissively of Aboriginal history — reveal an undercurrent of prejudice thinly masked beneath a veneer of polite civility. They acted like Donna Powless, Josephine Sandy, Catherine Tammaro, and Rastia’ta’non:ha and his helper, Sean (a shy Métis kid) weren’t even there. This shows just how bigoted Toronto’s city officials and upper-middle class civic leaders are against the Aboriginal community.

After the meeting ended, Scott Laver was asked why he felt no shame for what he was demanding of the Native community and told to look three of them in the eye and explain to them why he felt no shame, he refused to answer. He did not look at the Faithkeeper. He did not look at the Clanmother. He did not look at Rastia’ta’non:ha who is one of Chief Arnie General’s helpers. He did not see these three very real human beings standing right there in front of him.

One can only conclude that comfortably off teens and adults who can afford to spend $350 – $1,500 for a bike that will only get busted up or wrapped around a tree are spoiled, self-important brats with entitlement attitudes who think their “right” to fun supersedes a threatened community’s human rights to culture.

The following Internet forum posts from the BMX crowd say a lot about the sort of group that the City of Toronto is catering to and what these BMX people really are:

“Hey! So I’m currently in the city, I have everything from Mississauga’s residential cyclist (mostly road) friendly stuff, to downtown Toronto at my disposal (short of the dirt park in High Park recently torn down by Native Mohawk “Canadian” liars, or pricks as I call them)…”

 

The full post by “Ghotet” can be seen at: http://www.pinkbike.com/forum/listcomments/?threadid=118755

 

And these posts on another BMX forum in response to “Redstone” who asked why the BMXers couldn’t pick a different spot and insisted on High Park on a Native burial mound last year. (One of the posters, “j-teeple” threatened “Redstone”): http://www.pinkbike.com/forum/listcomments/threadid=107390&pagenum=2

“I’d love to see you start moving dirt. I can honestly say you will not get too far into it without something happening. I know a LOT of people who would like to see you become part of the jumps. But I invite you to go ahead and try. Just try. You’ll see what happens…I gave you fair warning.”

Followed by this one from “recklessness”:

“I live in Toronto and would love to set up a meeting to discuss this issue rationally in person. If you want to go ahead and post your full name and address, I would be happy to drive down and mock you in person. I will even bring my shitty car because it will probably get stolen in your hood. Hell, I can even lend you a shovel because you are obviously poor.”

“Recklessness” deserves an A+ in Economics of Racism, Classism and Unearned Privilege 101. Are his parents proud of raising such a self-centered spoiled brat whose carbon footprint is larger than that of 100 poor people combined? How nice that the rest of society gets to put up with him, and all the others like him who have no consideration for anyone else because they think everything is all about them.

And the day after the High Park Resources Group meeting, this comment was posted by “Ajmckerihen” on the Pinkbike forum:

“Hello mountain bikers and BMXers, This is to inform you that the City of Toronto staff have recently closed an informal BMX freestyle  area(skills park) in High Park to restore an ecologically sensitive area. The site has been replanted, fenced off and is currently being monitored for any further cycling activity. A new skills park, offering technically challenging riding in an accessible and controlled environment, will be built on the site of the existing parking lot in the south east corner of High Park. City staff are currently working with accomplished skills park designer, Jay Hoots www.hoots.ca, to develop the new site that will include appropriate off-road cycling features, skills areas and landscape amenities. Please join Jay Hoots and City of Toronto staff on Wednesday, October 19th from 6:00 – 8:30 PM, at the Rousseau Room, Swansea Town Hall, to participate in the design consultation for the new skills park in High Park. Jay wants to hear from you.”

Natural Environment Trails Program

www.toronto.ca/trails

That post says almost verbatim what was written on Scott Laver’s outline that he presented at the High Park group’s meeting on September 28th. Is “Ajmckerihen” Scott Laver? The post’s signature gives a good clue: the Natural Environment Trails Program, which Scott Laver is involved with. Following the link and perusing the site, it is interesting to note that the City of Toronto paid for a study on the feasibility of installing a bio-toilet in the park. (One must be environmentally correct in matters of defecation; but a tree-destroying, soil-eroding upper-middle class white male “sport”— well, that’s a whole other story.) It is also interesting to note the backdoor meeting scheduled for October 19th between these rich kids and the City of Toronto’s staff and policymakers.

Several attendees at the September 28th meeting voiced concerns about the BMX park provoking a conflict with the Native community.

Jerry Hodges told Laver that if he and the BMXers stubbornly go ahead with their BMX park plans it would ignite a very unpleasant confrontation with the Native community that could get very ugly, and nobody wants that.  Kim Jackson of Friends of the Snake Mounds said, “I’m just shocked that there is so much concern for these BMX kids, but there is none at all for the Aboriginal community.”

It is easier to relocate the plans for a BMX park than it is to relocate a 3,000 year-old burial mound. The Native community has, over the past several decades, been forced to compromise far more than anyone else has had to but the BMXers don’t care about that. Maybe the whole BMX issue isn’t really about a sport. If it was about a place for a recreational activity, then Scott Laver would not have summarily rejected all of the reasonable suggestions of alternative sites without fully exploring them. There is only one logical conclusion: This is about a lot of beneficiaries of unearned privilege who want Aboriginal people to fade away into oblivion.

Apparently, Native culture is something they only care about so long as they can exercise total control over it by restricting it to museums. A living, breathing, vibrant Native community freely enjoying their culture and traditions — a thriving people whose human rights are equally valued and respected as everyone else’s — is anathema to many, including the BMXers. They don’t want to deal with Aboriginal people who refuse to be pushed around and relegated to the silent, stoic role of iconic wooden cigar store Indians and mascots consigned to the ash heap of Manifest Destiny.

 

 

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One Response to “Stepping Into the Twilight Zone of Cultural Racism and the Oppression of Unearned Privilege”

  1. Roberto Says:

    Good story and well written.

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