Hey, welcome to Mojo Moments, your podcast to get mojo. On today's podcast, we have Duncan McCue, he's host of CBC radio one's Cross-Country Checkup. He's a journalist. We hear him often and see him off on CBC's The National. He is a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island first nation. Currently, he is on sabbatical, lucky bastard at university of Toronto Massey college.
He's doing a Massey fellowship and Oh yeah. We went to university in Halifax together, not too long ago. Well, a long time ago, but we're not going to get into that at King's college. And he was kind of like one of the smartest, coolest and down to earth cat's on campus. So we are so lucky to have Duncan today on mojo moments.
Duncan welcome to a Mojo moments.
It's so good to be here. And,of course, to see you again, because we, we know each other going way back.
Yeah, we did. Actually. I was thinking about the last time I saw you and I'm going to say it was King's college commencement or with, as they called it, the incentia, for those of you who speak Greek.
And I think we're, you know, on stage and you're picking up a bunch of prizes. I wasn't, but you were. Is that, is that a good memory?
So you may have a mistake in memory because I actually skipped incentia.
What do you mean?
Back in the day, I did not go and much to my shock. I'll try it. Try to be humble about this. But I watched to my shock, I was invited back to Kings, over 20 years later to receive an honorary doctorate and I had to reveal to the graduating students at Kings in that year that this was the first Kings and senior that I'd ever been to because I had skipped my own, and I'm not proud of it.
You know, I realized many years later after being a professor at the university of British Columbia that there are very few signposts in our lives anymore. And in Western society, where we mark passages, you know, where the community gathers to say you have reached a significant achievement in your life that, you know, and I've realized after going to graduating ceremonies for my students at UBC.
But this is a really, really important moment. And even though, you know, the student themselves maybe focused on, okay, I got to get a good job or I got to go do my, you know, find a place to live or, or focused on what's coming in the future. Uh, it's so important for the parents and grandparents and, uh, uh, partners and lovers, children, and all of the community that helped get this student through.
So no actually, I didn't go to my incentia back in the day. And I was glad that I could.
And you went back, you got your honorary doctorate. Well, maybe I should have skipped it. The big question I have. Were you like in downtown Halifax hanging out at the sea horse or had you left Halifax already?
I already left Halifax. I was working with a chauffeur to CBC television actually. And so I was already called road movies and I was traveling the country with the video gang.
I remember you doing that. Yeah. Well, that's a pretty legitimate reason not to be there. So, well, anyway, there's my memory, that says a lot on my age.
So our whole show here is about Mojo. And this kind of seems like a goofy thing, but actually, it's born from a real place last year in 2019, started my agency, creative agency here at CloudRaker, 19 years before. And, and it's an entrepreneurial journey and I get to work with great people and, you know, but one of the things that I realized last year, I was, I was, I kind of hit a wall and I was like, ah, And I was like, but the only thing really I have to bring to the team is mojo.
And so I started talking to different people, all these different walks of life and what happened in the beginning of this year in 2020, everyone was like, we got to do a podcast, like time, we do a podcast and we're like, what do we do it about? And we're like, listen, do it about mojo, like where do people get their inspiration?
How do they stay inspired? How do they share that inspiration? And so that's what the show became. And then this little thing happened, you might've heard of COVID so we put a little pause or like, ah, yeah, maybe not the right time. And then we're like actually, this is the perfect time. If there is a perfect time to do it, it's now. And so that's why we started this whole thing. So I don't know about you. Like, I don't know how you are, how are you surviving this Covidness? and how you doing?
So interestingly, you know, being a journalist in the in the first months of the pandemic, I was working incredibly hard.
You know, people wanted information and trustworthy information and we're trying to figure out what was going on, you know, how you know, what was the virus? How do I, you know, how can I catch it? What, what is, what is safe? What is not safe? What does this mean for my pocket book? What does this mean for my kids in school?
Everybody desperately wanted information. And so they were turning to journalism and reliable, trustworthy journalism for answers. So the first couple of months of the pandemic were incredibly busy for me. And all journalists, It was difficult, frankly, because within a week most of us were working from home, like people in all sectors.
But that's not easy to do as a broadcast journalist. So, you know, not only did we have to shift our work model, but then we, there were incredible demands upon our output as well. So it was incredibly stressful and my son was at home, you know, no longer going to school and, and et cetera, et cetera.
So the first couple of months were incredibly stressful and I was working off my feet, and really didn't have time to even pause that an interesting thing happened. As the pandemic wore on, people started to tune out news. They heard so much about COVID that they were like, okay, this is, this is happening.
This is real, and it's time to hibernate. And I don't want to hear all that discouraging and frankly often depressing information. And so we slowed down in terms of our pandemic news output, if you will. And the news space went back to normal. So when I finally got to hit that pause, you know, roughly around May, I was tired, I was tired and realized, Oh yes, there's a pandemic going on.
And it's been impacting me personally as well, and I'm not getting my daily bike ride to work any longer. I did start to consume perhaps a little bit more than the usual, you know, wine with dinner, put on a few COVID pounds, you know, all the were a lot of changes that happened to me personally, that I finally took a breath and, and went, wow, better focus on that if you're... because I need to feel well. You know in my own health, balanced, if I'm going to do a good job as a journalist and it was hard to do in the first, in the first and it still is, it still is. I mean, I think everybody is, is, is still dealing with how do you stay healthy when we can't really go outdoors and socialize the way that we're accustomed to when we can't exercise, when we can't, you know, visit with people as well, social health is a real, real challenge.
I went the other way in terms of like, I went towards exercise, like running. Cause I was just like, I don't know how this all plays out. Uh, I remember the first few weeks, like I'm thinking of all the economic consequences across the team. And I just run, I felt like Forest Gump, like literally like running and, and to the point point now, and I was telling Mark yesterday, he's like, dude, you seem down.
And I was like, cause I didn't run, man. Like now it's like, if I don't run, I just get this, the, this negative energy just seeps in very quickly, you know?
So I am very physically active and that's really important that you talk about mojo. I've realized over the years that the physical activity is a huge part of, of maintaining mojo.
I play hockey and I cycle and I go to the gym. Those are kind of my three big, big things. And all of a sudden going to the gym wasn't happening. Cycling to work my daily, as I said, my daily cycle to work was gone and hockey, you know, dried up. So, all of those things left me trying to figure out how I was going to reinvent my exercise regimen.
And I'm still working at that.
Yes. We're all journalists.
I am. Yes.
So, uh, Massey college, like, first of all, congratulations, uh, But what does that mean?
It's timely that you're asking me these questions about mojo, because it's exactly what I'm doing right now.
I'm kind of trying to recapture and rekindle mojo. So a fellowship in a journalism context essentially means a sabbatical associated with a university. So I have been on another fellowship before at Stanford University in California. And in a journalism context, that means that you get to take as many courses as you wish at the university that is sponsoring the fellowship.
And in my case, you have UofT right now, you become a student again, I'm not getting graded or marked. I'm auditing the courses. And then there's a series of kind of lectures that you, that your group, your cohort, engages in weekly about journalism, about the state of journalism.
So everyone you're with are journalists.
Yes. We're all journalists.
So we meet once a week and talk about journalism or public policy issues and things like that. But it's essentially a sabbatical, you know, you're out of the newsroom. You don't have to file new daily news. You don't have to work on any journalism projects, you get a stipend and it's a way to recharge and work on project.
Do you get to live on campus?
Yes, you can. You can
See you later family.
This year at the Massey fellowship, there are, there's a journalist from Ghana, there's journalists from, there's two journalists from Myanmar. One from Alberta.
So they're on campus.
A couple of them are on campus.
Yes. And you, you decide to stay home and.
I have an apartment. It's wrong for me to
See you later, family. I'm not here. So, the other question I have about that is, do you have to publish like a thesis or anything around this or you're just sponging and yeah.
The theory is, although the Stanford fellowship that I was on, the John S. Knight fellowship, they asked us to work on a project that we pitched to them about how to save journalism, essentially.
Not no small task, so we were working on a project as well as taking some course work. The Massey fellowship doesn't have that expectation, but I certainly have some goals for the year in terms of what I'm trying to do. I'm working on a journalism textbook, which I have long wanted to write.
About reporting in indigenous communities, which is kind of my area of specialty, and really the main reason that I, that I decided to go on the fellowship is whether I really want to become a better speaker of my native language, which is Anishinaabemowin. I'm Anishinaabe by heritage, and I don't speak my native language, which is not an unusual thing for, for indigenous folks in this country, unfortunately.
And so I probably don't need to tell you or your listeners, about the history of residential schools and the loss of efficient languages in this country. But my grandparents were fluent in Anishinaabemowin speakers, and then within one generation, the language is lost. It's long been the hole in my heart, not speaking the language. And, three years ago, I started taking evening classes at the friendship center in Toronto to start to learn the language I showed up. And I knew four words of Anishinaabi. Well, one that my grandparents used to speak and yeah,but I had kind of plateaued thing.
Like I had to learn a language in your late forties. My God, like it's, it's just so hard and difficult.
And doing it in a classroom at night, like.
After work and you know, and me being in a, in a business where I'm traveling around the country and yeah
Going to a language class at night,
I really had plateaued and I wasn't advancing.
Yeah. And I said, the only way I'm going to get a little bit better at this language is if I actually take some time to, to focus on learning the language. And so that's what I'm trying to do this year.
I find that really interesting. And actually, your email address, indigenous journalists @, and I won't complete that.
Yeah, indigenous reporting @
Yeah. Yeah, reporting. Sorry. You know that minimalist, like it gets right to the heart. I think of you like first indigenous and reporting, like two things that are key to your life. Did you just, you were like, Oh shit, I need an email address. And you did that or did you actually consciously do that.
No, so I'm trying not to use my CBC email address when I, when I'm on the fellowship, because I don't want to be thinking about work, actually, I'm trying to leave work to rest.
And as difficult as that can be, when there are all kinds of news events going on in the indigenous reporting email address as a result of the fellowship that I was on over a decade ago at Stanford. I created a website, a resource for journalists who are reporting in indigenous communities.
It was a toolkit, a guidebook. It was something that, that a lot of people, shed was needed for non-indigenous journalists who were venturing into to first nation communities to do the journalism. And so I created that website. And indigenous reporting is, is the email kind of tag that I generated at that time for the website.
I love the minimalism and the bluntness. This is it. Yep. So roots are obviously important to you. Like. How do you define your roots?
I do identify as Anishinaabe, that I I always have, although I am, you know, by DNA or blood, I'm half-breed, if you can use that with that term, I can use that term.
You can use that term.
You don't don't need to use that term, but you know, so my dad is Anishinaabe. My mother is from the Ottawa Valley, blonde blonde hair and blue eyes she's of Scottish and German stock. And so, but I do, I have always identified yes, strongly as an Anishinaabe, simply because that's how I was raised by both my parents.
Although I, you know, I am learning more about the Scottish side of my heritage as well. It's an interesting question about why I identify more strongly with the Anishinaabe side of the family. My father was very conscious of it. He was a teacher of native studies and I think my mother recognized, you know, when they married in the late sixties, mixed race marriages and relationships were very much taboo and she, uh they both, you know experienced what I can only call as racism from within in fact, my mother's own family, about, about their union. And so I think she understood the racism that my father faced and my father's side of the family and was determined to try to make sure that I would be proud of who I was an indigenous boy.
But it's interesting because, in a different way, but my, I'm married to a French Canadian woman, so, and we're raising our kids as French and English, bilingual, you know, and it's like, where's that line? Like, you know, do they always feel dual? Or do they gravitate to one side or the other, you know.
Duality is, is something that I really wrestled with as a teenager, uh, you know, trying to figure out who I was and all teenagers struggle with their identity.
That's part of the awful part of being a teenager is trying to figure out who you are, but it's, it was compounded for me by being a mixed race, and people still have a hard time classifying, mixed race folks. You know what box do you fit in? You know, that is still a struggle.
And again, it's that much more difficult for young indigenous folks growing up in this country when you're bombarded with so many, any, popular media. Perceptions of what an Indian should look like and how an Indian acts.
Yeah, but it's interesting because Anishinaabe, at least what I read translates to, I think maybe this is wrong, but it's from the interwebs, people from whence lowered, or the good humans.
Yeah. So there are a couple of different interpretations of where the word came from. The one that fits for me is good people. So initian is the word for that's good. And Anishinaabe is simply the good people.
I just find that so poetic and good. So my clan, Scottish clan Calder were part of the Campbells. So I was like, Oh, I wonder if we have anything that's kind of cool like that. I looked it up and it's crooked mouth.
I was like crooked mouth. That sucks. So you're mentioning your teen years finding, you know, the, your identity and I I'm so freaking embarrassed. I didn't realize you've written a book. I now know I've ordered it. Great. Okay. Because I actually find it really interesting, you know, you're, you're 17 years old going on this adventure in Northern Quebec with a Cree family, the books name for everyone, The Shoe Boy, A Trap Line Memoir, by the way, I love the title.
Hey, little side. Did you actually just land on the title or was it always there?
So the title, so it's about five months that I spent on a trap line with, with an old Cree trapper and his family in Quebec, and in, or as the Cree would call it Eoitchy, which is, created Cree land. And Robbie Matthew Senior, who was the, the trapper.
He called me. He called me the shoe boy, because I was a terrible Hunter. I was a terrible Hunter. And, in terms of the pecking order, you know, hunting camp, I fell at the bottom. And he used that term. He said he called me the shoe boy on, on multiple occasions. I never really asked him what it meant, but I think it came from residential school.
And I think it was kind of a term that they used for the kids that had to clean up basically, which is what I ended up doing. I ended up doing a lot of sweeping and washing dishes and carrying water. Although he did teach me a thing or two about trapping and fishing.
This Robbie, Matthew Sr, took you under his wing, right? To teach you hunting and trapping. Which is obviously cool skills, but what else stands out for you most being with this mentor? All I'll say or.
So the book is actually, was me trying to figure out what he taught me because I recognized that he was an important mentor in my life. But what was that experience?
Just to, I mean, this was the year before I went to King's actually Thane, that I went, I took a year off in between high school and university, and spent this kind of six month period with, out on the land. And he taught me so many things that I ended up having to write a book about it and unpack all of these complex feelings that I was having.
But on the one hand, yes, he did. He taught me to recognize where rabbits were running and how to set a snare or more specifically his sons did. You know, he taught me how to, to set fish nets. He taught me how to honor a bear after we had shot and killed a bear, how to set a Beaver trap, all of these, these very practical skills, but there was so much more that he, that through osmosis, you know, it wasn't like a classroom setting of any type that's not a traditional indigenous teaching style.
It's very much a experiential learning go out and make mistakes, you know you'll learn that way. So he taught me about how, as a hunter and a trapper viewed the land and his relationship with the land and the animals and his relationship with the animals. And that was profound. To me because so much of indigenous culture became very much clearer to me when I saw the way that he operated on the land.
You know, the reality for most indigenous people is that we don't live a sustenance lifestyle anymore. There are a small handful of people who do and there are many indigenous people who will connect with the land, on weekends or, you know, over, over the summer or particular, you know, when the salmon are running or when the char running or when the geese are flying or whatever the, the animals may be, but not, not many people live a sustenance lifestyle anymore, based on hunting and gathering.
So to be able to do that, it showed me that connection to the land and how it expressed itself. In indigenous culture through our honor and respect of elders, for example, through ideas like reciprocity, you know, which is a fancy way of saying giving back, you know, that's a, that's an incredibly important value in, in indigenous cultures.
When I saw Robbie on the land and his relationship with the animals, I began to understand really viscerally. Why we have such a, why we, why giving back is such a, an important contemporary value to all indigenous folks. So it really made the roots of my heritage a lot more clear to be out on the land and to understand why the land continues to be such, such an important force within, within indigenous life in Canada, even if we live in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Do you think the fact that you weren't necessarily with your tribe and you're with another, with, with the Cree gave you a better perspective on that? Maybe better is the wrong word, but it took away all. I'm trying to be connected to my own community. Um, I'm now even more immersed in something new or...
The relationship between the Cree and the Anishinaabe has always been a fairly close one in the sense that the best way I could describe it as they're a bit like the Spanish and the Portuguese, you know, like neighbors who are similar and, and have...
Similar heritage elements..
Yeah. Similar heritage, but have some distinct differences. Yeah. So the language is similar but different. So the teachings of the Cree in Northern Quebec, uh, are not unlike what I would experience with hunters. Anishinaabe hunters in Northern Ontario, for example. They sometimes say it's difficult to be a prophet in your own land, you know and that it helps, well, to leave.
It's like the experience of travel, when you travel, you almost better understand where you're from by being away.
Absolutely. And so, in that, in that regard, you know, it was kind of a very Canadian, a very indigenous version of a building role, you know, like, like it was, I went away to come back to understand myself.
Well, I did my sabbatical year or my leap year between, uh, high school and Kings and I, but I went to India, you know, totally different vibe. Yeah.
Just to circle back, you asked me about mojo. You asked me about the Massey fellowship. You're asking me now about this year off that I took in between high school.
I have encountered over the course of my life, a number of periods where I have simply taken a year off. I I've done it. I did it between high school. I did it between, undergrad and law school. I did it, when I went off to Stanford at about the 10 year mark of my career. And I'm doing it now again at about the 20 year mark of my career.
And. I think it's incredibly important to do, for people to just get off the treadmill if you will, of their careers and, and to reinvigorate themselves in whatever way that, I mean, for me, that has often been in academia, but it's not always easy to do, you know, to take a whole year off, especially as you get older, uh, when you have financial responsibilities is when you have responsibilities to family, when you have a mortgage or whatever, it may be the it's, it can be very difficult to take time off to do something that you're passionate about.
But it's so essential. It's so essential. In terms of rekindling that fire it's so essential to rest. People make fun of me for this, but you know, what I have noticed in, in the two journalism sabbaticals that I've taken is that the first month the whole group is exhausted. And I think it has to do with simply because journalists are so used to the pace of fast paced lifestyle where news is constantly in this cycle, running on adrenaline all the time. When you take that adrenaline out of our bodies and say, okay, you don't need to do anything. You just kind of crash. I mean, it's you just go walk and people experienced this when they go on holidays, right? Like when you go on holidays for, for a week, you know, it's a nice little break.
But it's not enough time.
But it's not enough time. Everybody always says that, Oh, it wasn't enough time. You know, when you go on home for two weeks or three weeks or four weeks, for those who are lucky enough to do that kind of thing, then you, you begin to, to really relax, you know, you can, after that first week you can really slow down.
And I just, I just think it's so important to remove yourself from whatever your career may be. In order to get better at that career, once you, once you returned to it, if you decide to return to it.
Well, don't give my colleagues any ideas here. No, no, no, it's fine. It's all good. It's all good.
But I will give your colleagues some ideas, because I think that, that, like I Google, for example, I have, when I was at Stanford, Google allows their, their employees, I believe it's as much as 20% of their, their working time to work on passion projects.
They've clawed that back by the way. Very much on that front.
Maybe it was working good on paper, but not.
I don't know why they did. I don't know what happened, but they, yes, you're right. They were doing that. Yeah.
Right. Like, like I think to have more productive employees, you, you need to allow them to explore their passions and that, that, that can benefit a company in a way that that perhaps may not be immediate lobbyist to the PO, to the fellow who's paying the pig.
Totally agree. It's how do you economically do it?
I think the intention, it's so bang on, like the problem is I, you know, I've had my own company here, but I've dreamt of taking that year off and the closest I've come to it. And this is the good side of the pandemic wasn't time off. But change of context. So, you know, I'm fortunate to have a country house and in March, my kids are sent home to do homeschooling.
They you know, via, you know, through Google classroom. And so we're like, well, why be in the city? We've got our country house. We actually have internet that works pretty decently there. And just changing context till essentially, when they have to go back to school in September was brilliant.
Even though I was still working, working very differently, it was like a type of sabbatical. So it wasn't the dream sabbatical, but it was definitely a change of context. And I do believe, you know, I think that, you know, we were talking earlier about going on trips. Sometimes that change our context helps us all.
Even if it doesn't have the same depth of.
I'll give you another example. Uh, in an indigenous context of how I keep my mojo. Ceremony is really important to me. And, in a particular sweat lodge. Yeah. And, one of the things, that you realize when you start to participate in a circle, in a lodge and become a part of that circle is this sweat lodge has taken an incredible amount of time.
Like, like you, you essentially rebuild the lodge every time that you go out and do that ceremony. And, you know, if I commit to doing a sweat lodge, I'm gone for a day. Like, I'm out for a day. It's not like going to church, you know, where you show up between 11 and 12 and, and say your prayers and, and thanks very much, pastor off I go. You know, the building process of building a sweat lodge takes takes, and then cleaning up afterwards, including the ceremony.
It essentially takes a whole day. And I do think that there's something to that, that the process itself. Is is slowing you down. It's, forcing you to interact with the people that you're engaging in the ceremony and with, aside from the, the two or three hours that you may be in the lodge itself.
And I think that there's something to that teaching. That there's a slowness that can assist us in terms of finding balance. And particularly in this kind of fast paced, Life we lead in 2020.
So I'm gonna riff on that, I have friends who they used to live here in Montreal, they're neighbors. And they moved back to Israel, live in Tel Aviv, very practicing, not Orthodox, but very committed to their faith and Shabbat.
It happens in their household. And they're just describing. It just means they unplug everything. They turn off and they actually know their neighbors because they can't drive anywhere. So they actually go outside and hang out with their neighborhood. And I was like, that's pretty fricking genius.
Actually. It's not a sweat lodge, but it has that whole connotation of, of changing that pattern. And really forcing a, at least once a week, a change up, which I think is really, you know, when we're talking about mojo, I think there's a lot to be said about that, you know, trying to reboot that way. And, earlier I had a flash, you know, when you're talking about being up North, so back to your book here, I do a little bit of in French Canadian, we say coq à l'âne.
Do you know that expression? Greatest term ever, from rooster to donkey. So it's not as linear your conversation goes back and forth from roosters to donkeys. Have a good band maybe, anyway, sorry. I'm always thinking of band names, but five years ago, I had the opportunity, a friend of mine invited me to go caribou hunting.
Up North. We went up in January, sort of late Jan. We flew into Radison to the airport there and long, It could be a very long story. I'll give you the short version. So when we arrived there, we weren't supposed to go there. We were actually supposed to go like 500 kilometers East to the Mirage Outfitters, but they called and redirected our flights saying that actually the caribou were over here.
And this is before they did the shutdown in the caribou hunts. And so we, we flew into there.
This is the George river herd. You went in the area that I'm talking about. That I was, yeah.
So the story goes, we were going for five days to do this hunt. We arrive in Raddison in the airport, which felt like a very small airport, but an airport, you know, like security wise and our guys show up where like, Yeah.
And we're guys, we're 10 guys. I'm with my friend at we're four of us, my friend, and two other people. And the guides come in and go: get ready! The herds not far from here, the ski-doo's are already outside of the airport. Load your guns were going. And it was kind of weird being in an airport with all security things, we're like loading up guns in the airport.
I'm like, are we allowed to do it? Like, it just felt wrong. You know, in this day and age, even though it's a smaller, but it's still an airport, you know? So we were walking around, all dressed and we get on our ski-doos is when we go off and here was the bad side of this hunt was the guy, first of all, said, okay, we work hard.
Here's how the tips work. Okay. You know, we expect, you know, 50 bucks for getting your caribou 50 bucks for the guy. So it was just like so weird, you know, and we just show, so we go out, we drive, literally we have our caribou hunt done within two hours.
The plane left and there we were, and we had a drive, 500 kilometers to the Mirage Outfitters, you know, by the time everyone sort of recon, it was like 10 at night. And then we loaded up the caribou on trailers in the back, crammed into a van and drove across the Taiga road for, I think it was like 10 hour ride, like we had our fuel tanks with us. And anyway, yeah.
We got there crazy, you know, whatever hour, you know, four or five in the morning, we hadn't eaten and we had Joe Louis. I don't know if you know, in the van, that was our meal, get their sleep. And then it was like breakfast. And I saying like, what are we going to do? So we didn't hang out with the other guys anymore.
The four guys, one of the guys was a Northern guide. He wasn't indigenous, but he was cool. You know, like he knew the land and we, we got ourselves some ski-doos and we would go off all day. And go hunting lagoped, which are parmegan, the little white, and we would go off for miles and all day. And, and, sorry, I'm sharing this story, this is not, I shouldn't be doing all this talking. But anyways. It was so beautiful. Like it was so empty. And at one point we were so far off and with my friend, we kind of went off and did our own thing. We made a little fire. We found some branches made a little fire and he goes, it was the craziest thing.
And he goes, I bet you where we are right now. No other human being has ever been okay. And I'm not shitting you. Okay. He said that and we looked over and probably 200 yards away. There was a Cree and like there, and as I did, you're so wrong.
I was gonna, I was going to say, I may beg to differ but I understand the feeling. I understand the feeling.
And I was like, because I was kind of like, yeah, Dude we're like right in the middle of nowhere and then looked over 200 yards away and the guy just gave us a wave. And I was like, that's so weird, man. That's how wrong we are. But it was such a beautiful moment. We didn't talk. He just gave a wave and went on and, and sorry.
So that was a very long story, but I...
I'm glad you shared it. And there's a, there are all kinds of weird things when you start to well, when you start to try mesh, uh, capitalism with, uh, with, uh, with the traditional lifestyle, for sure. But, but, but you know what, like, it makes me think, like, not everybody has that opportunity to have that experience that you, that you had, but, but it does make me think.
You know how important the land is to, uh, to, to everyone and not, not, not just indigenous folks, but, but to everyone. And, and, and, and I really do think that that particularly for folks that live in cities, which is, you know, 85% of Canadians, uh, you know, that it is, it is so essential that we connect with nature for, [00:40:00] for our mental health and for our emotional health and, and.
You know, city planners are only just beginning to realize that, and we're seeing it during the pandemic, right? To bring this thing, whole thing, full circle, you know, we're forced outdoors. And what we're realizing is that some cities have done a way better job of providing outdoor common space than others.
I mean, I went to a park in Toronto one evening, uh, this summer to have a socially distance visit with some folks, the park was full in, in a really healthy way. You know, everybody was, was distancing, but people were sitting out in, on their blankets and having a glass of wine, which may be a more common thing in Montreal.
But in uptight, Toronto, this is a bit unusual. Uh, but, but you know, people need to connect with the outdoors. And there've been studies done medical studies, proper medical studies, peer reviewed that show that, you know, if a child spends a half an hour outside in a park, uh, you know that they're going to focus better on their studies.
For example, you know, ADD students, students who are classified as having attention deficit disorder, when they get connected to nature for a short period of time, all of a sudden, they're a lot more focused. And Canadians like to think that we're that country, you know, where we go off to the cottage, you know, where we enjoy the great outdoors, you know, we that, that kind of iconic imagery is very much part of the Canadian identity.
But the reality is that we, a lot of us don't anymore. we don't, our connections with nature are really limited and and it hurts us.
And to be honest, like it's not to be sort of macho. But you know, going to Muskoka versus, you know, when you're up in, in like where I went in Northern Quebec, I mean, it's, it's a totally different vibe.
Like it is far. And, but. If you're from there, it's not far, but when you're from here, you're like that's far. I mean, I have this one in these things. I like doing, I'm a big Google map, dude. And I like zeroing in, on areas and going like wondering where it is and to live here. And I remember years ago I had the opportunity to fly my family, we went to Iceland. And I couldn't sleep. I was all excited and I was up all night were flying over like, you know, flying up and then you'd see lights like an upper Labrador. And you're like, who's living there? How do they get them? And so I Google map into these places going, like, what are these places?
These, we down here, in the South call out posts, but you know, we don't have exposure to that. And I sometimes wonder if it, you know, we. Like, should we force like a national program to go North and/or to go discover these communities? Or, I mean.
Yeah. I don't know how northerners would feel about that, the spirit is, is important.
And, and in terms of, particularly for youth, you know the whole idea behind Katimavik and having, you know, an exchange for youth where they get to explore their own country, where they don't have to go backpacking and across Europe, but they actually get an opportunity to explore this massive country, which we have a really hard time keeping connected because it is this massive place that, that is held together. You know, despite many of its many of its problems from inception. I'll say, but, you know, um, there are times that I wish that that indigenous folks had more opportunities or non-indigenous folks have more opportunities to have the kind of encounter that you had with a Hunter up in James Bay.
It's not even scratching the surface, it was so fleeting, like not enough do you know.
Sure, sure. But, but you know what? It tells you something and I don't think enough Canadians have had that often.
Let me ask you, so you were talking about Canada, like stitching and holding together. I would say in some ways, Cross Canada Checkup is like one of the things that holds the country together.
It's a cross country trip. That is, I mean, the show is older than me. It's you know, it's 55 years old this year. And you know, for those who don't know it, it's the only Canadian national phone-in show that started up during the healthcare debate about whether or not, you know, Canada should have universal healthcare.
Like it was founded for that?
I mean, there was this big kind of project proposal and people said, gosh, you know, Canadians should have their chance to weigh in. And, so that's how Cross Country Checkups started. And I'll inflate my role in it. It would be confirmed for, for obvious reasons, but I do feel like it is one of the few opportunities that Canadians have to hear and listen to each other. And, and that's really important in this day and age of social media, you know, there was the previous host had been, had been at the mic for over 20 years. And, you know, when he left, when Rex Murphy left...
He was there for 20 years?
Yeah, well, yeah, there'd been some discussion, you know, about perhaps it's time for this phone-in show to be taken off the airwaves because it was created so that Canadians could express their opinions. Well Canadians express their opinions, you know, constantly now on social media. So why do we need this two hour radio slot?
But I do think there's something really important and very different from the conversations that happens on the air on Cross Country Checkup. Then what happens on Twitter or Facebook or Tik TOK, or anywhere else. Is that people get to hear one another and listen to one another and listen to voices that are not necessarily in their, their filter bubble.
Yeah. Yeah. There's no algorithm going on to it.
There's no algorithm going on. There is, I mean, we have screeners, we don't let the whack loonies of both sides of the political spectrum. Get on the air. We try not to, so we do have that. There is, you know, it's mediated, but thinly mediated for journalistic purposes.
And I know that there are people that are throwing their their lunch at the radio, listening to some of the people that they hear on the air. But I think that that's important because they need to recognize that this country is incredibly diverse and there are a lot of different viewpoints and, not everybody agrees, and that's sometimes hard to do in social media. You know, me culpa I, the algorithm works pretty well. It shows me the things that I want to see on a fairly daily basis.
Yeah. Actually the last time I really listened to it a lot was in, when I was in university. Sundays, you know, making dinner and that, you know, apartment.
It was just like, I don't know, it was a thing to do. And then recently in recent years, I have been relistening to it because usually that's when I'm driving my son to hockey practice stuck somewhere. There's traffic now on Sundays. So yeah, you might as well listen to the radio. And I was like, no, no, let's listen to music.
Like we're always listening to music. Now we're going to hear and listen to Canada. Yeah, my buddy Duncan.
Until that guy comes on on the radio and then you're like, Oh my God, I can't listen to that guy. Jeez. Talking about why they won't wear a face mask.
So what's it like to be in that seat to host that?
It's a privilege. I see it that way. I feel very lucky to be a journalist and to have the people who wants to share their stories with me, that I get to listen and ask questions. I've always seen my job as a privilege, and the fact that I get to do that and share those conversations with a pretty broad swath of Canadians, I feel lucky.
It's also a challenge in the sense that I bring what I would call some of my indigenous cultural values too. The way I host the program in the sense that I try to be very respectful. This isn't kind of an am morning shock jock kind of approach to the conversation where I'm trying to piss people off or get into fights with people or humiliate or denigrate anybody it's quite the opposite.
You know, I am, I want to hear people's points of view and I make fun of, you know, hearing somebody on the radio, talk about why they're not wearing masks. I think anybody that has looked at the latest research with regard to COVID transmission understands that that's what, a large group of scientists and medical, medical folks are telling us now is.
You know, the proper. It helps. It helps. Yeah. Right, right. But, that said, I want to understand when I'm talking with someone on the air about why they don't wear a face mask. I want to understand why, you know, where they're getting their information, I want to understand what's motivating, what are their fears, so that other, you know, to get to the root of that, rather than trying to get in a fight with that person, I want my conversation to help other Canadians learn that there are these opinions out there and why their fellow Canadians feel the way they do.
Do you ever, but let's be on honest. Like.
Do I have to bite my tongue?
That's what everybody asks me. Do I have to bite my tongue? No, because I, and again, this isn't about me and my opinions. It's a show it's and there are times when I have to scratch my head and say, okay, you know, I'm not following your logic, but no, it's, as I said, journalistically, it's about getting into that deeper, the why's of a story as opposed to just the what's.
So would you say when you do a show like that you get a pulse of the country?
Yes, I think so. Every week the color surprised me thing, you know, I mean, it's not, it's not scientific by any stretch of the imagination. And I, it is important to recognize that that it is curated.
I mean we have journalistic objectives in terms of balance and fairness. So it's not a scientific pool by any stretch of the imagination, but we're never sure. I mean, the callers take the, we throw this question out there. Is it safe to let your kids go trick or treating during COVID, during a pandemic?
We throw that general question. We're never quite sure where that conversation is going to go. I'll give you another example, you know, should there be a prohibition on what kids wear, in terms of their costumes at Halloween. When we did that show, my goodness. I was quite shocked at the conversation that ensued on the air during that program.
Cause did you think of it was going to be actually a pretty mild topic? More?
I thought it would be a little mild, but actually it ended up being, you know, it ended up being one of the more engaging shows about racism that we have, that I ever have hosted. Because in the one hand, it was just about Halloween costumes.
We weren't, you know, weren't asking a question about Black Lives Matter and police brutality, for example. We were asking about how the halloween costumes seemingly innocuous, but, you know, when we had that conversation, a lot of viewpoints came out about, in a lot of privilege came out, frankly, that people may not feel that they can reveal when they're talking about something as grave as police deaths.
The other end of the spectrum of serious. Do you know what the number one costume theme is this year?
I would guess it's a health care worker.
No dude, that, that would be like a responsible costume. It's apparently fly on head.
That's very good. That's very good.
So I want to get back to something so. Well, I guess we can't talk mojo without talking about some hard shit. Okay. So you know, this spring/summer, and you mentioned, you know, black lives matter, George Floyd, it, things got really intense. And obviously a lot of conversation in Canada, a lot of conversation in my agency, with colleagues, with friends you know, I kind of feel Canada scar is much more relationship with indigenous communities.
Not to, you know, what's worse, whatever, but I, I believe that's our scar that we never really dealt with. You know, when you look at the, you know, this way better than I do, you know, the data, the poverty, the suicide, incarceration amongst the indigenous populations in Canada is just it's off the charts in terms of ratios, where does the indigenous community, you know, where do, where do they go from here? Like, are things getting better? Are things worse?
That's a really good question Thane, and it depends on who you ask it. Like it depends. You know, if you were to ask a young indigenous hip hop artist in downtown Vancouver, you know, where they feel their life is going, they may be full of nothing but optimism and revolution and, you know, all kinds of power.
If you talk with a 14 year old in, on the Northern Saskatchewan reserve, where you know, there's not proper drinking water, and the schooling is frankly abject. Then they're going to have a very different answer. And I think, I mean, you know, I think that's part of the challenge and the concern is we don't want to have another lost generation, you know, because there've been, there've been too many.
We can't afford that any longer and so, I mean, me personally, I see incredible hope. I see incredible hope when I meet you young children today, when the indigenous kids that are hanging out with my son, when he was a camp counselor at an indigenous camp this summer, or an online camp for indigenous youth in the city.
When I meet the folks that are involved in the indigenous theater productions, that my daughter is involved in as a costume designer and who are creating and sharing new indigenous narratives with Canadians on the stage, you know, I mean, I'm filled with incredible hope. You know, there, there are indigenous kids out there who were engaging in things that their grandparents only dreamed of in terms of their career pursuits or their artistic pursuits or their, or picking up the language or but, but you cannot overlook the fact that there has is an incredible amount of trauma that has that, that indigenous people have experienced over the past 150 years, that is layered intergenerationally within our families that has created an awful lot of hardship and continues to, and it will take a long time for people to get over that. Whether it is 60 scoop, whether it is sexual abuse, whether it is incarceration. You know, it just, residential schools, it just goes on and on the amount of trauma that our peoples have experienced being separated from the land, you know?
And that doesn't just turn around overnight. It's as simple as, you know, trying to rebuild the bonds between our, our families, trying to, to create good, strong, loving relationships. There are a lot of people, indigenous people in this country who did not hear the words I love you for long periods of time throughout their childhood in their and their adulthood.
And that has a huge impact on them as who they are today, the kinds of romantic bonds that they can form the kinds of work relationships that they can form. So there's a lot of work that our people need to do to reach as we're reaching out for self-determination as individuals and as peoples, that's not going to change overnight.
And so you, I think you were asking me, you know, where are things going? Yeah. I'm incredibly hopeful because for all of the talent that I see and all the love that I see now being expressed, but it could go the other way. You know, sometimes we talk about the tsunami, you know, their indigenous folks. We have more children, than a lot of other Canadians are having right now. You know, we like to be surrounded by our children and we have more kids. And, you know, if the dropout rates continue at the same rate that they are, then we're going to lose another generation and there'll be more, another generation of kids that are going to be pipelining straight to prison.
So, I mean, and there's no like silver bullet of a solution here, but I mean, what could Canada and do, you know, maybe inject more mojo back into the, the indigenous story and our connection to indigenous people like...
There are lots of things. There are lots of things that can be done, but the simple thing is understand that the self-determination for indigenous people, if you're actually going to fully embody, to fully embrace the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples, uh, that is going to result in a shift in power in this country. It has to if treaty, if the treaties are going to be the spirit of the treaties and the relationship that those peoples who signed treaties have with Canadians, if the spirit of those documents is going to be breathed life into again, it has to result in a shift in power at the moment that it is profoundly unbalanced. Imbalanced, excuse me.
Um, we don't judge how people say thing
But the Indian act and everything that surrounds the Indian act was set up to turn indigenous people into wards of the state so that they could be moved aside, and dispossessed of their land. That's the simple version of Canadian history with regard to indigenous peoples, which ignores the earlier version that my ancestors envisioned, which was a sharing relationship with the newcomers.
That was cast into a contract, if you will. I use that term simply, but was cast into a spiritual and sacred understanding that this was how we're going to proceed, which are the treaties and the wampum belts and all of these kinds of understandings that my ancestors had about what that relationship was going to look like moving forward.
It's very different than what it evolved into. So you asked me, what's gonna, how the mojo will be rediscovered between Canada and relationship with indigenous peoples. It's got to be that Canadians understand that there's going to be a period of uncomfortable shift in power with regard to indigenous people beginning to exercise their voice when it comes, to, you know, the way that that resources are developed in land, when it comes to,you know, signs on buildings, street, street signs, right? And those kinds of, there are Canadians who feel very uncomfortable when, when they suggest that the name of, of Sir John A McDonald's should be taken off of a law school, but that, it's gonna get, it's gonna be uncomfortable.
We got to feel to this comfort to know.
It's got to be, if we don't move through that, then the relationship isn't going to change.
It's really interesting. I had the, I don't know if you've read the book, uh, Samuel de Champlain's dreams.
I haven't read it yet.
It's a very interesting read of how, you know, just the perspective of Champlain and his arrival into the new world and what I think was a sincere and legitimate spirit of partnership and collaboration.
They got lost along the way. And I sometimes wonder if he's around now, he'd be so pissed. Like the deal was broken. You know, obviously he had his, him, you know, certain worldviews of which were not always, I don't know, fair, but he seemed to have a pretty different viewpoint than what actually played out in history.
And, but I hear you. I think if we're, we're going to have to feel that change, they can't just be the same cycle.
Yes. I'll go back to, to something as innocuous as statues and street signs, you know, like the erasure of indigenous peoples from the land. And this goes back to what I'm learning about language, right?
Like, you know, the erasure of indigenous place names. For example, when you start to learn that, for example, that Mississauga, Oshawa, Atobico, all of these are, based on an indigenous language, begin to realize how deeply woven into the history of this country.
Or even our country name.
Canada, you know, Ottawa.
We don't even acknowledge that.
No, it's not. It's not acknowledged. And it needs to be, it needs to be understood so that, so that we can go back to that spirit of partnership that you mentioned earlier.
I could spend hours, dude. I would love to just hang out in real life. I mean, you wouldn't have time because you're doing fellowship, but stuff, you're up there in your dorm.
But we have this thing, we call it the rabbit hole five. We used to be the rapid five. But it never ended up being fast because we go down these rabbit holes. So we call it the rabbit hole five.
So I've got to try to be fast?
No because it just makes it more interesting to, maybe it'll be fast, maybe it won't, we gave up on the speed factor.
Okay. so here's a question for you. There's five of them. So of notable UofT community. Okay. Here's the first question. And I'll just grabbed some names. Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Gladwell, Northrop Frye, Jordan Peterson. Who would you choose to spend a month trap lining with?
Uh, of that, of those four?
Sort of... Wow. It have to be. Northrop Frye for all kinds of obvious reasons, you know, because of his towering intellect and my role as... it was Northrop Frye...
Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Gladwell, Northrop Frye, Jordan Peterson.
Yeah. Okay. So, so, hanging out with Peggy would be great. That would be my choice for sure.
You're on a Peggy basis with Margaret Atwood?
I saw the back of her head at the Giller awards. Last year I was sitting, I was seated, you know, I've never interviewed her. I'd like to, at some point, I just find her to be a delightful, so whip smart, you know, and so caustic, and I would, but she's also a bird watcher, I know that. And so I think being on the land...
She would be a good Hunter.
Um, I cannot even begin to imagine how, what it would be like to hang out with Jordan Peterson...
He might actually be a good Hunter. He likes his meat apparently.
Well, it's funny because you mentioned, I suspect you'd say Northrop Frye, like you sort of went there first, but that was your Kings in you. That was your Kings college in you. Right?
I hear that. He was, he, he wasn't the most engaging lecturer, despite his towering. Yeah. I think, Margaret would be...
He'd be like Blake, let's talk about Blake.
By the way, Malcolm Gladwell is a really good runner. So that might be helpful. I don't know. I'm just, I get very pragmatic about it. You're like, who do I want to hang and talk? And I'm like, who's going to actually succeed in the trap line here.
Okay. Second question, governor general or prime minister or ambassador to the UN. Which one are you going to be?
Come on, dude. I'm like, I'm the one that's outing you here.
Oh, certainly not prime minister. I can tell you that, I could not be a politician. Kissing babies is just like, it would have a really difficult time.
But with COVID you don't have to, right?
They, or I've seen them. I've seen politicians at work and the kind of adrenaline that they run on when they're in the middle of a campaign is just bizarre. Yeah. I think it would be lovely to have, an indigenous governor general, because, so much of our relationship has been based on that, that historic relationship with the crown and the British crown in particular.
And I just think it would be lovely to see an indigenous governor general in this country.
I'm with you, man.
You know, UN gosh, you know, I've heard horror stories about the bureaucracy at the UN. I don't know if I could handle being in there.
Isn't this fun? This is now in the world domain. Okay. Future governor general. But the only problem being governor general is you're not actually allowed to really say anything deep down. That's a problem, but anyway.
You cut alot of ribbons!
Yeah. Let's move on number three, if you had to take one book from your foundation year, you know, reading list, to the Island, which one do you take? It's the only book forever.
There are a lot of choices there, so I'll just,to throw the ones that left out to mind.I would definitely think about taking Machiavelli's the Prince, Although I don't subscribe to the mercenary way that he envisioned, you know, becoming a leader. I think there were all kinds of marvelous things to ponder about how to frankly manipulate and understand human psychology, which would be very helpful in terms of trying to get off the Island
Oh you're already gone to the like: I'm working to get off the Island, I need a tool.
Well, I'll be that guy. I want to be the guy that gets off the Island. And I think, I think the Prince would probably help in that regard.
The book that I think that would probably provide the most thought, although I don't, would be Dante's Inferno, there are so many levels to, you know, yeah. literally to that, to that particular work that I think you could read that over and over and over again, and still have lots of different, um, engaging thoughts.
So happy you chose that. Obviously when I, you know, the questions, I was like, what would it be for me? And it was, it was definitely Dante's Inferno. It's a very colorful, dark.
Number four, on the rabbit hole five, and hopefully by not saying rabbit hole, I influence your answer here. If you could be reborn as any animal, what animal would you choose?
I am maiimengodem. I am wolf clan. So as a good member of the Wolf clan, I should respond Wolf. I have a soft spot for otters as well. Otters, you know, just to be an Otter just seems so like so much fun. Like, you know, they just, they slip and slide, and I love fishing. And so, you know, being an Otter and, just sitting on my, you know, floating on my back and eating some fish. I mean, that sounds like a pretty good life to me as, as long as there's no leg hold traps kicking around.
Yeah. And the last question here, and this is my sort of selfish path to get advice for my own eldest son. What would you give to yourself? To your own sixteen-year-old self. Duncan, who's 16 again, what advice would you give?
Oh my goodness. This is a rabbit hole question Thane! There is no easy answer to that.
I was an awkward 16 year old. I was nerd and all teenage, I mean, most teenagers, almost all teenagers are awkward. It's a difficult period in your life. It's, it's simple. It's simple to say it does get, it does get better. It does, but it does. And you know, for me, the advice I would have given to myself as a 16 year old, that's what you, that's what you're asking, right?
Yeah, is that reading books is going to serve you well.