Writing

A Pressure Cooker Rocking Beirut

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Tanjaret Daghet drummer Dani Shukri. Photo Brandon Johnston

BEIRUT: Steam builds as heat is added to a pressure-cooker. Eventually, the steam needs an outlet, and the Damascus trio Tanjaret Daghet – guitarist Tarek Ziad Khuluki, bassist and lead vocalist Khaled Omran and drummer Dani Shukri – have found that escape in Beirut’s vibrant music scene. The band’s name literally translates as “pressure pot.” This name solidified during their first show together – cramped into a packed venue like sardines in a can, they felt they were inside a pressure-cooker. The name also exemplifies the energy, angst and unpredictability of their music.

Growing up in Syria, where the musical culture emphasizes classical and traditional music, the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll were not always welcomed. Metal and rock were viewed as outliers, a sound generally avoided or dismissed by most musicians.

“In Syria it was more educational,” Shukri said. “The music school in Damascus was a good thing in the region, and a lot of good musicians were coming out of it. Only a few would, afterward, change their direction. The rest would keep doing the same thing.”

The three met in Damascus by chance in 2008 at a birthday party for Shukri’s former girlfriend. They agreed to meet up to try playing together. It clicked, and they’ve been making music together ever since.

In 2011 the trio realized that their future in Syria as musicians was limited, so they journeyed to Lebanon. A few months later the Syrian civil war began – making the band’s migration a sort of exile. They’ve been unable to return since.

Tanjaret Daghet caught their Beirut break by chance. While jamming in their basement studio in Hamra, their new neighbor heard them practice through the wall. It turned out their neighbor was producer and musician Raed al-Khazen.

“He was next door doing a mix,” Khuluki recalled, “and he came over like, ‘Get ready to do this.’”

Their debut album, “180 Degrees,” was released in 2015. The title, the band claims, reflects a 180-degree turn in their approach to music, signifying their shift from a group of friends playing mostly freestyle into a cohesive group with written, thought-out songs.

“It was a big shift for all of us,” Khuluki said of the album’s title, “to see the things we’ve been dreaming about. All of us. To reach it together, to see it clearly on the ground.”

The band is preparing their second record but they’re careful not to pigeonhole the music. It’s music, they explained. It can’t really be classified as this or that.

They confirmed the upcoming album will be much different than their first. What’s the point in playing the same music?

“It’s not like we decided on the first album, ‘This will be progressive. Let’s do it progressive,’” Khuluki said. “It’s not like that. This is the thing that I like about working with the boys. It’s about opening up to whatever is there.”

Many of the bands’ families and friends remain in Damascus – which is relatively stable compared to the outlying regions of Syria. They note that when they are able to speak with their families, fear can always be detected in their conversations. This fear, they say, is hard to relate to.

“I never lived that,” Khuluki said. “I’ve been here for over four years. So I don’t know what that kind of fear is like.”

The music of Tanjaret Daghet is difficult to confine to a singular genre: a bit of rock, a touch of jazz, a sprinkle of electronic, mixed with traditional Arabic style. The result is often unexpected, with some songs changing their nature partway through.

The opening track on “180 Degrees” is a mix of spoken-word poetry and experimental rock. Some tracks mingle with the sounds of hard rock. Others are closer to metal. The complex freestyle feeling of jazz music is interspersed throughout. The Arabic lyrics are somewhat unique to Beirut, where many younger pop artists prefer to perform in English.

The band has generated a devoted following in Beirut, with fans singing and dancing along passionately to many of their songs at concerts. Their last show at Metro al-Madina ended with Khuluki flailing on his back while shredding a solo. It didn’t end until finally the guitar jack ripped out, cutting the sound. The crowd loved it.

Ultimately the band realizes that while Lebanon has more to offer than anywhere else in the region in terms of exposure and fan base, they will eventually have to branch out to larger venues outside of this country.

“It’s a small scene,” Shukri said. “You can really stay on what you’re doing and keep getting nice feedback for a long time, but you’re gonna stay there.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 25, 2016, on page 16.

Coming of Age on Eve of Revolution

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Musician Khyam Allami and filmmaker Leyla Bouzid at a Beirut screening of their film. Photo Brandon Johnston

BEIRUT: Youth, rebellion, oppression and music. The themes of Leyla Bouzid’s debut feature-length film are both broad and nuanced. The award winning “As I Open My Eyes” made its Lebanese debut Monday evening, as the closing film for MY Film Fest, a festival dedicated to showcasing films made by or revolving around youth. Bouzid, the film’s director and cowriter, was present for the screening.

The film takes place in Tunisia in 2010, shortly before the Jasmine Revolution that resulted in the ousting of President Ben Ali and the spark that lit the Arab Spring. It centers around the life of 18-year-old Farah (Baya Medhaffer), a young Tunisian who hopes to pursue a career as a rock singer, despite her family’s wishes for her to study medicine.

Her band’s music exemplifies the spirit among Tunisian youth leading up to the 2011 revolution, with lyrics exploring the desperation and hopelessness of the country’s marginalized population. As the band begins gaining traction, unwanted attention from government authorities is drawn, and Farah is forced to address the political reality of life under an authoritarian regime.

A coming-of-age film, Farah learns not only of the political consequences of her actions, but also of love, betrayal and her own blossoming sexuality.

Bouzid felt it was important to examine the atmosphere in Tunisia prior to the revolt, and purposely closed the film without showing any images of the beginning of the revolution. “I had to make a film according to 2010, with nothing from the revolution because the history is still going on and there are a lot of things happening. I thought it would not be realistic or good if I finish on some factual historical thing,” Bouzid said after the film’s screening.

“It was very important to speak to the reality of 2010, and not have anything about the revolution. I didn’t want it to seem like Tunisian history stops with the revolution, it’s more open than that,” she continued.

Bouzid was joined on stage after the screening by the film’s music composer, Iraqi multi-instrumentalist . The music, Bouzid explained, became central to the film and its development. Music, she claimed, carried with it the ability to exemplify not only the anger and unrest of young Tunisians prior to the revolution, but also their energy and spirit.

“At one point, before shooting the film I was thinking: Okay maybe we’ll make a bad film, maybe I will fail in my film, but we [will] succeeded in making the music,” she said. The original soundtrack for the film was released in January.

Despite the taboos highlighted in the film, such as sexual exploration and drug use, reception in Tunisia has been very positive.

“It went to several festivals before going to Tunis, and it had won a lot of prizes, so it was not possible to even think about censorship. Honestly, there were no attacks. There was unanimity between the audience and the critics. It’s really a very beautiful story about the film,” she said, adding that the film even received praise from a Tunisian talk show host known for having very conservative views.

Despite the outcomes of the 2011 revolution and the film’s warm reception, Bouzid was cautious of not displaying overenthusiasm for the changes in the newly democratized Tunisia.

“It’s a process at the moment in Tunisia. Of course there is more freedom of speech, and that’s why I made this film. There is a civil society that is very active and all this was not possible years ago. People are really fighting for their rights and fighting for a lot of things. So this is a big change, but it is a process and there is still lots to do. The police state is still a big problem,” she explained.

She noted that the harsh drug laws, which are hinted at in the film, are still a problem in Tunisia today, citing thousands of young Tunisians facing prison sentences for having smoked marijuana.

“There are still a lot of problems. Everyone’s acting as if the Tunisian revolution is magic; it’s not like it’s over we’re a democracy now – it’s not like this. It’s a process. Some things have changed and some things haven’t. Some days we have no hope and some other days we have a lot of hope. But there are a lot of things happening that are good,” she said.

“In France they tell me all the time ‘Oh, you are such a hope in Tunisia, look at Syria,’ and you think, OK, if the model is Syria, then everyone is doing OK.”

“As I Open My Eyes” will continue screening at Metropolis Sofil Center through March 20.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 16, 2016, on page 16.

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Chris Hedges is Coming to Concordia

Journalist to Discuss Global Protest Movements

Image courtesy of Nation Books

At least we’re waking up—that’s the sentiment American journalist Chris Hedges feels about the global protest movements.

Whether it’s Quebec or Ferguson, Missouri, there are signs of a growing awareness that the exploitative system of capitalism has failed us, he said.

Hedges will speak at Concordia University on Wednesday, Dec. 9, in a talk titled The Algebra of Revolution. The event is being organized by the Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore and Canadian Dimensions magazine; an independent socialist publication based out of Winnipeg, which the event also serves as a fundraiser for.

Sustained civil disobedience is the only protest tactic we have left, Hedges argued. He cited Idle No More —an indigenous sovereignty movement—and the 2012 Quebec student strikes as two of examples of this tactic.

“Whether or not we’ll succeed is another story, but there is a growing awareness among a broader and broader segment that we have undergone, as [philosopher] John Ralston Saul pointed out, a corporate coup d‘état in slow motion,” Hedges explained over the phone.

“Corporations have ceased the mechanisms by which incremental and piecemeal reform is made possible. It has destroyed them,” he added.

Hedges’s work as a journalist and activist has taken him to Germany during the collapse of the Berlin wall, to Prague during the ousting of the Communist regime, and to Zuccotti Park in 2011 to a protest which became known as the Occupy movement. More recently, Hedges has reported on the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the United States, which began in Ferguson.

In 2010, Hedges and comic journalist Joe Sacco travelled across America to areas destroyed by capitalism, racism, and exploitation. From Camden, New Jersey to the coal mountains of West Virginia, these places share the common thread of destruction in the name of profit.

“In St. Louis county, because of austerity, 30 to 40 per cent of budgets have to be raised by fines, and so fines are levied on the poor,” he said. “For not mowing your lawn, you can get fined. For standing too long on a street corner—there’s just an array of absurd fines to extract money out of the poor.”

In Quebec, protests and strikes are being organized by students and labour unions in response to cuts in the public sector. Response to protests in Montreal by the police has become increasingly harsh, often ending in teargas and violent confrontations.

“As people understand that the system is gamed against them, the state feels pressure, feels a greater threat. So, the softer mechanisms of control, you know, the carnival of elections, writing letters to your representative in parliament, all of that, people realize it doesn’t work,” he said.

“They have to use harsher forms of control, which is the iron boot of repression. And we’ve seen that throughout the United States, we’ve seen that in Canada. The most grievous example being the G20 summit in Toronto [in 2010], ” he continued.

“In Canada, with Idle No More, we see that everything is linked. The corporate assault against civil society, and working men and women against the environment is all about exploitation, the commodification of the earth, and the commodification of human beings. It’s all the same system.”

Hedges’ latest book Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt explores the idea that revolt is inevitable in a world of an increasing wealth gap paired with the destruction of our ecological system. The book explores various protest movements and their similarities in confronting systems of power.

Original article: http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/journalist-chris-hedges-is-coming-to-concordia

From Syria to Turkey to Montreal

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Children at Al Salam. Photo Kenza Ben Azouz.

Mouhammad Sarhan laughs as the Skype connection finally establishes into a laggy state. It’s 2 p.m. in Reyhanli, Turkey and the 19-year-old is preparing for his English lesson that begins in an hour.

Concordia University recently announced it would sponsor two Syrian students to study at its Montreal campus. Sarhan is one of the two. As part of the Montreal-run Syrian Kids Foundation (SKF), he will receive a scholarship for one year, with the possibility of renewal afterwards.

“Whatever we can do as an institution is pretty modest,” says Concordia President Alan Shepard. “The initiative is a goodwill gesture for a community that is really struggling.”

Growing up in Idlib and later moving to Harem, Sarhan was forced to leave Syria after his school was destroyed.

In Syria, even before the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, schooling for Sarhan was not easy. He claims the education system was largely corrupt and most of his teachers were not qualified to teach, having received their jobs for sectarian or political reasons.

After moving across the border to Turkey, Sarhan encountered more problems. At the first school he enrolled in, he says that staff hired to mark his grade 12 Baccalaureate exam was not qualified, making many mistakes and taking bribes from students’ families in exchange for good grades.

Eventually, he enrolled at Al Salam in Reyhanli, Turkey—a school created in 2012 by a Syrian-Canadian diaspora living in Montreal—where he was able to complete his Baccalaureate and take classes to improve his English and prepare for a proficiency test on English as a foreign language.

Sarhan is one of the school’s most focused students and was highly recommended by his teachers, according to Faisal Alazem, executive director at the SKF and spokesperson of the Syrian Canadian Council.

“My dream is to be a computer engineer; to use science and technology to rebuild my hometown,” Sarhan says when asked what he would like to study at Concordia. He laughs and says he was a little intimidated to find out how many different computer science programs were offered, hoping he registered for the correct one.

Concordia is the only Canadian school to have reached out to the SKF for this opportunity. Like in Syria, refugee students who graduate secondary school in neighbouring countries such as Turkey or Lebanon also face problems continuing their education.

“You have the problem of eligibility, where not all Turkish schools recognize the education of these children,” Alazem says.

In an effort to solve this problem, the Turkish government instituted an equivalency test for Syrian students allowing them to enroll in Turkish universities. So far 80 students from Al Salam have passed the test. However, they still face issues dealing with the language barrier—most universities teach in Turkish, a language most Syrian students are not fluent in.

To help students who haven’t been able to continue their education after secondary school, SKF offers some of their alumni employment opportunities at the school. However, with a limited budget based solely on private donations, the initiative hasn’t been able to flourish.

“It hasn’t been easy to fundraise for Syria, it’s been very difficult,” Alazem says. “It started getting better here, in Canada, after that picture of the little boy that drowned on the coast of Turkey went viral. People started getting more engaged, more volunteers, people started donating more.

“Recently we’ve started seeing a shift in public opinion that’s being reflected in help and donations, but there is much more that needs to be done,” he adds.

Bake sales are held in the Hall building’s mezzanine every Friday and SKF is looking for more volunteers to help raise awareness and funding. Requests for government funding of the project has thus far been denied.

Continued escalation of force in Syria has put more pressure on the organization. Geopolitical powers such as Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah continue to reinforce Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces, with militants like the so-called Islamic State, the al-Nusra Front and various rebel forces fighting for control in the country.

According to Alazem, some former teachers have returned to Syria to be with their families, only to find conditions in worse shape than when they left.

“They’re in constant contact with us and the students, via Skype and the Internet,” he says. “They tell us that Russian planes are bombarding the areas that they live in. They’re telling everyone ‘Don’t come back.’”

“It’s added pressure on us. That idea of returning to a safe and civil Syria is really diminishing every single day,” he says.

Responsibility falls on the organizers of the SKF to ensure that schools like theirs continue to exist and thrive. They want to reach a point where Syrian children are no longer told there is no space for them, Alazem says.

Batool Altaweel, a student at Al Salam. Photo Kenza Ben Azouz.

Batool Altaweel is another student studying at Al Salam. She is 16 years old and has been at the school for over a year. She smiles and speaks excitedly as she talks of her former life in Syria over Skype.

“I was living in Homs when the revolution started, but when the situation got worse we moved to the countryside,” she says.

Growing up, her father was a judge under the al-Assad regime. The regime threatened him for not agreeing with their views that the Syrians demanding a new government were terrorists. Altaweel and her family had to leave Homs for Damascus and eventually arrived in Palmyra, where they lived for a year. As the situation in Syria grew worse, her father defected from the regime, forcing the family to leave the country.

“The situation was unbearable. There was not any justice,” she says. “Some people helped us to go to Al Raqqa, where we stayed five days [before going to] to Turkey.”

She is currently preparing for her TOEFL at Al Salam, while also studying her 11th grade Syrian school curriculum. She would like to study in Canada or abroad one day. According to Altaweel, her parents would like her to take up medicine and become a doctor, but she hopes one day to become a journalist.

Original article: http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/from-syria-to-turkey-to-montreal


Canadian Doctors Speak Out for Refugee Health Care

Canadian Doctors at Panel Discussion

Speakers left to right: Juan Carlos Chirgwin, Samir Shaheen-Hussain, Philip Berger and Janet Cleveland.

Members of Canada’s medical community gathered at McGill on Saturday to discuss the federal government’s 2012 amendments to the Interim Federal Health Programme (IFHP), which changed the way refugee seekers qualify for health care within Canada.

The changes made it so that those in the process of seeking refugee status would receive no medication coverage or any supplemental services.

Additionally, those seeking status from countries considered by Canada to be ‘safe,’ such as Europe and Mexico, would receive very limited services. Only if their health posed a threat to public safety would they receive free treatment.

For example, a refugee from Mexico with an infectious disease that could potentially harm members of the public, would qualify for free health services. However, for other medical instances, such as a broken leg, they would be left unprotected.

The cuts were claimed, by the Conservative government, as a means discouraging ‘bogus’ refugee claims and on economic grounds.

Panelists at Saturday’s discussion disagreed.

“The federal government has lied continually for three years about [the amendments],” said Philip Berger, a University of Toronto medical professor and health rights activist. “Costs were absorbed by provincial governments and local hospitals,” Berger continued.

“Rather than treating people on the basis of their medical need, we are asked to treat them based on their legal status and where they were born,” Berger said.

The amendments were brought before a federal court which ruled against the changes, claiming they constituted “cruel and unusual treatment” and were in violation of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. The decision has since been appealed by the federal government, and a temporary health program now exists.

Janet Cleveland, a psychologist and lawyer, cited an example of a women from Honduras who lost her child due to the amendments. The women was in the process of immigrating to Canada while being sponsored by her husband. Because she had no coverage, she was forced to neglect costly prenatal care. After having a miscarriage, she was stuck with a bill of $40,000 for the 10 day hospital stay she required afterwards.

“Absolutely preventable and absolutely avoidable, and that kind of thing goes on, unfortunately, not uncommonly,” Cleveland said of the case.

She went on to discuss how categorization under the program makes it difficult for doctors to assess what type of treatment they can administer to patients, who are categorized confusingly depending on the status of their claim.

“Most healthcare providers don’t understand migratory status […] and yet coverage is based around this,” Cleveland said.

“The context of budget cuts means that, in Quebec, the hospitals are much less generous […] everybody is trying to cut costs,” Cleveland said. “It amplifies the perception that we have scarce resources and we have to keep them for us, and not for ‘those people’ who are seen as being the Other,” she concluded.

The panelists also discussed Canada’s changing image as a country open to receiving refugees. Berger relayed a story of a trip to Hungary where he stayed in a town composed largely of Roma people. Canadian pamphlets discouraging immigration had been distributed around the town as an effort by the Canadian government to discourage migration of Roma people.

Since 2012, more than 3,000 Romas seeking refugee status in Canada have been paid by the federal government to abandon their claim and return home.

“What is Canada’s justification in deciding who’s allowed to come in? The reality is that Canada itself was founded on the genocide of native peoples, and that’s a reality that cannot be denied. We’re here on this land because native people were extinguished by very explicit acts,” said Samir Shaheen-Hussain, a pediatrician and health care activist who spoke at the panel.

“Two or three hundred years down the line, assuming humanity survives, people are going to be looking back at this time and saying ‘how could a society, how could a government, ever be pushing this idea?’” Shaheen-Hussain said. “The question is, what side of history are we going to be on?”

The daylong event was hosted by McGill’s Comparative Healthcare Systems Program and featured workshops revolving around refugees inside and outside of Canada.

Organizers claimed to have reached out to the federal government and doctors who support the health care amendments, however their attempts were denied and no supporters of the bill would speak at the event.

Original article: http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/canadian-doctors-speak-out-for-refugee-health-care


 

Malcolm X Celebrated at Concordia

Speakers Discuss Legacy of Malcolm X and Role of Media

Dr. Randy Short addressing the crowed at Sunday night’s discussion. 

Students and members of Montreal’s Muslim community gathered Sunday evening to commemorate the life and work of black rights activist Malcolm X.

Organized by the Thaqalayn Muslim Association and Journalism for Human Rights, the discussion revolved around the role media plays in shaping narratives surrounding religion and racial identity, a subject Malcolm X wrote about and discussed passionately.

Extending for nearly three hours, the event began with a taste of spoken word poetry by Jamaal Rogers, who criticized Canada’s paradoxical role as both a proclaimer of human rights and a nation with an oppressive colonial past.

“The fallacy that this nation is a testament to human dignity and democracy is now bubbling to the surface like 60 thousand litres of crude oil spilled in Alberta,” Rogers recited from his poem.

He was followed by Nasim Asgari, a young Muslim poet from Montreal. Her work addressed the discrimination she says she feels as a Muslim woman living in Canada. She performed a poem written after being confronted in a store by a man who insulted her, saying to her “welcome to the first world, the animals are out again.”

The poem touched on the importance of acceptance, beginning with the lines “If hatred knocks at your door, greet it with a smile, but tell it, it has come too late for love is already having tea inside.” She claims that the basis for the poem was inspired by the lessons of Malcolm X.

Following the two poets, Ricochet Media co-founder Ethan Cox took to the podium to discuss his perspectives on responsible journalism.

“Journalism is funny, because it has so often been a tool of oppression, been a tool of enslavement, but at the same time it has within it the tantalizing possibility to be the exact opposite of that,” Cox said.

“It has within it the ability to be the most significant means of empowering, enlightening and strengthening our shared humanity,” he continued.

Cox went on to discuss the perils of modern media being owned by large conglomerates and corporations. According to Cox, this harms the ability of journalists to report objectively on stories that may harm the interests of those who own the media.

He talked about how hard it has become to find work as a journalist – a job field that is continually shrinking and laying off employees. He cited the gradual staff reductions at the Montreal Gazette as an example of this. As result, journalists are being forced to write for free.

“This leads to a whole other set of problems related to privilege,” Cox said. “If writing is something that is done without remuneration, the only voices we are going to hear are the voices of the privileged, the voices of the people whose financial situations are secure […] that means that we’re not going to hear the voices of those who are most marginalized, those voices we are in most need of hearing.”

Cox was followed by Dr. Randy Short, a minister and social activist from Washington, DC. Short discussed the legacy of Malcolm X and the importance of standing up and fighting against injustices, as Malcolm X did.

“Malcolm X was an enlightened martyr, formed by centuries of oppression, religious hypocrisy, segregation, sexism and rape,” Short said.

“You need to decide now, what you’re going to do to participate in the struggle against militarism, racism, Islamophobia and predatory capitalism.

[You must] recognize your moral obligation to stand for truth and justice for everyone,” he concluded.

The night’s last speaker was Hajj Hassanain Rajabali, a Muslim American lecturer who focused on the importance of racial tolerance within Islamic culture. He cited a story from the Qur’an about a conversation between Shaytan (Arabic for devil) and God. In the story, Shaytan refuses to bow to the humans God has created who were made from clay, with clay coloured skin. Rajabali referenced this story to express the importance of tolerance within Islamic culture—an aspect of Islam he believes many have forgotten.

He went on to discuss humanity’s role in respecting each other and fighting against racial and religious discrimination.

“What good is life, if we can’t stand up for justice and dignity?” Rajabali said, holding back tears.

Original article: http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/malcolm-x-celebrated-at-concordia


Concordia Panel Explores the Work of Aboriginal Artists in the Digital Sphere

Skawennati (left), Jason Lewis (center) and Morgan Kennedy (right) at Friday’s discussion.

Can the digital realm exist as decolonized space? This was one of the topics discussed at last Friday’s panel discussion “Aboriginal Territories in Digital Space” in the EV building’s auditorium.

Organized by the Aboriginal Arts Research Group, the Concordia-based student group focused the event on fostering a discussion on indigenous art and artists in Montreal.

Skawennati, an Aboriginal artist and Concordia graduate, spoke about her recent project Time Traveler™, an animated video series based on a Mohawk character named Hunter who lives in the distant future.

He acquires a pair of glasses that allow him to travel through time and interact with historic events. His adventures allow him to understand his people’s history, and throughout the series, he forms a positive self-identity, eventually falling in love and gaining success in the hyper-materialistic world of the future.

“I think that what we’re doing as artists is we’re trying to show connected history and recreate that history,” Skawennati said. “I think art has that potential to remind us of something and in this case, it’s reminding us of our connections to our past and our ancestors.”

The entire series was created on a computerized set designed in Second Life, an online virtual reality.

“I really think virtual worlds are kind of metaphors for the future and that’s why I thought it was the right medium to use for this story,” she continued.

Following Skawennati’s talk, Jason Lewis, Concordia Research Chair and associate professor of Computation Arts, discussed SKINS—a video game design workshop he helps coordinate for Kahnawake’s First Nations youth.

The workshop allows young people to design their own video games from the ground up, with the help of Lewis and others. They first discuss the story they want their game to tell, design characters and landscapes using paper and clay and eventually take the games to the digital stage with the help of the workshop coordinators.

“A big part of why we undertook the SKINS workshops is because [technological] choices are being made for us,” Lewis said. “Part of what we need to do is start making those choices ourselves, so we can make them the way we want.

“In order to do that we need to gain a good grasp on the technology—the best place to start is with the youth.”

Technology, Lewis claimed, is inherently biased towards those who develop it. Since it has been primarily developed through a Western lens, it reflects those worldviews and results in a monoculture of technology, absent of divergent voices.

Morgan Kennedy, a usability analyst at Ubisoft, continued the evening’s discussion by talking about his experiences in helping develop Assassin’s Creed III, a video game which features a mixed-race Mohawk protagonist named Ratonhnhaké:ton.

“At all levels of the development team […] there were people who really cared about getting it right,” Kennedy said on the game’s development.

“There was this sort of political battle between the development team and our home office over whether or not [Ratonhnhaké:ton] would actually speak Mohawk in the game,” he said. In the end, a significant portion of the dialogue chosen for the game did appear in Mohawk.

“Sadly, I think that Assassins Creed III was one of the only [high budget] games that came out that year that actually featured a non-white protagonist,” Kennedy added. “I think that’s a shame and it speaks volumes about what’s wrong with the industry right now.”

Original article: http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/concordia-panel-explores-the-work-of-aboriginal-artists-in-the-digital-sphe


 

“Voluntary Departure Program” Initiated to Address Budget Compressions

In response to university budget compressions initiated by the Quebec government for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Concordia University is looking to trim $15.7 million in spending by introducing a voluntary departure program for administrative and support staff.

 

The aim of the program is to reduce operation costs by cutting the amount of staff members needed to run the university.

The program allows Concordia staff members who have worked at the university for more than 10 years to leave on a voluntary basis, receiving a monetary package for doing so.

Those who have been staff members for 15 years or more will receive an additional premium for leaving.

“It’s entirely voluntary; no one is being laid off. The effect of that will be, if it works how we think it will, to reduce our operating costs by $12 million a year on a permanent basis,” Concordia President Alan Shepard said.

“We’ve tried to protect the student experience, protect the research climate in universities—so we’re not making cuts to research budgets, we’re not making cuts to student bursary programs or scholarship programs,” he said.

The program is not open to faculty members, such as professors and librarians, but is aimed at administrative, support and professional staff.

Caps were put on the number of severance packages given out to prevent the school from becoming understaffed.

“I don’t think you can make 180 reductions in positions and pretend it’s just like it was yesterday, because that’s just not true,” Shepard said.

“At the same time, what we’re going to do is, we’ve planned for 180 departures and we know that some number of those—maybe 20, 25, 30—will be in positions of something that is critical. You can’t do without that, so we’ll have to re-hire in those roles.”

The government has also asked that the university does not run a deficit this year.

The university budget compressions were imposed by Quebec’s Liberal government as part of wider austerity measures undertaken in an effort to tackle the province’s deficit.

Last year, Concordia had to cut $13.2 million from its budget.

“They are asking us to anticipate additional cuts next year, but I have no idea what those are, it’s too premature to say,” Shepard said.

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