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Indigenous, two-spirit couple from Alberta wins The Amazing Race Canada

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TORONTO — Anthony Johnson and James Mokakis hoped being the first Indigenous, two-spirit couple to compete on The Amazing Race Canada would give them a national platform to highlight issues close to their hearts.

Over weeks of intense challenges that saw them criss-cross the country, the pair donned outfits meant to call attention to specific topics: handmade red skirts and a bandana for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, blue shirts emblazoned with “Water Is Life” to show the cultural and ceremonial importance of water.

Now that they’ve been crowned the winners, the married couple — who identify as two-spirit, a term used by some Indigenous peoples to describe their gender, sexual and spiritual identity — said they want to use their fame to continue fundraising for a cultural healing centre in Alberta’s Kehewin Cree Nation.

But first, they want to celebrate their groundbreaking victory, get some sleep and maybe go on vacation, they said Tuesday in an interview just hours before the show’s finale was set to air.

“We want a week on the beach somewhere hot because we had no summer. We need a tan,” Mokakis said with a laugh.

The show’s seventh season, which hit the airwaves in July but was filmed earlier this year, started in Toronto and ended in central Ontario’s Muskoka region. Each episode saw the teams face off in challenges, such as a mock press conference or a game of sledge hockey.

Mokakis, a family physician originally from the Saddle Creek Cree Nation in Alberta, and Johnson, a project consultant born in Arizona’s Navajo Nation, said it was important for them to use the spotlight to raise awareness.

“Representing missing and murdered Indigenous women was important because it happens, it happens and people don’t talk about it,” Johnson said.

Many Indigenous communities were matriarchal before colonization and the couple felt it was important to show support for the women leaders in their community, Mokakis added.

They also wanted to show two-spirit and transgender youth “that it’s OK to be different,” he said.

“If there’s two guys wearing a dress, they want to express their identity differently than the norm, then why does that matter? How is it hurting somebody else?” Mokakis said.

“Because I have a large transgender population in my medical practice and I see the results of social isolation, it sends a strong message when their doctor is saying that…and we wanted to do that, we thought it was really important.”

Some moments were particularly emotional for the pair, including a challenge that Mokakis said stirred up intergenerational trauma and led him to tears.

While Mokakis did not go to a residential school, many others in his family did, including his father, who was the first to later attend an integrated school with French-speaking children, he said. Every day, his father faced slurs and violence, and Mokakis said a challenge in which he was forced to speak French brought up those family memories.

Other moments stood out for more pleasant reasons. While racing to get on a plane in Kamloops, B.C., the two — who were wearing their red skirts — made eye contact with an Indigenous baggage handler, who broke into a huge smile, Johnson recalled.

When the race brought them to Calgary Pride, they saw someone from the Blackfoot Nation had made dolls of them, a sign of honour, he said.

The pair said they have received many personal messages from viewers happy to see more diversity in television. “That was one of the main reasons why we chose to go on the show is to demonstrate that publicly,” said Mokakis.

The fact that their participation has attracted so much attention suggests more can be done to ensure a broader representation of voices in media, he said, noting they are the second Indigenous couple to compete in the show.

The couple has faced some criticism for their advocacy on the show, however, with some accusing them of making the program too political.

The fact is, who they are is political by nature, Johnson said. “By being a queer person, by being a person of colour, by being an American-Canadian couple…”

“…By being Indigenous born with an Indian status number…” Mokakis added.

“…By default your existence is political and so we’re not doing anything different that what we do in our lives on a daily basis,” Johnson continued.

“So any naysayers, I’m happy, because that means they’re being educated, that means they’re being exposed, that means they’re listening to something that we have to say and whether or not they agree with it is not my concern.”

The win comes with a $250,000 prize, a trip for two around the world, and two new vehicles.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto, Canada. It was established in 1917 as a vehicle to permit Canadian newspapers of the day to exchange their news and information. For most of its history, The Canadian Press has been a private, not-for-profit cooperative, owned and operated by its member newspapers. In mid-2010, however, it announced plans to become a for-profit business owned by three media companies once certain conditions are met.

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‘The pain didn’t stop:’ Study looking into slow concussion recovery in youth

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CALGARY — Kailey Lang mostly remembers the blinding headaches after a carefree trip down a waterslide at West Edmonton Mall in March left her with a concussion.

The 14-year-old from Calgary was making her second trip down the giant slide when something happened.

“It kind of went around in a loop and shot you out of the bottom. When I came out, I had this throbbing, kind of pounding pain in my head and I felt a little dizzy at first. And then the pain didn’t stop for a while,” Kailey says.

“I don’t really remember hitting my head at all.”

There was no quick recovery for Kailey, who was plagued with symptoms after she got home.

“I started to get the headaches almost daily for a few weeks. And then I started taking this medication for seizures and then the really, really extreme headaches went away.”

Kailey missed a full three weeks of school and gradually returned to class. Even then, she wasn’t allowed to participate in physical activity, says her mother, Jill Beaton.

“When she talks about her pain, it was excruciating — it was 8 or 9 out of 10. We had multiple hospital visits.

“It wasn’t until we actually went to the children’s hospital that, instead of just being sent home with regular concussion protocol, they started saying, ‘OK, there’s something going on.'”

Kailey is part of a clinical trial by Dr. Michael Esser, a pediatric neurologist who has seen plenty of concussions at the intensive care unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

He’s trying to determine why some patients who get hurt while playing sports or falling off their bikes get better right away, while others have symptoms that hang on beyond the normal recovery period.

“Kids will come in with almost exactly the same stories,” Esser says.

“One will not get better or suffer longer. And the others basically come in because they were told to, but they have no symptoms.”

Esser hopes the study’s results will lead to better treatment.

Part of the study relies on a technology that uses brain waves to study brain function changes after children are injured.

“It’s pretty sensitive in picking up when kids’ brains don’t appear to be working or they’re complaining of feeling foggy-headed or have difficulty focusing and they may have a headache,” Esser explains.

The 100 participants wear a device that looks like a swimming cap on their heads and listen to tones and words.

“The speed or the size of the waves tells us if those are normal … or if they don’t seem to be what we would expect them to be, and if that could be related to your symptoms,” he says.

“The hope is that it will actually help to tailor therapies when we’re trying to get them to recover.”

Dr. Ryan D’Arcy in Surrey, B.C., who helped develop the technology, says the brain remains a medical mystery.

“My favourite question when I’m in front of audiences is: ‘Do you know how your brain is doing today?’

“Our mission has really been around the idea that for all brain conditions — for children, for adults, for seniors, for dementia, for concussions … you need a vital sign, so we got to work and invented one.”

The National Ambulatory Care Reporting System says that between 2016 and 2017 about 46,000 concussions were diagnosed in children five to 19 years old in hospital emergency departments across Canada.

Concerns about pediatric concussions recently prompted the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation to issue a guideline for diagnosis and management.

“Prior recommendations used to demand that children simply rest, which was often misinterpreted as home jail,” Dr. Nick Reed with Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto said in a release.

“We now know that to improve recovery, it is important that children remain physically active and engaged in school as they recover from concussion, while ensuring their activities remain as safe as possible.”

The release said there are at least 35,000 pediatric hospital visits related to concussions each year in Ontario.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press



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Premier Doug Ford filmed Ontario News Now videos at least 100 times

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TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford took time out of his work days to film taxpayer-funded videos that have been criticized as partisan propaganda on at least 100 occasions during his first year in power.

A Canadian Press analysis of a year’s worth of Ontario News Now videos found that Ford filmed with them on close to a third of the days in his first year as premier.

The premier’s office said he usually spends less than five minutes at a time on ONN filming and defended the use of time and did not dispute the estimate.

“Ontario News Now is a creative way to communicate the government’s message in the modern, digital world — no different than a video press release or a digital householder,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a statement.

One of the differences, said NDP critic Taras Natyshak, is that Ontario News Now styles itself as journalism. The spots are formatted like a TV news report, with a woman posing as a reporter interviewing the premier and cabinet ministers.

“Delivering your message on policy will always be an exercise that parliamentarians embark on and it’s an important way to communicate through all facets,” Natyshak said in an interview.

“However, trying to make it seem like this has the aspect of journalism and that he’s being questioned by a legitimate journalist, sort of, is disingenuous. He’s not receiving the hard questions that true media outlets would give him, given the opportunity.”

In Ford’s first year he held formal media availabilities, in which he takes a variety of questions from reporters, about two dozen times. He also did a handful of one-on-one interviews and called into talk radio on several occasions.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said it is a “shocking” amount of time for the premier to spend on his “personal propaganda network.”

“Rather than filming partisan videos disguised as independent media, the premier could have spent this time speaking with students, educators, and municipalities affected by his cuts,” Schreiner said in a statement. “I suggest the premier spend less time in the ONN echo chamber and more time listening to the people being hurt by his cuts.”

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Ford “should be spending his time answering the tough questions from the media rather than filming vanity spots on his own private news network.”

Ford has previously said that mainstream journalists have become irrelevant because he is “circumventing the media through our social media.”

Ontario News Now is produced and funded through PC caucus services. All recognized parties in the legislature — currently just the Tories and the NDP — get caucus service budgets for research, communications and associated staff. The total earmarked for the parties for 2018-19, the latest figures available, was $13.7 million.

“As leader of the PC caucus, the premier is responsible for helping to get our government’s message out through new and engaging content,” Yelich said.

Peter Graefe, an associate professor of political science at McMaster University, said the videos are probably not a good use of the premier’s time, but it also isn’t clear that they are helping the government — rather they may just be fostering cynicism.

It is important for all governments to communicate with citizens, he said, but there is a line between information and partisan self-promotion.

“Normally, you would expect communications to be not through the government caucuses,” he said.

The videos are not subject to government advertising rules that the auditor general oversees.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called for the rules to be changed so that public money for caucus services cannot be spent on partisan advertising.

Interim Ontario director of the CTF, Jasmine Pickel, said Ford should also restore oversight powers of the auditor general.

The former Liberal government changed the criteria for what is deemed partisan advertising, and the auditor general has complained that doing so reduced her office to a rubber stamp and removed her discretion to veto ads as partisan.

The Progressive Conservatives frequently slammed the Liberals over government advertising that they said was partisan and promised during last year’s election to restore the auditor general’s powers.

But they now won’t commit to keeping that promise, only to review it.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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