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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

The year that wasn’t

BY Lyle Stewart Dec 16, 2023

It’s a strange thing to look back on a year’s events as if a period of 365.25 days is a self-contained phenomenon. As if human history in each January-to-December trip around the sun wasn’t part of a longer continuum of related events and evolution. On the last point, however, it’s not hard to see that the past year showed unmistakable signs of devolution.

I remember friends of mine calling 2016 “the worst year ever!” Largely because several of their favourite celebrities died that year. I did shed a few tears over the passing of David Bowie, admittedly. That year we also lost Muhammed Ali, Prince and Leonard Cohen.

I am an admirer of each of those people. They led full lives, and they continue to live on in our collective memory for their accomplishments, for reaching the pinnacle of cool, and of course for their art. Unlike losing – for me (apologies to Wham! fans) – George Michael, who also died seven years ago. But, geez, talk about first-world worries.

In hindsight, that year was not that bad at all. Indeed, it pales in comparison to 2023. This year featured war, a climate apocalypse, a shaky recovery from a world-changing pandemic, increasingly triumphant authoritarianism and hatred, and even more war. Those are the horrific elements of our time that vastly out-trump (so to speak) the concerns of only a few years ago. 

In Quebec, Premier François Legault continued to deny any evidence of systemic discrimination. This, despite his government’s explicit legislative agenda to diminish every minority culture here as a way of exalting white, old-stock Catholic francophones. As the year ends with hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers on strike, the CAQ government’s policies on language, immigration and education demonstrate a clear program of xenophobia. 

Legault’s brand of politics is on the march around the world. At its most extreme, it is genocidal; Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s campaign to wipe Ukraine off the map is a prime example. “Ukraine does not exist,” he famously said before launching his war of extermination almost two years ago.

Both sides of the conflict in Gaza are led by a similar vision. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was trying to cripple an independent judiciary while leading a steady campaign of ethnic cleansing in the West Bank before October 7. Then Hamas, the death cult that rules Gaza, launched its suicidal war to cleanse the region of Jews, “from the river to the sea.” Netanyahu is happily granting Hamas’ wish for self-destruction.

Meanwhile, the planet is burning. As global warming speeds up our own self-destructive tendencies by destroying forests across the north, people across North America were coughing up a lung from the smoke that blanketed the planet.

In Eeyou Istchee, where people had been largely confined to their communities because of Covid, this year they were forced to flee their communities because of wildfires. Similar fires destroyed an entire city in Hawaii and razed several towns to the ground in Western Canada.

The Cree response to both Covid and the wildfires is perhaps one of the few bright spots of the past couple years. Crees have demonstrated an admirable capacity to organize to protect public safety in the face of dire adversity. While other societies are tearing themselves apart, Eeyou Istchee is growing more progressive and becoming stronger as a result.

Dare I say it, it leaves one with a spark of hope for humanity.

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Lyle Stewart has been working as a journalist for over 30 years. He believes that information is the ultimate check on the abuse of power and that independent media outlets such as the Nation are crucial to democratic governance.