Stand-up Ron James takes Canada on over First Nations water woes

Monday, February 27th, 2017 5:30pm



Ron James says he's going to hold Canada’s hands over the burner until they scream 'uncle' and start ponying up their responsibilities.


By Staff
With files from Dustin McGladrey of CFWE-FM

Canadian stand-up comedian Ron James, originally of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, has come out strong to support clean water in First Nations communities.

In his ninth CBC special, recently released, James said “there are better sewage systems in Somalian refugee camps than two-thirds of the reserves in Canada.”

James said he released a clip from that set after he read a story in the Globe and Mail that talked about some progress on one reserve. He wanted to create awareness about the water issue and the video is getting a lot of traction, with thousands of views and shares.

“Holy jumpins, it’s blown up,” James said, in an interview with CFWE-FM’s Dustin McGladrey.

“I’ve always been interested and had a passion for Indigenous Affairs,” said James, a history major. His interest was solidified during his three years in California, where there was a lot of literature on the Native struggle from that territory’s perspective. And then coming home “the renaissance of Native writers over the last 10 years has been remarkable, in Canada.”

He’s also been influenced by books by John Ralston Saul, including “A Fair Country” used as research for his shows.

While the big story for comedians this year is the Donald Trump presidency, it “behooves” Canadian comedians to tackle the big issues here at home, James said.

The Liberal government of Canada made many promises before they were elected, said James, “and it’s a comedian’s job to speak truth to power and to hold politicians to task.”

Such issues have a potential to be lost in the larger story that’s happening south of the border, James explained.

It could leave people thinking that Canada is “some Narnia-like Utopia,” but there is still very serious issues that have to be dealt with here.

“This water issue… these Third World conditions here in the Boreal-gulag stretched across the tree line… enough is enough, man. It’s ridiculous.”

James said his audiences are mainly white, and when he brings up such issues as the water crisis on First Nations reserves in his act, there are explosive rounds of applause of support.

They “got it” in the Kingston show, where he performed the piece currently making the rounds on YouTube, James said.

“They got it in Halifax. They got it in Fredericton, where fracking is an issue, right, in New Brunswick. And I’ll be playing that material right across B.C. as well in my tour in April.”

James became a stand-up in 1995, graduating from improv with Second City and turning his back on an acting career. He said there has always been a social conscience in the material he presents.

“I just want to march to the right side of history,” he told McGladrey. “The right can call me a bleeding-heart liberal all they want, but I’m an angry one.”

James said the department of Indian Affairs (which James said is a racist name to begin with) and the department of Justice are “In collusion.”

“In the 1880s, when they weren’t starving you to death or throwing you into the horrible world of residential schools, they moved everybody off the Plains because somebody decided in Ottawa that that that was going to be the bread basket for the rest of the country.”

Now everybody’s at the top of the country, where Canada has found resources such as diamonds, gold and uranium, said James, “and now they work in collusion to try … to make life so difficult and make what should be a very clear relationship complex.”

James said he is going to hold Canada’s hands over the burner until they scream uncle and start ponying up their responsibilities.

James focus is not just in Canada, however. The fight for water rights has no nation, said James.

“Indigenous peoples the wide world over are suffering at the hands of corporate malfeasance and egregious manipulation of laws in order to justify a monetary goal.”

To view Ron James’ video, click here:

For Edmonton audiences, Ron James is playing the Winspear in November. For other information about Ron James’ appearances, go to

CFWE-FM is the sister station of, both owned and operated by the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta.