You certainly don’t have to be Aboriginal to feel threatened by this.
In Canada, we are experiencing a pivotal moment in history, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it; America may be right alongside us.
We could very well be in the midst of a cultural turning point…it would be a good idea to pay attention and to stay informed.
One of our Aboriginal leaders, Chief Theresa Spence currently resides in a teepee, literally in the shadow of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, personally resolved to be acknowledged on behalf of her people and to bring attention to urgent issues faced by Canada’s First Nations.
For this resolve, she has put her life on the line. She has asked that Canada’s Prime Minister to meet with her and hold a nation to nation discussion, but so far he has not agreed.
(He did, however, tweet about Homer Simpson and bacon.)
Chief Spence is in the third week of hunger strike. Her mission has inspired many and her efforts have been associated with the “Idle No More” movement said to have been started by four women in Saskatchewan.
Their concern is omnibus budget Bill C-45. It is impossible to adequately debate every change in an omnibus bill, which is why such a strategy is so effective when a government wants to push unpopular legislation through. Bill C-45 includes changes to Canada’s Indian Act, Fisheries Act and The Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Thus, many of us who use social media may have seen a post that read, “On December 4th Canada had over two million protected lakes and over 8,500 protected rivers. On December 5th, Canada now has only 97 Protected lakes and 62 protected rivers (90% of the protected lakes are on 1% rich conservative territory), thanks to Stephen Harper.”
You certainly don’t have to be Aboriginal to feel threatened by this. How can we possibly anticipate what level of destruction these changes will permit?
Well, some people have decided not to merely anticipate, but to take action. Having suffered so many times at the hands of government, Aboriginal people across Canada have been compelled to take a stand, to demand sufficient consultation with respect to such sweeping changes. Their demonstration of this stand has primarily taken the form of round dances and blockades, all of them peaceful.
Support for “Idle No More” has been expressed from all over the world and it is gaining strength in America. Recently, a dance demonstration was to be held in a mall in Tacoma—when authorities heard, native people were banned from the mall for 24 hours.
In North America, most of us have not been educated adequately about First Nation’s People or Aboriginal Culture. From the instant of first contact, European culture has been presented as civil, Aboriginal culture as savage.
Yet, even yesterday, The Calgary Herald’s Christie Blatchford as much as scoffed at Aboriginal culture, “…there is I think a genuine question as to whether there’s enough of Aboriginal culture that has survived to even dream of that lofty status, or if the culture isn’t irreparably damaged already. Smudging, drumming and the like do not a nation make.”
(In Canada beer commercials, bacon worship, hardware stores and coffee shops pass as mainstream Canadian culture, filling the gap when we don’t have hockey to unify us.)
Aboriginal culture has survived in fragments, it is in no small part because of policies imposed on First Nations People, all meant to kill Aboriginal culture, one way or another. It is important to know that Chief Theresa Spence is a survivor of the residential school system, which may provide context.
Recently, Canada held hearings entitled The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Any one with any compassion at all could not fail to understand how generations of First Nations Peoples were systematically stripped of their family ties, their culture, their language and their human dignity.
Children as young as six or seven years old were taken from their homes, were beaten, sexually abused, separated from their siblings and forbidden to speak their mother tongues. Some accounts include the removal of teeth without anaesthetic and heads shaved so closely that scalps bled.
And the restitution requested for these abuses?
Aboriginal leaders have asked that Canadians listen to their accounts, acknowledge their treaties, be allowed to preserve their lands and waters (as much as that is possible today) and that their youth be offered opportunities to educate themselves about their authentic heritage.
Pretty civil, if you ask me.
Considering our history, it is miracle that any Aboriginal traditions were passed on at all. Officer of the Order of Canada and Poet Laureate of the Mi’kmaq, Rita Joe, has succinctly expressed her residential school experience:
“I Lost my Talk
I lost my talk
talk you took away.
At Shubencadie school.
You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad,
about my word.
Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.
So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me.”
When the Dalai Lama claimed that North American women would save the world, many were upset.
Likely, many of us imagined an army of sharply clad and coiffed women, understanding women in developing nations. Maybe he imagined women who live in “First World” countries such as Canada, struggling to get out of “Third World conditions.”
That is what First Nations women are seeking.
And so for her people, her children and her grandchildren, Chief Spence also “gently offers” her hand. She will be remembered for her hunger strike, whether or not Canada’s Prime Minister Harper ever agrees to meet her.
I pray that he will and that Chief Theresa will not have to sacrifice her life in order to speak for her people.
Margie Barkley is a mother, a secondary school teacher (English Literature) and a Yoga teacher.
“Of Course You Are Special” was published this summer on elephant journal.
Assitant Ed: Rebecca Schwarz
Ed: Bryonie Wise
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