New poem for slam.
*to the tune of O Canada.
Oh Canada. Our home on Native Lands. Pride built on lies, we were never taught to understand.
That this land was here before Europeans, that we thrived for thousands of years. That the white man’s cultural ignorance led to millions of deaths and tears.
Their primitive colonialism, destroyed so much good. We need to make ammends and fight for equity. We need to make ammends and fight for equity.
Oh Canada. I love you, and all the privileges you have afforded me, but my Native sisters and brothers are suffering. We are dying, disappearing, exposed to racism every day, turned away, denied, locked up, posioned by governments and corporations, and show every indicator of a people in serious crises. High numbers live in abject poverty, unemployment, we die younger, nearly half of the children in protective care are ours, our numbers in prisons outpace every other dramatically.
This is not because we are bad, incapable, unintelligent. It is not because we want to be victims or are too corrupt.
You see, after they broke the treaties, trust, and cooperation, purposefully exposed us to deadly diseases, slaughtered us in droves, quantified our blood to make us prove our status, and beat who was left onto tiny reserves without thought to our nomadic sustainability, they stole us from our families. Until the mid nineties they locked our children up in schools away from everything they knew and beat the culture and language out of them, along with their dignity and self-worth. A lasting legacy.
This continues to this day but in a new form. Capable parents with minor flaws find their babies stolen from their loving arms, placed in white foster homes, repeatedly moved and disrupted, away from their culture, languages, and traditions with little legal recourse.
We all share the history of the Two Row Wampum Treaty. Gushwenta. The belt consists of two rows of purple beads on a white background, where the purple respresent these two peoples, Natives in their canoes and non-Natives in their ships, side by side down the river of life together in peace. Supported with the strings of trust, but each taking our own path down the river, with our own laws and ways.
Our path is still being stolen as we are forced more and more each day to change our course to meet that of the ships. Instead of coexisting in peace, the river has been drained so that only one may pass, our canoes overturned by the waves of the ships, the waters polluted by toxins, and our path diverted by a dam we had no say in creating. Our people drown crying for a life-preserver to be thrown, while you stand lamenting our impending demise, but somehow remain unwilling to lift your arms to make the toss.
Throw us a life-preserver and help us back into our own canoes so that we can continue on our own path in peace. Perhaps one day we can meet at the middle of the river and dock our vessels together in the full flowing water without upsetting the balance. But we can never get there unless all of us make the effort to row in that direction together.
*We need to make ammends and fight for equity.
Today was a rough, but good day.
I went straight to the Indigenous Healing Centre this am and talked with some elders about learning more of my heritage and becoming part of the community. I found some great connections and learned a whole bunch, cried a bunch of tears, and felt a great welcoming to this new venture and a way I can use my skills to help their community. Grant writing. Something they are in short supply of, but that I have great skill in.
It was a weird sensation to have this meeting. As I walked in, unsure whether I was even the right place, a rough-looking tattooed fellow approached me and welcomed me in. We spoke and then sat down with the other people in the community who were carving and creating in the great room. I spent an hour or so there, waiting for my meeting with the elder. They offered me food and drink, and good company and allowed me to learn some of the ancient traditions they were creating.
The elder I met with was gentle and kind, and listened well to my story, then gave me a bunch of ways I can join in the community gradually. How can I learn more. We got to talking, and I told her I’m a writer, and she told me how they had failed several grants recently and were really struggling to get funding. So I offered my services. She was overjoyed. I was overjoyed. We embraced, and agreed to meet again soon.
I’ve never felt belonging in the community until this time. I never felt I would be accepted. But they opened their hearts and knowledge to me and I will be returning to learn as much as I can.
In public, grandfather always told us to tell the truth. But deep in the forest he told us otherwise. The truth of our heritage was whispered in shamed silence, our looming extinction burned into our brains should we ever reveal this truth. Hidden deep within our veins, a lie we even told to ourselves. And grew to believe. Both sides for 3 generations interbreeding to dilute out all physical trace.
Grandfather reminded us that in public we’re white, only white, British, Scottish, or Irish. Whatever you want to tell them, but never anything else. Generations of knowledge rushed into walks in the forest, then erased from the day to day. Grandfather told us his mother did the same, afraid of her husband’s reaction to teaching his children this “nonesense”. “Civilizing” her to live in the white world, so that she was acceptable in “good” company. Destroying all signs of her legacy.
Grandfather would cry if he heard this poem, fear rising in his tears. The label indigenous, his legacy a stain he wants so desperately erased from our future. A legacy he worked so hard to erase so that we could have a chance. A legacy he told us would leave us feckless and isolated. That unless we hide it, “they” would come to get us, eventually. This ever lurking “they” who always wanted to quantify and register our existence so they could more easily verify their slaughter.
And so most my life I was white, not just the shell, but deep into my core. Struggling to find an identity within a community that terrified me. That I was sure would find out my fraud and exclude me, extinguish me. Ashamed to explore the side of me I felt most connected to.
So I didn’t.
But now I feel that Grandfather’s biggest lie to us was that we have to hide. It was only for our protection. A loving chance that certainly privileged my existence. But Grandfather and Great-Grandmother gave us the best truth they could give us, hushed away in the trust of the trees. They didn’t believe that they should just assimilate. They wanted us to know the truth and passed it on to us so we could find who we are.
In my thirties, still unsure of my exact heritage, a reconnection with elders simplified my existence. The names Grandfather never uttered in their natural tongue in my presence now on the tip of my tongue. My recollections from Grandfather and all my other kin, were easily identifiable to their listened ears. They invited me into their knowledge and gave me a sacred gift to recieve more. And I weeped a great sigh of relief in the comfort of their loving arms and gave my prayer to the sacred fire. I had finally found my way home.