This afternoon I was listening to Definitely Not the Opera on CBC on the way to the afternoon pickup when I was pleased to hear some of the Electronic Powwow music of A Tribe Called Red. I am always happier when aboriginal voices speak and are heard in our public spaces. I openly admit to my Wacousta Complex. I was a child in Rainbow Country. I was a tween on the scene of Wacousta. I think there might even be some other connection between me and that old veteran-of-1812-turned-novelist …
But, back to A Tribe Named Red: on the show Sook-Yin spoke briefly to two members of the band (please forgive my memory – I was driving) and one remarked, as I paraphrase it, that the aboriginal people of Canada are in a confusing position of living in their traditional land without having their own country while European Canadians have this country and still have their homeland across the sea.
I do feel the point is well taken. I intend none of my following remarks in any way as a denial or dismissal or minimization of the sense of displacement Native people feel in their homeland. But I can’t help but consider the comment as it relates to me: do I still have a homeland in Scotland and England whence my ancestors came in the 1700s? Gaelic is as foreign to me as Quiche – slightly more foreign, in fact. Sure I enjoy haggis, but when I have it, it’s made by a Ukrainian-Canadian and I more often have his merguez. And Irn-Bru makes me nauseous. Many “European” Canadians are in the same boat, I suspect, feeling no particular attachment to “The Old Country” but a strong sense that this is the home of their ancestors. And we recognize that we share this land with people whose families have been here far, far longer than ours.
No one can question the sad history of European/Native relations in Canada, and the general invisibility of the First Nations to Whites for much of that history. But, I sense that change is in the air and has been for some time. This evening I mentioned Anishinabe player Jordan Nolan of the L.A. Kings to a Franco-Albertan teenager and she knew what “Anishinabe” meant and seemed pleased to learn of Nolan’s achievement. When I was her age I’d never heard of the Anishinaabeg — they were Ojibwas and Algonquins and Ottawas when anyone was being more specific than “Indians”. Their voice was not heard. And we certainly didn’t imagine Indians playing hockey. My teenage friend is so much better for the knowledge, and so are we all.
That teenager and I are members of Canada’s Second Nations. One of her ancestors was M. Hebert, the first European farmer at Quebec, and others of her ancestors hid in the Acadian woods when the British troops arrived for the Expulsion. My family’s ancestors came a few generations later but still long enough ago that I know of no relations, no distant cousins in Britain. I have no more connection to Britain than I feel to Italy or France: they are places I visited in my youth.
I guess what I’m saying is that for some Second Nation Canadians this is also our traditional land. For better or worse, we have no other homeland. We, too, have our racines dans la plaine … Et ses vents. Our roots are not as deep as those of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis, but our roots are in no other soil, our families walk no other land.
Certainly, Britain is the land of a language and literature I love (but so is Rome) and is, in part, a source of the political system I quite truly enjoy. But England does not have the canoe. Scotland has no bison. There is no Estipah-skikikini-kots in Wales. Britain has no Tribe Called Red. As a scholar I think of Prometheus or Loki. As a child I thought of Coyote. What I know of the “Old Country” I had to be taught. My experience, from childhood, has been the evolution of our hybrid Canada.
Yes. I am privileged, more privileged than I can know, by my colonial ancestry. I and my nieces (one is Metis) and nephews and cousins and in-laws and parents and even my daughter, disability and all, are privileged by the homeland of our ancestors. Perhaps it would be conceivable for us all to actually move back to Scotland and England and Ireland and Poland and Ukraine and Northern Alberta, to return to the places of our forefathers. But, then we would be without our actual homeland, the place that has allowed us to be a British-Polish-Ukranian-Cree-French … Canadian family.
John Ralston Saul has spoken and written of Canada as a Metis Nation. I would suggest, pointing to myself and even more emphatically to the wonderful and inspiring teen and tween Franco-Albertans I spend so much time with, that we are a Metis People. Our families, for better or worse, have grown over the centuries with this land. We have no other land. We have no other tradition. We have no other place. France and Britain and every state not named Canada are foreign to us. In no way am I saying “Look at us poor sixth and seventh and eighth generation White Canadians! Boo hoo!” We Whites have it real good, I know. But, we too have no homeland across the sea. And, without you, A Tribe Called Red, and without every single Native, First Nation, Indian, Metis and Inuit neighbour, we have no homeland here much worth having. We need you.
Let’s honour the Treaties.
Let’s light that fire. That Eighth Fire.
I can see it glowing now.