Our First Nations people

Reframing the Settler-Indigenous divide

I am born from Upper Canada settlers who came to Manitoba for the land.

I am descended from perpetrators of the colonial atrocities that paint our landscapes and our minds with a lack of congruence. 

A lifetime later I see the solution.

The congruence that gave my mind the purest of satisfaction in Grade 8 geometry has again generated a kerplunk-it-fits solution to the obvious social damage in my world.

It is in the language.

Language changes attitudes, policy and behaviour, and I intend to again see language alter the moral landscape of Canada.

Gender neutral language has improved the lot of younger women in my lifetime. We now talk about the letter carrier, the firefighter, the sales rep, the police officer. Slowly, language is reflecting changes in attitudes about women.

Now, the perpetrators are cowering toward the corners with their outdated attitudes.

In Canada we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Children learn to identify racism on March 21, and on June 21 we celebrate native culture.

Attempts to erase blatant racism have failed to cross a divide that cuts so deep it has been impossible to see across.

At a turtle’s pace, culture has crept into mainstream education and entertainment, while the root of this lack of congruence was never addressed.

The solution is simple.

The settlers came for land. Immigrants then came for commerce, for a better life in the adjacent cities and villages.

Other immigrants came to escape atrocities or economic inequities in their native lands.

To Canada they came with European land attitudes.

Blissfully, the settlers believed what was in their best interest, ignoring the breeches of the law, as victims were segregated.

Myths were created.

“Yes, I will put a nickel in the collection plate for the poor savages.”

“I am clean, I am righteous.”

“My behaviour is civilized.”

The situation grew from unjust to immoral. But why do governments fail to uphold lawful treaties? In the name of economics, of course.

What flows into my pocket is mine, no matter the source of the plenty. One diversion after another. Blaming the victim, building racism, building anger among the victims. Decade after decade, while the world watched.

Time does not erase law - people do.

English is a most inefficient language. One exasperating element of English is the determiner - small words that define a noun and give it more specific meaning.

And the possessive pronouns are determiners. His book. Their Mercedes Benz. Your mistake. My eureka moment. Our First Nations people.

Many Canadians go on pilgrimages to the Czech Republic, Chile, Ireland, Italy, in search of our roots.

We walk these nations and see people who resemble us and feel an interesting fit. 

In Canada, this is absent from our lives. 

We left our native land, or our ancestors did. So we nurture a society that is broken.

Just as settlers preferred to believe our First Nations people were savages, just as governments preferred to believe that taking children away from their parents was civilized, just as corporations prefer to believe the resources they are exploiting belong to nobody, we, as complicit descendants of the exploitation prefer to believe that was then and this is now.

But none of these self-serving myths hold water.

Because of lies and immorality and injustice, we benefit from white privilege, whether our ancestors took land in cities or as farms, whether in recent or more distant history.

It is all one. We came to other peoples’ land.

The treaties have left sovereign nations.

Nations of youth, perched to take their position in this land. Nations of youth with legal treaties.

It is not our native land. It is our First Nation peoples’ native land. Use the apt determiner.

Then the corporations and the ones who feel entitled will be shamed into the corner as we use that simple possessive pronoun as a show of our participation in building the path to justice.

We live on First Nations’ territories. Our gardens grow on it. Our asphalt populates it. 

Our First Nations. Learn them, name them: Mohawk, Haida, Dakota, Cree, Ojibway, Blackfoot, and many more.

These are our First Nations and their people are Our First Nations People.

Nancy McLennan is a poet living above the escarpment. She writes at www.nancyellenmclennan.blogspot.com.

Published in Volume 67, Number 18 of The Uniter (January 30, 2013)

Related Reads