I worry about the direction in which Canada is headed, where the Stephen Harper government has such disrespect for the treaties and agreements that are at the heart of this country.
I see the injustices that are allowed to continue and I see the continued bad faith and vexatious manner in which the First Nations people are treated.
My mother never spoke much about her childhood past snippets of happier moments. For years, I knew that she, like her many siblings, were sent away to school. I knew that she spent most of her Grade 8 year bedridden and that she was sent home afterwards, never to return to the school. She never spoke about her life at school or about her life before she went to school.
When my father researched the family genealogy, my mother’s lineage was comparatively easy to trace compared to my father’s and most of this was because the stories of my mother’s ancestors were a wealth of information as to where they came from and where they went and what they did and why they did what they did. All my father had to go on for his family lineage were documents and microfiche in government offices and libraries in Europe.
When my siblings and I were old enough to understand the value of this genealogy, it was shared with us with one codicil: never tell anyone about my mother’s side of the family. That was to be kept to ourselves.
But my father’s lineage was shared openly and with great abandon at gatherings and parties and get-togethers where people would engage in raucous laughter at the antics of my paternal grandparents (he being an Irishman from Dublin and she being a first generation German-American) along with the tales of Katie Kress and Thomas Osborne Davis and Francis Quick and others.
My younger sisters referred to me as the lucky one because I had a fair complexion. In time, my youngest sister married an Asian studying in Canada at the time and she easily passed for an Asian-Canadian with her features and skin colour. My middle sister continued to bleach her hair out to the lightest tones possible and to lighten her skin tone, only succeeding to get it lightened to the point where she was mistaken for someone from the Mediterranean with her olive skin tone.
Over the years, I did little to hide my appearance since I was told repeatedly that I was lucky to have been born with such fair skin. I was mistaken for being Lebanese and I was mistaken for being a first generation Asian-Canadian. I was mistaken for being Spanish and I was mistaken for being first generation something or other with neither the something nor the other ever being identified by the speaker. Whatever I was, it didn’t seem to matter too much to anyone as long as I was good at my job as a professional musician, singer-songwriter and composer.
When my late brother and his wife were expecting their first child in 1982, both families were happy. Two sets of grandparents looked forward to this child’s birth. When she was born, she sported a specific kind of birthmark that is extremely prevalent among Native Americans babies, as identified by medical researchers and scientists. My father took to calling her the “papoose” — a derivative of the Algonquin word papoos which means “child.” Two years later, when their second child was born, my parents were relieved to see that unlike their first grandchild, their second grandchild didn’t have any birthmarks.
In 1995, my then-husband and I were expecting our first (and only) child. When the boy was born that summer, he had curly strawberry blond hair, large blue eyes and skin so pale it blended easily with the cotton sheets in his crib.
He also sported the tell-tale birthmark just as his cousin had.
From all appearances, he was a white child. It wasn’t long before those beautiful blue eyes of his turned to amber brown, And it wasn’t long before his strawberry blond hair turned into a deep shade of brown until it settled somewhere between chestnut brown and dark auburn. And that pale skin? The burnt sienna tones remained but the ultramarine undertones were replaced by burnt umber undertones and he developed what men refer to as a ruddy complexion.
But the only sigh of relief I heard from my mother was in 1996, when the last of the residential schools in Canada was closed down for good.
Recently, my American friend, Thomas Taylor, and I were discussing the Idle No More movement and at one point he looked at me and asked, “I didn’t realize that in the eyes of some Canadians, you’re a substandard person.” I was shocked to hear it put that way but upon deeper reflection, I realized that his summary of our discussion was correct. In the eyes of some Canadians, I am a substandard person because of my mother’s heritage and culture.
What’s my point in sharing this?
It’s a sad story to know that my mother did not feel free to express who she was without fear of reprisal, discrimination and abuse. When she married my father in 1949, she chose to give up who she was in favor of the protection my father’s birthright afforded them both. She was assimilated into her husband’s culture and by virtue, her children were afforded a certain amount of protection by virtue of that assimilation.
For a woman — a direct descendant of Jean Nicolet and his first wife, a Lake Nipissing Aboriginal identified in the marriage records simply as “la sauvagesse” — to turn her back on her culture in order to protect her children from unmentionable treatment says a lot about Canada’s history from generation to generation. For her, the Indian was truly beaten out of her that she should fear for her children and grandchildren so much.
Bill C-45 is a direct attack on First Nations lands and waters.
It is a direct attack on Indian Reserve Lands.
It is a direct attack on First Nations people.
So much has been taken from First Nations people and now the government of Canada wants to take even more. At what point will they be satisfied? Will it be when the last of our culture is completely eradicated?
And once that has been accomplished, who will they have penciled in next on their agenda of peoples to go after?
Will it be the disabled? Will it be seniors? Will it be you?