November 21, 2018

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Canada 150: Celebrating Collective Amnesia—Why I won’t be there for the fireworks

Canada 150: Celebrating Collective Amnesia—Why I won’t be there for the fireworks

“The state is invisible; it must be personified before it can be seen, symbolized before it can be loved, imagined before it can be conceived” Department of Canadian Heritage[1]

Rebeka Tabobondung Indigenkaus (my name is)
Wasausking Ndonjaba (I come from)
Amik Dodem (I am Beaver clan)

This simple statement took me 40 years to learn. This is who I am- but I had to fight like hell to figure it out. I grew up in over 13 towns and cities across the country and experienced the public education system and its imagined Canadian identity in every one of those places. Yep- I learned the propaganda that every Canadian my age learned: ‘We are a nation built on universal values of democracy, human rights, and environmentalism intimately connected through a “mosaic” of diversity, a northern climate and pristine landscape’…cough… cough…

Well I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water (those are some righteous aspirations right?) But let’s get real… all Canadians must question the legitimacy of these ‘imaginary’ claims due to the historical hatred directed towards the First Peoples of this land and the on-going lack of awareness, education, and movement building towards reconciliation and the forging of reciprocal relationships based on equality and respect.

weeklyvoices.com
weeklyvoices.com

Just today I was on Facebook calling for the resignation of Sen. Lynn Beyak, who said earlier this year that; “good deeds” and “remarkable works” on the part of well-meaning residential school officials have been ignored in favour of more negative reports by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Just yesterday I was donating money to the go fund me campaign initiated by the relatives Barbara Kentner, an Indigenous woman living in Thunder Bay who was the victim of a drive by assault in January 2017 by a white man who shouted, “I got one” after throwing a very large trailer hitch at her body from a moving vehicle. By the time this article is published, Barbara Kentner may likely not be alive to remember and tell her own story- her life snuffed out by another act of hatred directed against Indigenous women in Canada.

150 years ago debates between the most powerful white men in the land known today as Canada were taking place. These “founding fathers” were trying to figure out how best to confederate their rights as British subjects by establishing a ‘sovereign’ Parliamentary system that would attempt to mark a final blow to the Two Row Wampum Belt (Guswenta) agreement – the first confederation that settler Canadians entered into on a nation to nation basis 254 years earlier. The Guswenta outlined that Indigenous and settler Canadians were to respect one another’s way of life and sovereignty…cough …cough

Through learning the story of who I am, I have also come to learn that our founding fathers are not the British white men you see in the Robert Harris or Rex Woods paintings commissioned by Parliament, but rather they are Indigenous leaders comprised of men and women from Indigenous nations: such as Chief Donnacona of the Stadacona Nation (whose two sons were kidnapped and murdered by Cartier by the way) of what we now call Quebec and the Iroquois confederacy, which was in fact, the first democracy established in North America.

fathers-of-confed-ptng
The Fathers of Confederation. 1968. Rex Woods
The Daddies, 60” x 112.5”, Acrylic on Canvas, 2016
The Daddies. 2016. Kent Monkman http://muskratmagazine.com/miss-chief-eagle-testickle-for-prime-minister-kent-monkmans-artistic-resistance-canada-150/

There are two sides (usually more) to every story right? The men you see depicted in the painting are immigrants to this land raised in a settler culture of white supremacy. That’s right- white supremacy- it sounds harsh to say…but we must tell the truth and remember the whole story of the founding of Canada. When settlers came to this country they held up the Doctrines of Discovery. A document ordained by the pope of the 15th century, which gave Christian explorers the ‘right’ to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian Monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed. This Doctrine governs International and Canadian Law today and has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision City Of Sherrill V. Oneida Indian Nation Of N.Y. http://www.doctrineofdiscovery.org/

If you’re trying to figure out how to pronounce “happy sesquicentennial Canada” I’m offering you a new challenge that actually might not make you sound so foolish. My challenge is to answer the call of one of Canada’s most worthy Senators; The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, former chief commissioner of the TRC who in response to Beyak’s statements- during a public forum in Ottawa on missing and murdered Indigenous women asked Canadians: “Why can’t you always remember this?” He was referring to the deliberate amnesia that Canadians have when they ‘imagine’ who they are. “Why can’t we remember and honour the truth of our nation… this is about memorializing those people who have been the victims of a great wrong. Why don’t you tell the United States to ‘get over’ 9/11? Why don’t you tell this country to ‘get over’ all the veterans who died in the Second World War, instead of honouring them once a year?”

I’m sorry but not sorry Canada… In our imaginary 150th year, I will locate myself in remembering. My mother was born in Holland and my father is Ojibway from Wasauksing First Nation. Canada’s official national 150th confederation flower is the red and white tulip, a gift from Holland to Canada for liberating my relatives from Nazi occupation (including my grandmother who today lives in Victoria BC). In 1613 the Guswanta- the two-row wampum was made between the colonial Dutch and the Iroquois near current day TKoronto. http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1443789176782

The name “Canada” likely comes from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” meaning “village” or “settlement.” According to the government of Canada, “in 1535, two Aboriginal youths told French explorer Jacques Cartier about the route to kanata; they were actually referring to the village of Stadacona, the site of the present-day City of Québec. For lack of another name, Cartier used the word “Canada” to describe not only the village, but the entire area controlled by its chief, Donnacona.”

I’m remembering who and what Canada actually is… and therefore I’m imagining what we could become…A confederation that chooses not to forget its past- but rather memorializes it in order to imagine and build something better. How about Kanata 15,000? Acknowledging the rich history already embedded deep in the land that includes the principle that rights, equity and respect should belong to all.

Reconciliation
Poem By Rebeka Tabobondung

We are waking up to our history from a forced slumber
We are breathing it into our lungs so it will be a part of us again

It will make us angry at first
because we will see how much you stole from us
and for how long you watched us suffer we will see how you see us
and how when we copied your ways
we killed our own.

We will cry and cry and cry
because we can never be the same again But we will go home to cry
and we will see ourselves in this huge mess and we will gently whisper the circle back and it will be old and it will be new.

Then we will breathe our history back to you – you will feel how strong and alive it is
and you will feel yourself become a part of it and it will shock you at first

because it is too big to see all at once and you won’t want to believe it
you will see how you see us
and all the disaster in your ways and how much we lost.

And you will cry and cry and cry
because we can never be the same again but we will cry with you
and we will see ourselves in this huge mess and we will gently whisper the circle back and it will be old and it will be new.

As the Haudenosaunee and Dutch discovered much about each other, an agreement was made as to how they were to treat each other and live together. Each of their ways would be shown in the purple rows running the length of a wampum belt. “In one row is a ship with our White Brothers’ ways; in the other a canoe with our ways. Each will travel down the river of life side by side. Neither will attempt to steer the other’s vessel.”http://www.onondaganation.org/culture/wampum/two-row-wampum-belt-guswenta/
As the Haudenosaunee and Dutch discovered much about each other, an agreement was made as to how they were to treat each other and live together. Each of their ways would be shown in the purple rows running the length of a wampum belt. “In one row is a ship with our White Brothers’ ways; in the other a canoe with our ways. Each will travel down the river of life side by side. Neither will attempt to steer the other’s vessel.”http://www.onondaganation.org/culture/wampum/two-row-wampum-belt-guswenta/

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About The Author

Rebeka Tabobondung

Publisher of MUSKRAT Magazine, Rebeka Tabobondung is a community documentary filmmaker, poet and Indigenous knowledge researcher. Rebeka is an M.A. graduate in Sociology & Equity Studies in Education. Her documentary work has screened at festivals across Canada and internationally, while her written works have been published in numerous journals and anthologies throughout North America. In 2008, Rebeka was the Festival Director of the imagineNATIVE film & Media Arts Festival and was also the former Director of the Centre for Women and Trans People at the University of Toronto. Rebeka's latest research and film work documents traditional birth knowledge from Wasauksing First Nation where she is also a member. She is the co-founder of MAAIINGAN Productions and Research Coordinator of the Indigenous Knowledge Network for Infant, Child, and Family Health at St. Michael's Hospital.

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2 Comments

  1. Tim Stuart

    Thank you for such a powerful message and such a beautiful poem. I attended a Resilience 150 event yesterday in Winnipeg followed by a UnSettled Canada 150 event. Powerful and thoughtful words shared by survivors and youth!

    Reply

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