December 18, 2017

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IDLE NO MORE: PENETRATES SHALLOW ‘CANADIAN’ NATIONAL IDENTITY

IDLE NO MORE: PENETRATES SHALLOW ‘CANADIAN’ NATIONAL IDENTITY

Photo: CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Idle No More Offers Up Meaningful-Co-Existence, Happiness, and Human Survival.

“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]

What is your title [2] to the land that is known today as Canada? Is your title based on the misadventures of a Spanish, English, French, or Dutch explorer who held up the Doctrines of Discovery[3] 400 years ago while hammering in some property stakes? Or is your title based on the bones of your ancestors buried for millennia deep in the land? Or does your title to the land fall somewhere in between – not solely defined by the historical connection to the land under your feet – but rather by a series of broader connections formed by both distinct and imagined concepts of Nationhood?

The area commonly referred to today as Canada, is also known, to the First People of this land, as Turtle Island[4]. If you haven’t heard of Turtle Island before, then please keep reading (including the footnotes!), you may benefit from this article. Warning: it may even change your perception of who you are as: ‘Canadian’. If you have heard of Turtle Island before, bonus! Let’s now begin the counter-assimilation of our ‘Canadian’ brethren with the stories of the First People’s of this land.[5]

Canadians have been trying to figure out their collective identity since the country was formed…a mere 146 years ago. Actually, the last province that joined Confederation was Newfoundland in 1949[6]. This is not even mentioning the Territory of Nunavut that officially formed in 1999, or that in the past 25 years two referendums have been held [7] in which Canada as a nation almost broke apart! It’s no wonder Canadians grapple with identity issues, this fine Nation as we know it today is only 14 years old and this confusion is a normal part of growing up.

As I reflect on these words, I find it hard to comprehend that Canada as a nation is really so young. I am 37 years old and, in my short lifetime I have witnessed a great many political shifts and strife in Canada.[8] This is in contradiction to the popular perception that Euro-Canadian people and their systems are firmly rooted in the land known today as Canada. National departments, such as Canadian Heritage and the public education system, have raised generations of Canadians on the familiar master narrative rooted in comforting stories of responsible government, the railway, the Mounties, and pioneer survival in a hostile “empty” land.[9]

I grew up in over 13 towns and cities across the country[10] and experienced the public education system and its imagined Canadian identity in every one of those places. From K to grade 12, any mention of the First Peoples of Canada was compartmentalized into a social studies/history class in which the First Peoples are depicted through a narrow, static, Eurocentric, black and white lens of the past.[11] In public school First Peoples were and continue to be ‘imagined’ through a ‘Canadian’ narrative that has silenced, erased and attempted to “kill” and remove the First Peoples of Turtle Island from the map and psyche of Canada.[12]

The presence of First Peoples in this imagined Canadian narrative appear only when convenient for Canadians to build, justify, and maintain their own mythical identity. For example, in the Canadian narrative, at the time of first contact, a First Peoples established presence is missing and the land known as Canada is deemed “Terra Nullius”[13]. Years later in this imagined narrative, First People seem to just ‘appear’ and actively participate in the fur trade era. Somehow the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) already holds title to the land known then as Ruperts Land, which it sells to Britain to form the Dominion of Canada. When the fur trade era is over, the First Peoples disappear again having vanished all together from the textbooks and Canadian psyche only to reappear 200 years later in BC tourism adds, shoddy Public Inquiries and government commissions, and living as ‘drunks’ on the streets of this G8 Country. And, thankfully, recently on the news leading the Idle No More round dances!

The imagined Canadian identity of 2013 is shallow and stunted. While Canadians imagine their identities to include universal values of democracy, human rights, and environmentalism intimately connected with a ‘mosaic’ of diversity, a northern climate and pristine landscape, all Canadians must question the legitimacy of these claims due to the historical hatred directed towards the First Peoples and the on-going lack of awareness, education, and movement building towards reconciliation and forging reciprocal relationships based on equality and respect. [14] Canadian values of democracy and environmentalism are also questionable in light of the current Harper Regime’s on-going attack on democratic processes to impose an “extractivist agenda” of government and corporate short-sighted ideology.

2011_aSince the founding of Canada, its national State leaders have been spending exorbitant amounts of tax dollars to legislate and fund an assimilitationist agenda with the goal to “absorb” First Peoples into the “greater body politic”. Canadian leaders such as Stephan Harper continue this agenda. Harper’s Canada does not want First Peoples to be First Peoples (unless in tourism or consumer advertisements). Instead they want First Peoples to embrace the Canadian Western value system and for First Peoples to in-turn view their original land as Terra Nullius. Harper and many Canadians want First Peoples to identify as Canadian citizens and to govern their nations on Western governance models with no more power than a municipality [15] which includes paying taxes to what they perceive to be the sovereign Canadian crown. The unilateral imposition of the Omnibus Bill-C45 exposes this forced agenda directed towards the First Peoples of Turtle Island, which results in the extinguishment of inherent Aboriginal title to the land.

Are you having trouble connecting the dots? Who are the First Peoples of Canada really? Why wouldn’t they want to consider themselves Canadian citizens? And where should Canadians fit in, in relation to the First Peoples of this land? At the MUSKRAT sponsored Nation to Nation Now! event held in March 2013, Mohawk community leader, Ellen Gabrielle half-joked that it is time for Indigenous communities to “assimilate” Canadians. The reason for this call for counter-assimilation is to address the imbalance of the dominant Eurocentric worldview and the systems entrenched by it.

Within the current national and global reality, it is the Western worldview that dominates with some unsettling consequences not only for Indigenous Peoples but for the entire planet. [16] The erruption of Indigenous knowledge and worldview into dominant political and cultural spheres constitutes a form of resistance to this imbalance by reclaiming space for multiple forms of knowing. Ultimately, the intervention of Indigenous knowledge into any discourse can only work to deepen and enrich the ways in which we understand the world.

Idle No More is calling for Canadians and First Peoples to address the imbalance and build a movement towards embracing new (old) transformational concepts (stories) of nationhood grounded in Indigenous knowledge, worldview, and systems. However, with First Peoples comprising only 4% of the total population in Canada, the work of building such a mass movement is staggering; especially in the context of the dominant population knowing little about Indigenous history or worldview as it will require them to be educated and to care about First Peoples. Thankfully the proponents of the Idle No More Movement hold a powerful trump card: A symbiotic relationship with the natural world that offers up sustainable solutions to the serious environmental (and some argue spiritual) crisis faced by all Canadians, the global society, and our future generations.[17]

First Peoples stories and Indigenous based narratives offer Turtle Island the best hope and resistance against the hegemonic status-quo, and business as usual monoculture attached to it. Just “being” Indigenous makes us subversive, whether through speaking, re-learning our languages, or maintaining our connection to the land and to our way of life. As First Peoples, it is not our nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that we view as wealth, but rather, the strength of our languages, stories, beliefs, and relationships to the land, the animals, and each other. To continue to be Indigenous and autonomous we draw on our rights to self-determination, our ancestral title to territories and resources, and our traditional knowledge.

These components of being Indigenous place us at the core of the struggle against Harper’s assimilationist, anti-democratic, and extractivist agenda. Our inherent rights and culture are integral in maintaining our cultural and political identities and, as Ellen Gabriel points out, also hold immense value in imagining a new Canadian identity grounded not within the racist doctrines of discovery but rather, grounded in Aboriginal land title deeply rooted in the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of our ancestors.

Young Canada is coming of age and is at an important crossroads. Up until now it has been guided by selfishness and greed, and a shallow dual desire for independence from its foundational Eurocentric roots, while with the other hand tightly gripping them. However in 2013, Canada and the global society face new realities such as global warming for which its foundational systems are not providing adequate solutions. [18]

Proponents of the Idle No More Movement are calling for a re-imagining of what Canada/ Turtle Island is and what it could be. Through asserting Aboriginal title, self-determination, and a rejection of continued unilateral colonial control over our communities we seek to create spaces to share multiple ways of knowing on a national and global scale for the benefit of the entire planet’s Creation. In this context, The Idle No More movement strives to resist, co-opt, and transform the dominant status quo to acknowledge and respect Aboriginal title to the land, and a nation to nation relationship, through a shared interest of ensuring environmental stewardship for future generations. Traditional Indigenous knowledge in all realms of living can be shared and considered and it will take us to a great many new places in all realms of society from health and education, [35] science and technology, spirituality, politics, and the arts. Where could it take you?

We’ve only known each other for a short 400 years, and during this time the majority of the relationship has been dominated by Eurocentric governments and society’s attempts to “kill” Indigenous people and identity. It’s time for Canadians to end this fear of the unknown, difference, and white supremacy and to embrace Indigenous Peoples and their teachings. Idle No More is calling on all of us to reject the shallow doctrines of discovery held up by the Western explorers of past and to delve deeper, opening their hearts and minds to the millions of years of history and knowledge of the First Peoples of this land with love, respect, peace and friendship. If heeded every Canadian/Turtle Islander will be richer because of it and together we may re-imagine a new/old Canadian identity.

[1] Walzer qtd. in Osborne, Landcapes, Memory, Monuments, and Commemoration: Putting Identity in Its Place, Department of Canadian Heritage: 2001

[2] Indigenous Peoples insist that their land ownership comes from their having lived upon and used the land since “when the world was new”, to use Dene elder George Blondin’s phrase. The rights and responsibilities that go with this relation to the land are inherent, though they may be augmented or changed by treaty.

Aboriginal title, by contrast, is a legal concept; the Canadian state says Aboriginal title derives from a set of legal documents like the royal proclamation of 1763. Aboriginal title is a common law ownership interest in the land that Aboriginal Peoples have. In the Canadian state’s view, Aboriginal title derives its legitimacy not from fundamental principles, but from the recognition of the Crown. http://www.defendersoftheland.org/issues

Aboriginal title, as currently defined by the courts, is a right in the land itself – not just the right to hunt, fish and gather from it. http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100016311/1100100016312

[3] Papal Bulls of the 15th century 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.

The Discovery Doctrine is a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, initially in Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823. The doctrine was Chief Justice John Marshall’s explanation of the way in which colonial powers laid claim to newly discovered lands during the Age of Discovery. Under it, title to newly discovered lands lay with the government whose subjects discovered new territory. The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments. The Doctrine of Discovery has had profoundly negative impacts on Indigenous Peoples for the last 500+ years. Governments and various organizations have used the Doctrine of Discovery to justify the taking lands, the extermination of people and cultures, and the breaking of agreements and treaties. This Doctrine governs United States Indian 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/

[4] Turtle Island is referred to in parts of the Creation stories of both the Iroquois and the Anishinabe nations. After a great flood various animals tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back dirt to create land for Skywoman to rest on. Turtle had offered Skywoman his back, however Skywoman was pregnant and needed land to care for her family. After all of the strongest swimmers such as beaver, the loon, and the hellraiser had attempted and failed, the humble Muskrat offered to try. Everyone laughed assuming he was too small and weak for the mammoth task. After days of waiting for MUSKRAT his tiny lifeless body floated to the water’s surface. Saddened by the death and failed attempt of MUSKRAT, Skywoman and the animals noticed his tiny paw was clenched in a fist. She opened it up and found in it a small grain of dirt. MUSKRAT had succeeded in gathering dirt, which she placed on Turtle’s back and while she danced, it grew into the land known today as North America. http://www.muskratmagazine.com/home/node/51#.UlK9guBG3eA

Referring to North America as Turtle Island suggests a view of North America not merely as a land “discovered” and colonized by Europeans and people of European descent, but as a land inhabited and stewarded by a collection of rich, diverse, peoples, a collection that may have room for both [I]ndigenous and colonizer cultures. This re-framing of the continent’s identity is intended to bring about a better cohabitation of these two groups of people. (Wikipedia definition still under construction.) The name Turtle Island is used today by many Native tribes, Native rights activists, and environmental activists. Ibid.

[5] There are numerous terms to describe First Peoples in Canada (First Nations, Aboriginal, Native, Indian, Indigenous etc.). I mainly use “First Peoples” in this article because I feel it is not tied to a pre-determined definition and therefore is more inclusive. For example in Canada, “First Nations” most often refers to on reserve Peoples, which excludes half of the total of the First Peoples population who are urban-based. The term “Aboriginal” and “Indian” is used by Canada as a legal reference to include: Indians, Métis, and Inuit. The term “Indian” was coined by Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus because historically the Americas were mistaken by Columbus as India and Indigenous Peoples were mistaken by Columbus for Indians. At times I use the term “Indigenous” to indicate more global or general Indigenous perspectives.

For the most part, First Peoples including myself, identify with the Nations of our ancestry. For example I identify as a member of the Anishinabek Nation. Our tribal groups include Odawa, Ojibway, Potawatomi, Delaware, Chippewa, Algonquin and Mississauga. However under the provisions of the Constitution Act, in 1867 The Parliament of Canada enacted the Indian Act, which granted the federal government exclusive authority to legislate in relation to “Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians”. Under this act the Anishinabek Nation was reduced into small parcels of ‘land reserved for Indians’ today called First Nations governed by a Western patriarchal band council system. My ‘reserve’ is called Wasauksing First Nation and I also identify myself with being a member there.

[6] On July 1, 1867, an Act of the British Parliament called the British North America Act formed the Dominion of Canada from the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The former Province of Canada was split back into its pre-1841 parts, with Canada East (Lower Canada) renamed Quebec, and Canada West (Upper Canada) renamed Ontario. These were the original four provinces of Canada. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_North_Americahttp://canadaonline.about.com/od/confederation/a/entry-provinces-canadia…

[7] The first Quebec Referendum (1980) on the sovereignty issue was held on 20 May 1980. 60% of the voters refused to give the Parti Québécois government a mandate to negotiate. The second Québec Referendum (1995) was held on 30 October 1995 on a question which asked voters whether they agreed “that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership.” The result was a narrow victory for the no side, 50.6% voting no and 49.4% voting yes. Ninety-four percent of the electorate voted. (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/referendum)

[8] OKA crisis 1990, Quebec Referendum 1995, Gustafsun Lake, Public Inquiry into the death of Dudley George, closing of the last forced Indian Residential school 1992…

[9]…National cohesion, in other words, requires a sense of collective awareness and identity that is promoted through a shared sense of historical experience. What we are talking about, therefore, is the choreographing of the power of imagination by locating it in an invented history, and grounding it in an imagined geography. The orchestration of such collective remembering and, if necessary, collective amnesia, constitutes the crucial underpinning of national-state identities. http://canada.metropolis.net/events/ethnocultural/publications/putinden.pdf

[10] Parry Island, Toronto, Ontario; Airdrie, Calgary (twice), Edmonton, Fort McMurray Alberta, Sidney, Shawnigan lake, Nanaimo, Victoria, Vancouver, Merit, British Columbia…

[11] In school there was also no mention of the forced residential school system.

[12] “…Kill the Indian in the child…I want to get rid of the Indian problem… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question…” Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs

[13] Fancy Latin term for “Empty Lands” that Western States invented to justify theft of Indigenous lands. Terra Nullius, however is really a construct of Western society in which it perceives its relationship to land and the popular perception that land holds no wealth or previous ownership unless it is being cultivated and controlled for profit by Western systems. (Even land that is not cultivated and controlled for profit must be still be cultivated and controlled within a Western construct such as a National Park.)

[14] Canada has developed a political and legal culture that combines a commitment to universal values with recognition of diversity…Canadian citizenship is…grounded in universalistic values of freedom, equality, democracy and human rights. Our consensus on these values cuts across ethnic, linguistic and religious lines…In the past, our implementation of these values was stained by liberal assumptions about the inferiority of other groups and cultures. As we head into the 21st century, we are building new models of citizenship that uphold universal values of democracy and human rights, while simultaneously respecting the various languages, cultures, and identities that exist in Canada (Kymlicka, 2000:A15).

[15] Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs

[16] Global warming caused by humans

[17] The belief system and worldview that justified colonization five hundred years ago is still deeply entrenched in the status quo of contemporary society and its mainstream media. According to Wolf et al. in McGregor (2000, 12), “World view does not refer to a fixed geographic reference, but to a state of mind, a way of constructing the world.” An Indigenous worldview is different from a Western worldview because it derives its values and beliefs from different historical and cultural experiences. Although many distinct Indigenous worldviews exist, there also are fundamental shared experiences among Indigenous Peoples. The historical symbiotic relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the natural world is fundamental to all Indigenous Nations while a major defining point of Western worldview is its separation from nature. Consequently, the Western worldview denotes ambivalent, combative, and separatist attitudes towards the natural world. These foundations are deeply embedded in Western society and have led to the development of capitalism, neo-liberal globalization, and claim to hold universal truth on the basis of an evolutionary theory that purports that progress and modernization are the only true way of being in the world.

[18] “Indigenous Peoples are the canary in the mine, once we are gone the planet is gone.” Rodney Bobiwash. The Original Summit Journey to the Sacred Uprising.

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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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