October 24 2016
The screening of Secret Path last night (Oct. 23) was a success. At least one person said they are being exposed to the history of residential schools only recently and we raised a good amount for the legal defence of Vanessa Gray, Sarah Scanlon and Stone Stewart who had the book thrown at them for their action last December in shutting down the Line 9 bitumen pipeline. More here
I bought “Up Ghost River” a year ago and finally picked it up to read a few weeks ago on a Sunday. It’s the autobiographical residential school story of Edmund Metatawabin of Fort Albany – I could not put it down till I finished it later in the evening:
After being separated from his family at age 7, Metatawabin was assigned a number and stripped of his Native identity. At his residential school–one of the worst in Canada–he was physically and emotionally abused, and was sexually abused by one of the staff. Leaving high school, he turned to alcohol to forget the trauma. He later left behind his wife and family, and fled to Edmonton, where he joined a Native support group that helped him come to terms with his addiction and face his PTSD. By listening to elders’ wisdom, he learned how to live an authentic Native life within a modern context, thereby restoring what had been taken from him years earlier. Metatawabin has worked tirelessly to bring traditional knowledge to the next generation of Native youth and leaders, as a counsellor at the University of Alberta, Chief in his Fort Albany community, and today as a youth worker, Native spiritual leader and activist. His work championing indigenous knowledge, sovereignty and rights spans several decades and has won him awards and national recognition. His story gives a personal face to the problems that beset Native communities and fresh solutions, and untangles the complex dynamics that sparked the Idle No More movement. Haunting and brave, Up Ghost River is a necessary step toward our collective healing.
I take to heart that, and I am not sure where this is from, we are all treaty people. People who look like me are in ‘this’ together with Indigenous peoples and while I cannot do anything about the past, I can recognize that the past is the present – we have not made right the still existing injustices carried out against Indigenous peoples. Today, it’s pipelines, prisons, and reserves where especially young people see suicide as an option better than living.
The political economy of capitalism still serves the purpose of colonial conquest and the denial of legitimate expressions of autonomy by Indigenous peoples, and today we all suffer the effects because too many people who look like me can’t see that we are indeed all treaty people. If we got that, we could dismantle the deadly apparatus of oppression and control to free all of us in the pursuit of the peaceful sharing of the land and all resources the world over.
I remind myself not to pity those who suffered and died, nor pity the survivors like Edmund Metatawabin. It is not pity that changes the world, it’s a resolve to stand in solidarity, to not take personally the white history of oppression and death, and accept the responsibility we all have to help change the system to one of autonomy and life.
Here is a short list of books (in no particular order other than they have stuck with me for years) I’ve read over the years that have helped me understand the real history of our land. There are others and still more I’ve yet to read:
“First published in 1974, Strangers Devour the Land is recognized as the magnum opus among the numerous books, articles, and films produced by Boyce Richardson over two decades on the subject of indigenous people. Its subject, the long struggle of the Crees of James Bay in northern Quebec—a hunting and trapping people—to defend the territories they have occupied since time immemorial, came to international attention in 1972 when they tried by legal action to stop the immense hydro-electric project the provincial government was proposing to build around them.”
“is an original and controversial book that retells the history of the subjugation and ongoing economic marginalization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Its authors demonstrate the ways in which successive Canadian governments have combined accounting techniques and economic rationalizations with bureaucratic mechanisms—soft technologies—to deprive Native peoples of their land and natural resources and to control the minutiae of their daily economic and social lives. Particularly shocking is the evidence that federal and provincial governments are today still prepared to use legislative and fiscal devices in order to facilitate the continuing exploitation and damage of Indigenous people’s lands.”
“is a history of the Americas unlike any other. This fascinating volume chronicles the conquest and survival of five great American cultures— in their own words. Ronald Wright gives voice to the Aztec, Maya, Inca, Cherokee, and Iroquois, quoting their authentic speech and writing, and illuminating their unique views of history. Through their eloquent words, we relive their strange and tragic experiences.
Covering the five hundred years since Europeans first set foot in the “New World,” Wright weaves together contemporary accounts with his own incisive historical narrative to create an indispensable record, one that is powerful, vivid, accurate, and classic.”
“In this startlingly original vision of Canada, thinker John Ralston Saul unveils 3 founding myths. Saul argues that the famous “peace, order, and good government” that supposedly defines Canada is a distortion of the country’s true nature. Every single document before the BNA Act, he points out, used the phrase “peace, welfare, and good government,” demonstrating that the well-being of its citizenry was paramount. He also argues that Canada is a Métis nation, heavily influenced and shaped by aboriginal ideas: egalitarianism, a proper balance between individual and group, and a penchant for negotiation over violence are all aboriginal values that Canada absorbed. Another obstacle to progress, Saul argues, is that Canada has an increasingly ineffective elite, a colonial non-intellectual business elite that doesn’t believe in Canada. It is critical that we recognize these aspects of the country in order to rethink its future.”
“Sale views Columbus as seed-bearer of a European civilization of conquest, violence, ecological plunder and intolerance. Cast as a magnificent voyage of discovery into Columbus’s psyche and the character of the New World, this demythologizing biographical adventure profiles an isolated, unattached explorer given to self-deception, full of millennial obsessions about the end of the world. Sale ( Human Scale ) credits Columbus with the birth of American slavery and of Euro-colonialism. Examining Jamestown, “the second successful invasion of America,” and its aftermath, he explores how native North American societies, for the most part peaceful and communitarian, were devastated by epidemics and whites’ encroachments with attendant environmental destruction. His wide-angled history represents a major rethinking of the relationship between Europe and America.”
Three Day Road (Fiction):
“Set in Canada and the battlefields of France and Belgium, Three-Day Road is a mesmerizing novel told through the eyes of Niska—a Canadian Oji-Cree woman living off the land who is the last of a line of healers and diviners—and her nephew Xavier.
At the urging of his friend Elijah, a Cree boy raised in reserve schools, Xavier joins the war effort. Shipped off to Europe when they are nineteen, the boys are marginalized from the Canadian soldiers not only by their native appearance but also by the fine marksmanship that years of hunting in the bush has taught them. Both become snipers renowned for their uncanny accuracy. But while Xavier struggles to understand the purpose of the war and to come to terms with his conscience for the many lives he has ended, Elijah becomes obsessed with killing, taking great risks to become the most accomplished sniper in the army. Eventually the harrowing and bloody truth of war takes its toll on the two friends in different, profound ways. Intertwined with this account is the story of Niska, who herself has borne witness to a lifetime of death—the death of her people.
In part inspired by the legend of Francis Pegahmagabow, the great Indian sniper of World War I, Three-Day Road is an impeccably researched and beautifully written story that offers a searing reminder about the cost of war.”