Sunday, August 21, 2005

Canada Day Reflections

Recently, many of our neighbours (Indigenous and settler alike) celebrated the 138th birthday of Canada. I didn't notice too much, not out of righteous indignation, rather I was much more interested in the long-awaited arrival of a good friend from many miles on the road. Needless to say, as a self-styled pundit, I should say a few words to mark the occasion.

Recent (meaning the last 40 years or so) Aboriginal political thought has long embraced the idea of being both Indian and Canadian. Much of the struggle for rights focused on issues of parity and equality: the right to vote, the right to drink, the right to wander freely, the right to an education, very much similar to the civil rights struggle in the US. Current political initiatives also find their roots in Canadian political and legal soil. Aboriginal politicians speak of constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights and title and achieving our place within Canada.

Before I go any further I must confess to not always aspiring to be Indigenous, and must admit to cheering for Team Canada at various Olympics and World Hockey Championships in the past. I read My Heart Soars and hoped to one day master the seemingly easy task of walking with a foot in both worlds. Well, the older I get the less I seem to be able to tolerate this schizophrenic vision of hybrid-aboriginal-ness. As each day passes, the urgency to uncover, rediscover, revitalize and breathe life into my own Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian ways increases.

Two months before my father endured a heart attack last December, he began to teach me and a few brothers and sisters how to Tsiik-tsiik'a (to speak Nuu-chah-nulth). Like other educational endeavours, the more we learn the more we realize how little we know and hence, the sense of urgency increases. It's hard enough to be who you are. Why for the life of me do we try to be more than that or less than that? My uncle Sennen told me at one of our language sessions, that we don't have to be equal or better to the white man. We merely need to be who we are: Quu'as, real human beings.

I liked the way a friend of mine, Lahalawuts'aat explained it, "Having the state claim you as a citizen is not your choice. Whether you willfully participate in its political processes is." I may not be able to do anything about the state of Canada asserting is sovereignty over our lands at this time, but I can decide what kind of man I want to be. I'm only 32 but already the years are starting to crunch together and accelerate. Time is finite, at least my time here is. I have decided to devote more and more of it to being a better Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian man. That leaves me little room for being a good or willing Canadian.

There is no question where my loyalties lie. The more I realize what is truly important in my life the less time I have to 'celebrate' the birth of a country that has done nothing but attempt to destroy everything I love and cherish. The time of acting like a hapless, unwitting victim in love with his tormentor has come to an end.

Now, many of our more "progressive and positive" brothers and sisters will accuse me of being bitter or angry or negative. There are times when I do choose to be bitter or angry or negative about the ongoing destruction of my peoples' way of life and lives but I also choose to breathe life and energy and vibrancy into my peoples' ways and principles and beliefs. These ways and principles and beliefs just might save the world yet and you can't get much more positive than that. ; )


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