July 1, 2021 — Who are we and where do we go from here? Let’s remember and stand in truth.
Like many Canadians who are proud of their identity, my family and I joined activities in our community on previous Canada Days. When my children were little, we would seek out special activities at Queens Park or at the Museum or in community spaces to celebrate Canada Day. This Canada Day I mourn. I mourn the brutal history of Turtle Island.
I remember my first history class in Canada, in grade 7, after arriving from India. I had no idea what the teacher was talking about but there were a lot of words being said of Samuel de Champlain and the Iroquois, and then some fighting that led to some Indians dying. Indians? I thought we were Indian having arrived from India? Upper Canada, Lower Canada, the St. Lawrence River and fur trade were all new ideas to me. I reflect that the millions of Indigenous Peoples of Canada who inhabited the land were extraneous to this teaching of history. They did not matter, so I learned nothing about them or what I did learn was not celebratory.
In my Undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, I studied Sociology and Psychology and took some Canadian fiction English courses as electives. Again, not much about Indigenous peoples in the curriculum. No indigenous authors (or racialized authors for that matter) in English class, and the only indigenous character that appeared, in Canadian fiction books that I read, was insignificant to the storyline. I had no knowledge of Indigenous writers, and I am ashamed to admit that I did not seek them out. It was not until my graduate studies (which was some years after my undergraduate degree, marriage and birth of my children) that I realized what I was missing, and started to think critically about the injustices towards Turtle Island’s First Nation Peoples.
I share two memorable events that impacted my learning. First, many years ago, at a visit at the Art Gallery, we attended a play that was acted out in story-telling. It was the story of Nanabush, a creative and playful character, unacknowledged as an Indigenous story. I was intrigued by the spirituality and the authentic connection to the elements of nature and the respect for the world around us. It is only years later that I made the connection when I heard an Indigenous elder speak about Nanabozho.
Second event that remains significant with me, was having the serendipitous privilege to witness Senator Murray Sinclair receive an honorary degree at the University of Toronto. The drums reverberated Convocation Hall and Senator Sinclair’s stark reminder to the graduates that their accomplishment is also a beginning and they must decide if they want to exist in a world unchanged or answer the call to change it. He reminded the graduates that without the answers to 4 pertinent questions there is hopelessness and despair as with Indigenous youth, and these questions are “Where do I come from?, Where am I going? ,Why am I here? and Who am I?”
I identify as an immigrant settler.
That I live on Turtle Island.
That I specifically live and work in the spaces that have been cared for by the Huron-Wendat and the Mississaugas of the Credit River.
That I live in a space that is in a Dish with One Spoon territory which is a treaty between the Anishnaabe, the Mississaugas and the Haudenosaunee, that brings them together to share and protect the land. The meaning is significant because the presence of one spoon means that we all eat with the same spoon and therefore share in the space.
I have a lot to learn. I am learning. This is important and meaningful to me.
A Muslim inspirational speaker once said something that has stayed with me. He said, that if we love our friends and family, we must bring them to see the truth because we would not want them to go blindly believing lies or lack of truth. I love my country and the life I enjoy here and know that as an immigrant settler I have more privileges than my Indigenous brothers and sisters, therefore, I must stand with the truth and against injustice. I must offer comfort and hope in truth, and seek action to repair the damage, so that Indigenous youth can see who they are, where they come from and stand hand in hand to understand where we are all going together and how we can get there.
While we enjoy the privileges and respect of being Canadian on a global landscape , it is imperative that we look inward, and remember that we are where children were brutally taken away from their parents, sometimes, to never return home. We stand on unmarked graves and where there is much pain and injustice. Kanata’s Indigenous Peoples require our support, deserve our respect and abundant gratitude. If not for them living on Turtle Island for thousands of years, and sustaining this land for us, we would NOT be here today.