Weather, Libraries and Awakening to Indigenous Matters

Indigenous Matters

It’s a dull and dreary day with the temperature hovering around zero and freezing rain is threatened. My get-up-and-go disappeared so I gave in and I’ve been reading. It’s very strange that I still feel guilty when reading or knitting or doing something else “unproductive” in the daytime. I’m more or less retired as my only work now is making things for my shop here.

Libraries

Anyway, I love my libraries. Yes, plural: our wee library here in the Gore’s Landing Community Hall, the Cobourg library and the Port Hope library. My book selections range all over the place and I’ve even been known to read the odd mystery (have you read Louise Penny’s books?), something I poo-pooed for a long time. I got rid of my television years ago so get DVDs from the libraries, too. My iMac has a bigger screen than my old tv.

Awakening

Since “Idle No More,” my knowledge about Indigenous matters has grown. I’ve only skimmed the surface, enough to know that I know and understand very little. When talking with Indigenous friends, I try to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. As a child of British descent growing up in Toronto my only awareness involved coveting one of my best friend’s “Indian Chief” hat. I was woefully ignorant and my schooling did nothing to change that. I grew up during the Sixties Scoop (which is still going on today) and knew nothing about it. On top of what I don’t know about Canada’s treatment of the Indigenous people of this land, I know next to nothing about the same colonization issues in other parts of the world.

Books on Indigenous Matters

Clearing the Plains by James DaschukOf the books I’ve since read, in my opinion the most important for people like me is “Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life” by James Daschuk.

Other books I’ve read include “As Long as the Rivers Flow” by James Bartleman, “The Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King and “Children of the Broken Treaty” by Charlie Angus. Those are just a few – there are so many more still to read. If you have recommendations, please add them in the comments below.

Claiming Anishinaabe by Dr. Lynn GehlThere’s a new book by Dr. Lynn Gehl, “Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit.” I know Lynn, a woman who has spent decades in a long fight for status. She was finally granted registration as an “Indian” in a 2017 landmark court ruling. A long-time activist, she has taken on anti-colonial battles, including the land claims process and sexism in the Indian Act. In “Claiming Anishinaabe,” she recounts her private journey to reclaim mini-pinadiziwin – the good life. Exploring Anishinaabeg philosophy and Indigenous knowledge, Gehl details how she came to decolonize her spirit to become, in her own words, “fully human.” For me at least, this is a book to be read slowly to understand the nuances.

One Story, One Song by Richard WagameseI think that my favourite story-teller is Richard Wagamese, a man who has been there and done it all. He left us much too soon. Today I finished “One Story, One Song,” in which he tells many short tales from his own life with honesty, humour, insight, sadness and generosity. We are all joined by the land. I’ve had the following passage bookmarked while reading the rest of the book as I wanted to share it. There is much talk (and not much more than talk) about homelessness these days.

Homeless People and Native People have a lot in common

After talking about living in a squalid rooming house after graduating from living on the street, Richard Wagamese added (p.46-47):

I thought about all of this recently, when I was asked to give the keynote address at a national conference on homelessness in Calgary. Of the more than six hundred delegates, the majority were academics: researchers, report writers, study instigators and journal editors. The only homeless people there were the street artists selling their work in the lobby. I was the only presenter who had ever lived on the street, which I found odd and unsettling. Instead of delegates hearing the genuine voices of the homeless, they attended workshops and seminars led by people who earned their livings courtesy of other people’s misfortune.

I’m guessing none of those so-called experts knew how concrete smells when you’re lying on it, or how it feels against your spine. Probably not one of them had ever experienced the sting of a morning frost on their faces or the incredible stiffness that seizes your joints when a winter wind blows over you all night long. Dozens of them were there all-expenses paid, with cash per diems in their pockets.

Every person deserves somewhere safe and comfortable to live. It struck me that homeless people and Native people have a lot in common – we’ve both had industries built up around us. Government departments, social agencies, social workers, police divisions, university departments, hospitals, media and the odd film crew all depend on us. If Native people or homeless people were to disappear, thousands of people would be out of work. But participants deemed the conference a success, and plans were begun for another.

Having been around Native issues for thirty years now, I’ve seen how often we’ve been researched, studied and Royal Commissioned. The end result of all that paperwork has been more paperwork. Only fairly recently, when Native people have begun speaking for ourselves have we gained any ground. It’s a similar situation with the homeless. Folks are so busy concentrating on the issue that they forget about the people. Homeless people should have a voice in any developments that affect them. It’s not enough to study, analyze, survey or count them. Homeless people need to tell their stories, and we need to listen to them. It isn’t sufficient to treat the symptoms. We have to treat the disease, and we can only do that if we get to the bottom of what causes it.

10 Replies to “Weather, Libraries and Awakening to Indigenous Matters”

  1. Thank you, Jane. As usual, you put your finger on it… all talk and very little action.

  2. Deb Weyrich-Cody says: Reply

    Only just started reading, and made a list of the titles you mentioned, but I was struck by his comment about “industries being built up around us”… Often thought the same thing… About homelessness, mental health, foodbanks, cancer, “health” care, bullying, teen suicide… The list goes on and on. How much would change if we simply followed the rule we all know, to treat others as we would like to be treated? Slapping a plaster on symptoms to cover them up are not, never have been, never will be a cure – and talk is nothing but hot air.

    1. It really is woefully amazing when you realize the extent of the industries, isn’t it? I recently read something (I forget where) that there’s a rendering of the Golden Rule in just about every culture/religion. If only we all followed it.

      1. Deb Weyrich-Cody says: Reply

        Yes indeed! I recall, shortly after that terrible day of the Twin Towers, finding a piece online that had been written by a (NY Times?) newspaper reporter about that very subject. The article gave quotes and their origins from all the Holy Books of the World; and, without fail, EVERY religion had the same sentiment. Once we get past the fact that we speak different languages, it’s easy to see the idea is a Constant throughout the Civilisations of Humanity.

  3. I really appreciate that Wagamese excerpt. Thank you for introducing me to him and to the other books. A couple of years ago I took a course called Aboriginal Peoples and Environmental Issues in Canada. I was introduced to Indigenous Law as understood and practiced by John Burrows ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uNgq7raxk4 ), Aaron Mills (http://rabble.ca/news/2014/08/to-all-my-relations-contemporary-colonialism-and-treaty-citizenship-today) and Val Napoleon. Deborah MacGregor (https://works.bepress.com/deborah-mcgregor/) also gave a lecture about world view. Remembering the importance of these lessons was not how I planned to spend my morning, but this sort of law is was has been missing from my life. Thanks again for turning my focus. Clare

    1. I’ll be reading your links, Clare, and thank *you*!

  4. Catherine Elcombe says: Reply

    Indigenous writers…Harold Cardinal is also an excellent source of earlier writers from the ’60’s who championed Indigenous issues. “The Unjust Society”…thought I had a copy here but can’t find it!!
    Good Post, Jane, always interesting.

    1. I’ve missed reading “The Unjust Society” and after reading about it, I’m adding it to my list. If you find your copy, Catherine, may I borrow it? Thanks for adding it to the list!

  5. Guns, Germs And Steel : The Fate Of Human Societies ~ Jared Diamond
    Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed ~ Jared Diamond

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collapse:_How_Societies_Choose_to_Fail_or_Succeed

    1. They look interesting, too, Anna. Thanks!

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