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 (Update: I’m now fully retired and my shop is closed).
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.
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
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.
The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy by the late Arthur Manuel (died January 2017 just before publication of this, his second book) and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson, brings history up to date. One can’t hope by notice how very little has changed right up to Justin Trudeau, who has broken all his promises about reconciliation and nation to nation respect. Leo Tolstoy is quoted: I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all possible means – except by getting off his back. An important read for Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. (Added to my list in August 2018)
There’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.
I 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.
Adding to the list: “Seven Fallen Feathers,” by Tanya Talaga. From 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. They were hundreds of kilometres away from their families, forced to leave home because there was no adequate high school on their reserves. As of November, 2019, it seems that little has changed.
Homeless People and Native People have a lot in common
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.