As I am beginning to write this blog, it is still September 30th, 2021 in the evening and it is the day Canada marks first Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This year was especially difficult for Indigenous People of Canada. Since May, more that 1,308 suspected graves have been uncovered near the sites of former Residential Schools: 215 in Kamloops, B.C., 182 in Cranbrook, B.C., 751 in Marieval, SK., and more than 160 found on Penelakut Island, B.C.
I would like to honour Indigenous People of Canada by dedicating this blog to them and acknowledge the fact that they have been mistreated, marginalized, prosecuted, ignored by us all, for many decades. This is my tiny attempt at Truth and Reconciliation by educating others about unconscious bias we hold against Indigenous People.
You may have heard the recent buzz word ‘unconscious bias’, but how does it manifest itself in real life and where does it come from. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain group of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. We are simply unaware we are guilty of biases. It is unconscious belief about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from our tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.
You may want to consider the following questions when you think about your relations with Indigenous Peoples:
- Where did I develop most of my understanding and impressions of Indigenous Peoples?
- What are my understandings and impressions for Indigenous Peoples and the issues they face?
- What might be the biggest challenges/biggest opportunities for Indigenous Peoples today?
- How can I integrate this knowledge into my work?
I originally come from Poland, and the first time I learned about Indigenous People from watching western films which were regularly broadcasted on Saturdays evenings. I was a young girl, and I marvelled over the beauty of Indigenous women, their smooth, dark toned skin and long thick hair. I was intrigued by the way they carried their babies on their backs, in the burden baskets. I was very young, and all I understood from the film is that ‘whites were coming’, and it was alarming to the natives. My elementary school friend’s dad was a sailor, and brought a doll for his daughter from his travels, that represented that beautiful young women I saw in the western movie, and I wanted the doll for myself. My parents eventually got the doll for me. I remember she was dressed in white fur coat, embellished in colourful pattern design.
When I came to Canada in February of 1990, I was already an adult, and when I was meeting Indigenous People, I observed they were worse off that the rest of us. I could see it in their posture, how they carried their bodies, tone of voices, lack of self esteem, it’s like their insides were all bruised. They often were victims of alcoholism and addictions, depression and mental illness. Someone told me once, that the reason Indigenous People were facing economic and health crisis, it is because they were genetically predisposed to alcoholism, and were not mentally tough to look after themselves.
It didn’t occur to me until much later in 1999 when I entered into the Arts Program at the Alberta University of the Arts and started studying Canadian History and the Settlers’ policies impact on Indigenous People’s psyche. I started grasping the concept and learned more about the trauma these people experienced at the hands of the settlers. And to be absolutely honest, I was still lacking full depth in understanding of the psychological damage on Native People.
Indigenous people do not fare as well as the non-Indigenous population in terms of life expectancy, education, health, employment and more and this is linked to years of colonial policies and practices that excluded Indigenous people economically and socially and resulted in the marginalization of Indigenous people in Canadian society.
The Indigenous peoples of Canada are not a homogeneous group. While there are some commonalities, there is a wide variety of nations and tribal groups with different customs, languages, beliefs, histories, governance and lifestyles. In Canada we have Métis Nationhood, Inuit and First Nations.
How do Indigenous People identify themselves? Indigenous people have a deep connection to the land. This connection is integral to their spiritual, physical, social, and cultural identity. Indigenous people often say that they have been here since time immemorial and, indeed, evidence of their presence is well documented. Indigenous peoples have occupied the area that is now British Columbia for at least 12,000 years.
I would like to reflect on these two Indigenous concepts: Time Immemorial and Connection to Land. Both are very significant in my mind, and it gave me lots to think about this past summer. I live on traditional, unceded territory of Musqueam People, in Vancouver of British Columbia. This year alone, we have been witnessing wildfires in my province, like we have never had before. We also experienced extreme weather temperatures in the form of heat waves beginning mid of June and August. All this was very alarming and extremely sad, I was impacted by these extreme circumstances, and this forced me to reflect on importance of living in harmony with nature.
The severity of the 2021 wildfire season is believed to have been caused by a “perfect storm” of environmental factors exacerbated by human-caused climate change. It’s accurate to say, summer season in British Columbia has now become a fire season. It’s vey sad indeed. Last August, I have been spending a lot of time indoors, due to air quality to be the worst in the world. It was simply unbreathable.
As I write this today, Canada is only 152 years old, and now compare this to the time Indigenous People occupied this beautiful land for 12,000 years! Time Immemorial and Connection to the Land, the Indigenous concepts are begging the reflection. We need to ask ourselves these questions and learn from Indigenous people how to take care of the land, how to protect it.
For this, I recommend today the short YouTube Video called “Reflections of Mary Lake” (see the video below). The storyteller’s name is Tesluck, it comes from his great grandfather’s uncle. He says he is everything that is in the mountain and everything that ancestors told him he was. He is that person.
These mountains have all been looked after by our people for thousands of years. For us this was heaven. It was a place we could go to find everything that was needed to survive. Food, medicine, place of relaxation, place of finding one’s own spirit or one’s own soul. It’s called Shhhee-ta-la-quest. It’s sort of like a sacred walk.
As a young man or young woman, you walk to find yourself, to find your spirit. We were trained to walk. Not just walking, physical walking, but trained to look at what we’re walking on.
Everything has a purpose, and that purpose is to be respected and protected for all time.http://www.SaveMaryLake.com
Tesluck then reflects on the consequences of development. When you develop something, you change the environment.
That’s why this is so important. You know, if they develop it, if they put house there, that little lake will die on its own. And everything that’s in it.http://www.SaveMaryLake.com
The second very important reading every adult should revisit is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
If you are not familiar with the story, it’s about a boy who loves a tree. Throughout the pages, Silverstein explores the love relationship between the boy and the tree. The tree is always giving, offers a playground and refuge for a young boy. But as the boy grows older, he keeps taking more from the tree, picks up her apples and sells them for personal profit, removes her brunches to build a house, and chops down the trunk so he can build a boat and sail away. In the end the tree has nothing left to give and is reduced to a stump.
The Silverstein’s story is a controversial one, because the story ends with the phrase that although the tree had nothing more to give, she was happy because the boy returned to her, to rest on the old stump. I think the story leaves this unsettled feeling and it forces the reader to reflect on having balanced relationship with each other. If you only take and never reciprocate anything in return, there won’t be anything left to give or take. For the purpose of this blog, I would like us to look at our relationship with the environment. If we only keep exploiting our mother earth, and we never protect her, she will have nothing to give, she won’t be able to protect us, offer resting place, nurture us, grow all the amazing plants and food for our nourishment.
There are areas that should be preserved so that you can have a history of some kind, if you want your sanity to be there for all time, then look after it.http://www.SaveMaryLake.com
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