I grew up in Northern Ontario as a child of European immigrants, and always wondered how my parents ended up living their lives in that place. While I was in awe of the power of the land, it just never made any sense to me that we lived there. Something always made me feel like a visitor to a place I could never truly understand, so vast and inscrutable, and it was only as I grew older that I began to understand the history and the deep reasons for my sense of dislocation. The place was not ours. We had no business being there. We were only visitors, and we had never been extended any real welcome to share that land. We were told to live there by men who had taken the resources of the land for their own, handing out jobs to people who would build their empires of industry. We didn’t know about the theft and violence, all of that was hidden from us, the White people. We were told “Oh, there’s another drunken Indian, dirty, filthy, useless, don’t worry about them” and we watched in silence as they were kicked to the curb and pushed aside to make way for more immigrants, more workers, more “productive citizens.” It was heartbreaking and completely unfathomable that beautiful people were so completely messed up, living side by side with us, but relegated to the dirt and shadows of our streets and cities. Why did this happen? It seems the only answer is that some wanted their power, and just took it for their own with no care of the consequences for the culture, language and families of the Indigenous peoples.
My deepest heart is infused with childhood memories of the pure strength of the Canadian Shield, the cold, deep lakes and endless pine forests, the magic and majesty of Manitoulin Island, home of the Anishinaabe and The Great Spirit. I will never forget those wild places I explored as a young person, and that sense of place gave me my love for the Earth and all its creatures. I am grateful to now live on what was once Mississauga/Ojibwa land, and even though I know the history, I still often wonder that this land was just taken from the people who once lived here for millennia. There were no treaties made here in this part of Ontario, just one group of people moving in and claiming for their own places which had profound meaning to others who had lived there for so long.
For some people violence, theft and guile are mysteries and puzzles, unthinkable dishonor and abusive behavior in a world that is otherwise peaceful and beautiful, and those people are often taken advantage of and shoved aside by history. It is the shame of humanity that we have allowed this to happen in North America and Canada in particular, and that shame will be eternal. There is no restitution for genocide, despite all the pretty political words and money bandied about to save face and make nice. I pray that some day the sweetness of universal love and trust of our fellows can be known once again among all people, without fear of trickery or subjugation. We have so much to learn from one another, if only we can put aside greed and pride, and learn how to really listen.
A poem from Cree/Métis poet and professor Marilyn Dumont, born in north eastern Alberta.
The Devil's Language 1. I have since reconsidered Eliot and the Great White way of writing English standard that is the great white way has measured, judged and assessed me all my life by its lily white words its picket fence sentences and manicured paragraphs one wrong sound and you’re shelved in the Native Literature section resistance writing a mad Indian unpredictable on the war path native ethnic protest the Great White way could silence us all if we let it its had its hand over my mouth since my first day of school since Dick and Jane, ABC’s and fingernail checks syntactic laws: use the wrong order or register and you’re a dumb Indian dumb, drunk or violent my father doesn’t read or write the King’s English says he’s dumb but he speaks Cree how many of you speak Cree? correct Cree not correct English grammatically correct Cree is there one? 2. is there a Received Pronunciation of Cree, is there a Modern Cree Usage? the Chief’s Cree not the King’s English as if violating God the Father and standard English is like talking back(wards) as if speaking the devil’s language is talking back back(words) back to your mother’s sound, your mother’s tongue, your mother’s language back to that clearing in the bush in the tall black spruce 3. near the sound of horses and wind where you sat on her knee in a canvas tent and she fed you bannock and tea and syllables that echo in your mind now, now that you can’t make the sound of that voice that rocks you and sings you to sleep in the devil’s language.