Saturday, 17 December 2016

Whose Land is it Anyway?

Forgive me, folks, for I’m about to engage in a bit of a conversation I feel like I’m not really entitled to have… although it’s coming a bit delayed, as I’ve really been trying to piece together my thoughts because I think they’re all a bit jumbly at the moment.

Over the last few months, I have become increasingly disheartened with the events taking place in the United States. No, I’m not talking about the recent presidential election*, but the escalating situation in Standing Rock, North Dakota. I mean, come on, Leo, Mark Ruffalo AND Canada’s boyfriend George Stroumboulopoulos have all been in attendance at one time or another! Sure a “solution” has been found, but how long will that actually last, especially post-January 20, 2017?!

Leading up to Thanksgiving (US), there was a lot of discussion about the irony of the very real, and continuous struggle between North America’s indigenous people, and those who arrived much, much later (white people**!). In fact, many of the issues unfolding in this country have been surrounding insane contradictions, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway, a short documentary was made and released in the days leading up to this holiday. It is powerful, moving, and nothing short of heartbreaking. In my lifetime, I have found myself – more often than I’d ever care to admit – sitting in a room, pondering when, exactly, we started to become differentiated for things we cannot control (race, religion, sexuality, I seriously feel like a FiretrUCKin’ broken record). When did we stop looking at each other as nothing more than a fellow human? And this short film left me feeling the exact same way.

Now, since I originally started working on this post, things have (thankfully) seen some changes. BUT, there’s still a long way to go. The recent “win” at Standing Rock – and I say win in quotes, because it should never have been a battle in the first place! – is only a small stepping stone in a much, MUCH bigger picture. But following the unfolding of this situation, I finally sat down to check out Gord Downie’s recently released film The Secret Path – a CBC production that deals with the tragic happenings of indigenous residential schools in Canada. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, I recommend you do so. Although, some of you may have difficult accessing it if you happen to be out of the country***.

I’ll be honest, it took a while for me to get into it… mostly because I was pretty tired at the time, but also because I was unable to activate the subtitles. I’m not suggesting you really needs these, but the music is pretty much the key. But on the second attempt, I was thankful I had done so. So, be sure to have the time and correct energy levels before you proceed.

One of the biggest issues I have with Canada**** is the misinformation and complete disregard for our indigenous people. I mean, what the typical Canadian actually knows about the various cultures of each tribe (because they’re not all the same!), is actually pretty limited. I would doubt that many even recognize that in some reservations, the conditions are reminiscent of some of the worst conditions in the so-called developing world (i.e lack of education, potable water sources, and consistent/quality social support services – including (mental) health care!). This is why I’m conflicted about how I felt about this film. Hear me out…

On the one hand, I think it’s great that the beginning of a conversation is at least being attempted. Although, I fear, like so many other important issues, it is more a matter of preaching to the converted, so to speak. But, we Canadian folk, especially of the non-indigenous variety, tend to shy away from discussions about, let alone acknowledging, our original inhabitants. Maybe it makes us uncomfortable because we feel some sense of guilt/responsibility for what our ancestors did in the past, or maybe it’s just plain ignorance. I don’t have the answers here.

Now, on the other hand, it frustrates me that, when we have so many incredible indigenous voices in Canada, it took a dying white man from an iconic Canadian rock band to make it happen. Don’t get me wrong Gord (if I may call him that) has been an advocate for indigenous rights, amongst other things, for a good part of his career. His lyrics are evidence enough of this. But still.

That being said, this is an incredibly powerful 45 minutes or so. There are moments that just captured what I can only imagine to be what that experience might have been like. The contrast between the story at present and the memories of Chanie’s (the boy whose story is being told) past only highlight all of this. The fear. The uncertainty. The feeling of loss. And it’s emotional. There’s no getting around that. That these were (and are) people, taken from their homes, treated with such disregard and abuse, and that they were children no less. It hurts.

But for me, it was the conversations with Gord after the animated sequence that really tied it all together. The heartbreak that is still felt in Chanie’s sister’s voice. Her anger and outrage, covered only by the hope that this project will lead to something positive. That, for me, is something we can all learn something from. And again, the discussions that will hopefully follow this film will only be one smaller step in a much larger fight. A fight for justice. A fight for acceptance. A fight for forgiveness. 

-the Orange Canadian

*But, can I just say how deeply disappointed I am that this is how our beloved-the-world-over President Obama has chosen this as the conclusion of his legacy as the first EVER African American leader of the free world?!
**Yes, I know other races aside from Caucasian have also arrived on our great continent… but if you’re really honest with yourself, you know, deep down, they’re really the issue here. I mean, just look at history…
***I’m amazed, really, that I was able to get it to play!

****Of many, I know! But also, an issue that has been causing me to ponder for a number of years now.

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