By Jeff Carter
When I was a youngster, I remember playing “Cowboys and Indians” with a group of boys from our neighbourhood. I preferred being on the side of the Indians, perhaps due to a natural inclination for cheering for the underdog.
It wasn’t until sometime later that I learned there were actual Indians just a few miles away living in the village where I attended the public school. A group of us were discussing ancestry in one recess and I proudly described my Scots roots and others spoke of their heritage but one friend seemed singled out, unhappy, and used the term “Mongolian” to describe his ancestors.
Later that day, I asked my mother about the response. She said that a couple families in the village had Indian origins and made no further comment.
In Canada today, “Indigenous” is widely viewed as the accepted term for the first inhabitants of the Americas. Through my career as a journalist, and outside of it on occasion, I’ve come into contact with many and have learned something of their culture or, to be more accurate, cultures. I’ve also learned something of their anger, though I suppose one would need to be Indigenous themself to fully appreciate its depth.
I prefer to think of the generous nature of the Indigenous people I’ve met, their intelligence, spirituality, and other positive attributes.
One example of generosity relates the ruined groundwater across a broad swath of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.
In case you haven’t heard the story, the issue is related to the construction and operation of wind turbines, each of which is anchored with a series of steel beams driven through the shallow and fragile aquifer into the underlying bedrock; as the turbine blades turn, the aquifer is disturbed and particles of black shale find their ways into dozens of wells from which families draw their water. It’s an ongoing concern, though as yet no level of government or the corporate wind farm developers have addressed the issue in a meaningful way.
During the height of the controversy, members of the traditional leadership from the nearby Walpole Island First Nation (who see the protection of the water resources as an obligation) became involved. They supported the blockade of one of the turbine sites. It was there that I was approached by a young fellow from the First Nation who told me that if the impacted landowners wished for it, members of a certain “Warriors” organization could be enlisted for their support.
Later, just outside a town hall meeting, another of the traditional leaders, a young woman, stepped up to me, stared, and asked what I was about in what seemed a challenging manner. I replied, “It’s all about the love” for at that moment, that is exactly what I felt.
She seemed mildly disappointed at my response, chagrined perhaps, and stepped away.
I’d seen her earlier at the blockade, staring intently from a distance, with a hand gesture as if warding off evil intent. At the time I thought, “I carry my grandmothers with me” – they were all women whose strength lay in endurance.
I agree with several points in the article written by Gary Kenny that appeared in the March edition though I question the premise of settler privilege, especially when used as a kind of blanket statement. I also read the letter to the editor that appeared in response to the Kenny article which encouraged readers of The Rural Voice not “fall victim to a brand of moralism masked as ideology” and concluded, “Your readers are not that stupid.”
Neither are the Indigenous peoples.
Many of their number, I suspect, grow weary of the talk as I do: the insistence of land acknowledgement (typically an empty gesture); the assumption that privilege and moral standing can somehow be attached to race; the lack of nuance as history is reimagined; the transference of culpability for the wrongs of the past to today’s generation; the fashionable trend of modern-day ‘settlers’ allying themselves with the Indigenous peoples; the term settler itself as currently in a modern context.
I am not a settler though if you go back far enough, my ancestors were. My mother’s people travelled from Scotland in the 19th century, some with little more than their ambition. The other side, the Carters and Millers, immigrated to Canada from the United States early in the 1800s. As the family history relates, the grandfather of my grandfather – William Carter – had been ‘captured’ by Indians as a child and at the age of 21 was granted by the chief of his captors 100 acres of his choice in what was then Upper Canada.
Reconciliation does, must and will need to move forward. Must move forward. Will move forward. Yet only through empowerment of all peoples can this be successfully achieved. Layering further division on the issue through the ill-conceived transference of blame is helpful to no one. ◊