Guest Post: Canadian? Nations, First Nations, Homes & Hearts

My second-most-recent post concerned something retrieved from an old file, and who knows what I wrote it on — our best guess is an Apple Mac Classic II, circa 1995. It was about love, renewal, nature, politics and several other things, but one line irritated/inspired one of my most thoughtful readers, Michael P. Freeman. “Many of us have trouble feeling like Canadians,” I had written in “Honeymoons and Rear-view Mirrors”. Mr. Freeman often comments on my stuff, but this submission was so long, so interesting, at times so poetically heart-punching, that I put a truncated blurt in the comment section but asked him if I could publish the whole thing, too. He agreed, and so here’s my second guest column. The first was a brave and moving piece written by a Chinese student; this one comes from a man of Aboriginal heritage who lives not far from my old stomping ground in Haldimand County, southern Ontario, Canada, Turtle Island, the World.

“Many of us have trouble feeling like Canadians,” the man wrote. It got me thinking. The whole desire of the first half of the 20th century was nationalism. We entered into world wars to defeat countries that had a different concept of nationhood. Some would readily trample on the rights of others to impress upon and impose their own brand of ‘nationhood’ on them, and all in the name of what? World advancement? World domination?

Now, with the infusion of a couple of the newest ‘world’ religions, the nations and peoples of the world are being asked, subtly or overtly, to consider nationhood differently, to see it in the context of one world, one global nation without boundaries. It’s a difficult concept for many, especially given that most are still pondering and transitioning to a national vision. Ask a small-town guy what he thinks of nationhood, and I suspect that he would focus on town and kin, on hills and seclusion, on quiet and solitude. Leave behind the busy-ness and bustle of the city. Leave behind crowded buses and streets lined with vendors. Leave behind politics of any shape or stripe. Leave behind any consideration for the person living in city squalor, or in some unnamed third-world country, or some ravaged and forgotten reserve in Canada, until my friends’ families have enough food to eat, clothing to warm themselves and shelter to protect them. The world as nation is a distant vision to a growing number of people, but they are still few; this ideal is not as generally accepted as one would hope, especially by the greed mongers, policy makers and possession seekers of the corporate, political and banking worlds.

Still, the way we think of and see ‘home’ is intriguing. There are many within Canada that do not call themselves Canadian. They were born here. They grew up here. They’ve lived here every second of every day of their lives, but they are not Canadian. A friend of mine from Newfoundland speaks of the wealth of family they had there, and the prosperity of leading a simpler way of life. After the British colony became part of Canada, he says, came the predominance of rules and regulations, restrictions and politics, poverty and depression. A colleague told me of a news report that featured Canadians speaking about the country’s immigration policies. The responses were priceless.

“Why are we allowing all those immigrants into the country? There are barely enough jobs for us” and “We give them free shelter, and free food and put them on a program; why wouldn’t they come? How do I get on a program?” and “Where are we all going to live if we keep letting in more?”

I respond with irritated chortling at their disdain for those that dare come into their sweet land, apparently expecting to be granted everything, and more. I find irony in their complaints, and the rumblings of disgust in me, but modern Canadians don’t even seem to consider that the European colonization that brought their ancestors here might have produced similar feelings among Aboriginal peoples, though with infinitely more devastating results. They should have to follow our ways, and use our language, and eek out a living just like we do, some would say. This kind of territorial thinking is a major obstacle to that dream of the earth as one nation.

The concept of home is a deep and central feeling. I think of homesteaders that tilled the land, and raised and harvested crops; military men and women who fought to protect the innocent and their rights to life and safety. I think of my grandma and grandpa, who lived their lives and raised a good family on four acres of quality land. I think of me, and how I have always envisioned a home as solidly planted near the shores of some river. It’s a two-storey red brick structure with wrap-around porches for lounging through a dimly lit evening. There’s a long country tree-lined lane of crumbled, brook-washed stone; a wife and 10 kids – just a moderate family – and all the love that one could find; and, a faithful dog by my side as I walk the hills to the shores of that ambling river that has lullabied me to sleep on many a moonlit night.

Me: a confused man original to this land, fervently holding to a concept of home that has all but passed me by and, some would argue, a whole world that has. Am I Aboriginal, or am I Canadian? Why do I feel like I have to choose? And if I choose ‘wrong’, who will be the first ones to chastise or target me for that choice? (There is no right answer.) Me: a passionate purveyor of (self-proclaimed) integrity, honesty, fairness, peace, harmony, serenity and truth, and all the while I am forced to play roles that I truly would have no interest in IF others would play according to the same principles. But they don’t, and so I do play my roles, and I am a better man for it, I guess. No fame or fortune, limited respect in my chosen field, no barrels of cash and certainly no public accolades….but a better man.

I wonder how other Aboriginal peoples of this fair country, nay, of this fair world, feel about identity and belonging? I am one whose identity is washing away like the eroding shores of an ambling river’s bend. I have always felt that I fit everywhere, but have never truly belonged anywhere. I’ve got a dream for this fair world, but have so many worries about my own dream that the thought of global ideals both perplexes and intimidates. I know not that home of intimate remembrances, that home that ties together my heart and my mind. I do not know to which home I would return, if I was granted my fondest wish.

Maybe one day I too will come to understand that no matter where I go, and no matter how far I travel, right there is where I’ll be. “Indian not lost. Teepee lost. It is too bad, but I feel that I have wasted my life searching for that which never was, and was never going to be, all in the hopes of finding peace and serenity. Only sometimes do I realize that it already is, and always has been.

Michael P. Freeman has been a grade 5 teacher for over 20 years on Six Nations reserve. He is a union activist, advocate for the disabled and the addicted, and a self-described “defender of the public good and all round good guy”. He has his brick house, but lives a fair hike from the river. His weblog address remains a closely guarded secret.

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