Monday, 30 January 2012

Once Upon a Time There Were Trees

Aboriginal issues have been in the news consistently for the last number of months. Chief Theresa Spence's decision to declare an emergency (again) in Attawaspiskat brought much needed attention to the deplorable conditions Aboriginal peoples are expected to endure on reserve. Wab Kinew is hosting 8th Fire on CBC, a program that works towards educating a wider Canadian audience about the significance and history of Aboriginal issues.

And still I hear from many, including the PMO's office, that Aboriginal people should "get over it" and stop whining. This makes my head spin and my gut crawl with rage.

My grandmother worked hard to educate me on Aboriginal issues because of her grandmother's story. Annie Thompson, my grandmother's grandmother, was a Cree womyn who married a fellow from Scotland. She had three boys. Her husband was killed in an accident and Annie became a single mother at a time when the discrimination against Aboriginal womyn was very overt. Her husband's family isolated and ostracized Annie, they pushed her to 'go back to her people', and they tried to take the three boys from her and adopt them out to (white) friends of the family. Annie fought hard to keep her children and she succeeded but it cost her all ties to her family and culture.

My grandmother's father told her these stories. My grandmother told me these stories. These stories are important. Annie, my great-great-grandmother, is one tiny story in a sea of stories about cultural assimilation, colonialism, genocide, abuse and trauma. Ignoring, forgetting or refusing to acknowledge a trauma lets it fester under the surface and continue to poison lives. The history of relations between Aboriginal peoples and the settlers has to be openly acknowledged and honestly discussed as equals. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a start.

I've spent a lot of time processing my connection to the terrible history of colonialism in Canada. It's hard to acknowledge that my ancestors, settlers from Scotland and Ireland fleeing their own traumas and oppression, were a part of a colonial project that set out to kill, assimilate and dismantle the Nations of Turtle Island. But acknowledgement is powerful and facing truth is healing.

The children's story below is part of my process in facing this truth.

Once upon a time there were Trees.

Once upon a time there were Trees.

Pine trees, spruce trees, elm trees, oak trees, cedar trees, maple trees.

There were many, many Trees and they lived here.

Of course the Trees didn’t live alone. 

They had many neighbours and friends and family.

They were never lonely.

Some of the Tree’s neighbours were people.

The Anishinaabeg people.

They got along quite well.

Then one year called 1836, the lives of the Trees changed forever.

Different people, people called the Settlers, came to where the Trees lived.

Now Tree etiquette demands that strangers be treated with courtesy.

So the Trees greeted the newcomers pleasantly and helped them willingly.


Apparently the Settler’s etiquette did not follow the same guidelines 
because they did not reciprocate.

Instead the Settlers asked the Trees to leave the land and go North.

The Settlers said that they needed the land completely free of Trees to create patches where only one plant, their favourite plant, was allowed to grow at a time.

The Trees were rather flabbergasted by this request.
It was common knowledge, amongst the Trees, that all their neighbours and friends and families had to share space; no one could claim large patches of earth just for themselves and their favourite plant.
Obviously the Trees needed to stay and help the Settlers learn to share.

The Settlers did not take the Tree’s decision well. 
No one had shared in the lands they came from and so they were afraid to share now.
They wanted to take and they wanted to keep.

The Trees were forced North along with their neighbours and friends and families, leaving the Settlers to learn how to share by

For 500 years the Trees were confined into smaller and smaller spaces, continually being pushed out so the Settler’s could have bigger and bigger patches of their favourite plants, until their story became buried underneath the fencerows and ploughed fields.

Until one day the Settlers started telling this story.

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