What the Land Holds

There is a special piece of land a few kilometres south of Chapleau Ontario. A copse of trees huddles on a slope between the road above and a rail line on the valley floor. The trees are birch,  pine and spruce, spaced close enough together to block out most of teh sun. Somehow flowers more commonly associated with the prairie have crept in around the edges, like smooth rose with their little pink bell-shaped buds. From the Height of Land here, the waters either flow south and west into the Great Lakes and on to the Atlantic. Or they flow north into James Bay and the Arctic. That’s why this land has been an area of encounter between cultures for centuries. The Anishnaabe paddled up from the south, and the Cree down from the north. The French arrive when this province was known as le Pays d’en Haut. Indeed, the author of the most famous French Canadian novel ever, Maria Chapdelaine, is buried here. The British came in the form of the Hudsons Bay Company. This land only became Canada in 1905, when the government of Sir Wilfred Laurier signed Treaty No 9 with the Cree. But what makes this land more special now is what lies within it. Continue reading

L'endroit le plus canadien du monde

Je suis au volant encore une fois, de retour dans le nord de l’Ontario. Je suis en train de retracer chemin jusqu'à Chapleau pour assister à une cérémonie pour honorer les enfants morts dans l'école résidentielle de la ville. Continue reading

Coping with Complicity for Residential Schools

I have struggled in writing this next blogpost. I do believe that the work of reconciliation can be inspiring and full of hope, as our last article conveyed.  But I don’t come at this as a neutral outsider. I believe all of us who have benefitted from what Canada has become owns the good as well as the bad. But I also had a direct ancestor who  played a role in expanding and deepening the residential school system. Continue reading

An Individual Act of Reconciliation

As I pursue my explorations through Northern Ontario, I'm trying to come to terms with the harm we have done to our indigenous fellow citizens. There is a sense of remorse in this, but it's mixed with hope that we can do better.  Without hope, there can be no progress. The work of Elizabeth Kingston gives me hope.  She and I share a similar background as Settlers.  We are both grandchildren of Anglican bishops, we've both lived much of our adult lives in Ottawa and both had careers in international  affairs. But unlike me, Elizabeth has already started down the path to reconciliation. This trip allowed me to learn about the path she has embarked upon. From what I can understand, it started with the land.  Continue reading

The Perversion of Chief Shingwaukonse’s Vision

As I drive through the northern stretches of the Great Lakes, I’m discovering chapters of Canadian history that are new to me.  Many of these chapters feature more positive relations between First Nations and Europeans – chapters in which the two appeared to interact with some degree of mutual acceptance and some degree of mutual respect. That clearly ended at some point, to give way to the attempt by one culture to eradicate the other.  But when? Continue reading

Honouring 100 Years of Advocacy of Indigenous Rights in International Affairs

  One hundred years ago today, Chief Deskaheh arrived in Geneva to present the case for international recognition of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.  The League of Nations, founded only two years prior, was based on the principle of the sovereign equality of nations.  The world had embraced the vision of national self-determination celebrated by U.S. President Wilson in his Fourteen Points.   Taking the international community at its word, the Haudenosaunee claimed the right now proclaimed for all nations.  They had existed as a nation for hundreds of years, after all, and had never ceded their sovereignty to the Crown. Continue reading

Travelling to the heart of Anishinaabe land and wisdom

I wrote about one nation that has lived in relationship with the land where I now live, the Haudenosaunee.  Today I am travelling to the heart of a second such nation, the Anishinaabe. And learning about the Prophecy of the Seventh Fire, an origin story we should all come to embrace. All nations have an origin story, rooted in history but performing the function of myth – to communicate that what unites citizens and guides them to collective action. Think of the American nation, forged in a violent struggle for freedom and securing that freedom through a constitution.  Or the Quebec nation, surviving calamity on the Plains of Abraham to emerge as an island of French culture and language in an English sea. To be American is to fight for freedom. To be Québécois is to preserve language and culture. Continue reading

La Terre de Rencontre

    Source: La Mer Bleue - Commission de la Capitale Nationale    Hier j’ai vu des framboises sauvages, les plantes rubus idaeus. C’est mon amie Annie Legault qui les a identifiées lors de notre randonnée autour de la Mer Bleue, une tourbière dans le sud-est d’Ottawa. C’était un matin chaud et humide de juillet et les framboises rouges flottaient au-dessus des herbes hautes, la majorité déjà piquées par les oiseaux. Ottawa est une zone liminale entre deux langues et deux cultures, choisie par l’empire britannique comme capitale d’une colonie bilingue 18 ans après le fusionnement du Bas- et du Haut-Canada. C’est ma ville d’origine. Continue reading

In Gratitude to the Haudenosaunee

This land that I now live on, just above the Don River, has been in relationship with humans for thousands of years. As I build my own relationship with it, I want to know those that have cared for it before. The people belonged to many nations over the millennia.  After all, the Don River is part of a portage route that connected Lake Ontario with Lake Huron. This is the shortest land route between these two Great Lakes and therefore central to the international trade that connected the Atlantic with the interior of the continent. So getting to know the peoples that cared for this land all this time will take me many years. Continue reading

It all starts with the land

No matter where we are in Canada, we are never too far from a place where we can connect with the land.  I live not that far from the centre of Toronto. This morning I took my dog Cinco through a break in the fence two blocks from our home. Twenty metres down all I could see was green, even if the noise above reminded me that six million other Canadians live close at hand. I learned from the Anishnaabe journalist Tanya Talaga that the people of this land consider plants and animals to be All Our Relations. I read her book to learn about the horror of child suicides. But in the process I had a first insight into a worldview that sees all beings as equal in value and in constant interaction with us. In my attempt to connect with the land this morning, I kept my eyes open on the walk, looking for a sign. I found one within minutes. Continue reading