Taking a Moment …

As a settler and uninvited guest wherever I walk in this country, I recognize that many people will be sporting Orange Shirts tomorrow. This action, like the (now ubiquitous) Land Acknowledgment, risks becoming a perforative gesture that assuages guilt temporarily, or (as bad or worse) is seen simply as ‘proper’ to do.

My choice is to step back, shut up, and make room – on September 30th, of all days. Yes I will wear an orange shirt; as a mother and grandmother, I can think of nothing more traumatic or horrendous than to lose a child. As a human being, I feel deeply my responsibility to learn and understand, so that I may better assist in appropriate ways to make things better where I can. As a settler, I cannot make a move to claim innocence, when I live within and benefit from the ongoing harms the Settler-Colonial systems in play in this country are still operating.

I am a deeply imperfect work in progress, trying to find the best way to live better in relation. One day at a time.

I leave the following here, as I feel Paulette Regan expressed my thoughts better than I ever could:

For me, Canada’s apology [11 June 2008, then-Prime Minister Harper] was a call for settlers to take seriously our collective moral responsibility for the systematic removal and institutionalization of Native children, some of whom were abused and most of whom were deprived oftheir family life, languages, and cultures. Although the debilitating impactsof sexual, physical, and psychological abuse upon children are self-evident, and Canadians condemn such practices, the problematic assimilation policy that gave rise to such abuses is less understood by the Canadian public. To those who argue that they are not responsible, because they were not directly involved with the residential schools, I say that, as Canadian citizens, we are ultimately responsible for the past and present actions of our government. To those who say that we cannot change the past, I say that we can learn from it. We can better understand how a problematic mentality of benevolent paternalism became a rationale and justification for acquiring Indigenous lands and resources, and drove the creation of prescriptive education policies that ran counter to the treaty relationship. Equally importantly, we can explore how this mentality continues to influence Indigenous-settler relations today. Failing to do so will ensure that, despite our vow of never again, Canada will create equally destructive policies and practices into the future. To those who argue that former IRS students should just get over it and move on, I say that asking victims to bury a traumatic past for the “greater good” of achieving reconciliation does not address the root of the problem –colonialism.

Paulette Regan, Unsettling the Settler Within, p.4

2 thoughts on “Taking a Moment …

  1. Hello Anna, thank you so very much for your thoughtful response. I guess my thinking in terms of my place in all of this, at this moment in my learning, is that I ‘belong’ here by virtue of privilege. SO really, I don’t. Yes I was born in this geopolitical construct – but my father’s family homesteaded west of amiskwaciywaskihekan, so my blood is truly (half) Settler, and I have benefited from that all my life, however unwittingly. Ignorance is not an excuse, as we both know.
    As I continue this learning, I hope that I can take my understanding and do more, through being in community in a good way; to act in the world can take us beyond words/labels/limits. That is my hope at least.
    I am absolutely in a Treaty relationship – and am just beginning to understand the many dimensions of what that means, including that (in my view) don’t hold the right to claim land as “mine” that actually is Indigenous traditional territory. Just now, I am in Mik’maki, which is unceded, though there is Treaty; it causes me to reflect more on the idea of ‘ownership’ and land as a commodity under Settler-Colonialism.
    I see your point about language too – and of course I speak only for myself, in this moment. For me, the idea of being an uninvited guest at this point means I am in a position to do better over time; at least I have begun unlearning/relearning the harm of assuming a right to belong within the present system.
    Thank you for your time and thoughts, and for your willingness to think through this with me. As always, your gifts as an artist and a human shine.

  2. Hi Sydney. I appreciate and respect your work to engage with our shared history and live respectfully. I am sorry though, that you feel you are an uninvited guest wherever you go. My ancestors of the Eastern Door made the first treaties of Peace and Friendship, regarding the allocation of land for cod houses for visiting fishermen. As I understand those and other treaties, they stand as an invitation to share the land, and they set down terms for living together in co-creative relationship with all the beings of the land.
    I realize I don’t have the right or responsibility to decide how you feel about being a descendant of settlers. I just want to say, as your longtime friend and colleague, it grieves me when people describe themselves as uninvited guests. Says who? By what right? And to what good purpose?
    Maybe I just don’t know enough about your personal life history. Maybe I hold a faulty understanding of things. Maybe both of these are true. But isn’t it also true that, if you are born in Canada, you are born into a Treaty relationship, just as you are born a citizen? And as a treaty citizen, don’t you hold the same rights and responsibilities as all parties to that treaty?( The obvious exception to that being that you don’t hold the right to reside upon land reserved to First Nations for our sole use under traditional ownership terms, as opposed to the rights of private property pertaining elsewhere? )
    I don’t know. I’m not a treaty scholar. I’m just a person bothered by language that seems aimed at exclusion, disenfranchisement and disincentive to engage.
    I’m staying home on orange shirt day, too, by the way. Working on related matters, yes, but not publicly at this moment.
    Thanks for your continued engagement in discussing our society, our issues, and the role of artists and culture workers in moving things in a good direction. Thanks for your work, as an artist, as a mother, and as a soul here.

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