I was listening to the radio yesterday and they played a bit of an 83 year old black woman’s speech responding to an honour her late sister received.
In this speech she referenced the fact that her grandfather had been a slave in the United States and that so much has changed in the space of one lifetime.
The more I thought about that the more staggered I was by the reality that just two generations before this living Canadian – her grandfather was literally owned by someone. Literally someone’s property. A slave.
I cannot comprehend this. I cannot for the life of me understand this idea that a mere two generations before this woman’s life, a woman who is alive right now and breathing as I breath, her relatives were owned; owned by people of European descent…people like me.
How must a group of people, a culture, be impacted by being owned as slaves, generation after generation after generation after generation? What does hundreds of years of being slaves do to a people? How long does it take for a culture to heal from something so insanely and unspeakably horrible?
It is not as if black Americans listened to Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1 1863 and then went out and bought a house and got a great job and sent their kids to school and then on to university.
Hundreds of years of one group of people owning another is not eradicated overnight. It is not eradicated in a year or a hundred years or even the 150 years since the end of the American civil war…it takes lifetimes.
There are ignorant people who would say that the circumstance of man y black American’s is their own fault since “they have the same opportunities as anyone else now” and of course this is completely false and smacks of gracelessness and a deep lack of understanding of history and human nature.
In Canada we have our own share of brutality to overcome.
I live in a community in southern Manitoba on Treaty 1 territory and traditional land of the Metis Nation. We sometimes acknowledge this at gatherings but what good is acknowledgement really. It is a polite way of saying “I would like to acknowledge that this is land that my ancestors took from your ancestors – thanks man”.
Many would say – “what can I do? Should I be held accountable for the sins of my forefathers?” Many others would simply say – “too bad…that’s the way the cookie crumbled…my ancestors beat your ancestors less than two hundred years ago – get over it.”
But how does a semi-nomadic culture that used to roam vast regions of Canada following seasons and herds get over being rounded up and stuck on some God-forsaken lump of rock in northern Labrador get over such a thing.
How does a free people, married to the land, get over being transported to an isolated island in the middle of nowhere get over it? I guess they have as much ability to get over it as a polar bear who is stuck in a 500 sq. meter cage does after losing its tradition range of hundreds of kilometres.
How does a people get over having their children stolen and put into residential schools where they are subjected to cultural cleansing, physical and sexual abuse, just “get over it”?
How do people get over hundreds of years of colonial abuse?
Someone once said to me – “hey – Mennonites had it just as bad. They were repeatedly kicked off their land and subjected to terrible abuses by tyrants for generations and they just picked themselves up by the bootstraps and got over it. They worked hard and are awesome contributing people. First Nations should just work hard.”
However Mennonites were welcomed into Canada. Mennonites came and settled into the country creating communities. White Europeans moving into a white European-based country where they could pursue a way of life they had developed over the centuries as farmers and tradespeople.
How do First Nations people rally to re-capture their original way of life now in a country like Canada? Should they simply give up on the old ways and become Mennonite farmers?
These days most people’s solutions boil down to a simple perspective – “First Nations people should acknowledge “they lost” and adopt Canadian (read white European) culture – than they can be successful just like us”.
Yep – it’s that easy.
So Canada has some pretty significant issues rooted in racism, ignorance and intolerance. We have just as long a way to go in race relations as our American neighbours do…perhaps more.