Sunday, January 30, 2011

First Canadians

I'm not sure whether the title is in irony or not, and I am even less sure if it is in bad taste. I have been interested for a while in participating in some volunteering with community organizations (e.g. In particular I would like to do some work with Native American communities. However there is a certain amount of reticence on my part; I feel justifiable complicit as some sort of neo-imperialist, not to mention condescending and arrogant to think that I am somehow different that all those other bleeding hearts who wish to help but more so as a facet of their vanity. I mean my Grandmother was a nurse in a residential school. You can’t inherit more guilt than that; of course you could…

So instead I have begun to research which Native American groups in particular whose lands I have lived on. My intention being to provide some sort of absolution or catharsis. This is as far as I got:

In Calgary I most definitely lived on land belonging to the Tsu T’ina (Sarcee) first nations, one of the tribes making up the Blackfoot Confederacy. In fact my house was about a km from one of the poorest parts of the reserve.

At my cabin north of Calgary I most likely lived on lands belonging to plains cree peoples. The closest reserve is the Sunchild Reserve and the O’Chiese Reserve. The O’Chiese first nations are a Nakawe (Saulteaux) people.

Near Abraham lake, where I have done most of my backpacking, the lands belong to the Nakoda (Stoney) people. The closest reserve is the Big Horn reserve, which includes Bearspaw, Chiniki, Stoney and Wesley first nations.

In Vancouver I lived on land belonging to either the Swxwú7mesh (Squamish) first nations, Musqueam first nations or the Tsleil-Waututh (Burrard) first nations; all members of the larger Coast Salish ethnographic designation.

In Montreal am living on land belonging to St. Lawrence Iroquoians, who were displaced by the time Samuel De Champlain arrived in 1608. First contact was made by Cartier 75 years earlier.

The process of this research was not as simple as I had expected, which in fact motivated this essay. The lack of information available on Wikipedia, or some searchable databases mapping locality to first nations group galled me. It seemed that Canadians have de-emphasize the importance of our colonial past. I think every Wikipedia page for each Canadian city needs a section giving historical accounts of the first nations that lived on the land before the area was settled by Europeans. I guess this is my new Wikipedia project.
This is an issue for myself simply because I believe a society or individuals seeking further equality for everyone is always best to look towards the most ill fortuned. I know this there is some quotable axiom about this, but I couldn’t put my finger on its exact provenance, so it will have to remain poorly stated. As well I have seen the prominent role aboriginals have played in South American politics (is this true? I don’t want to be creating too much of my own truth), and the positive (egalitarian) outcomes that have been produced there.
I understand the concept of solidarity not pity, but I can’t figure out how to reconcile this with 1) my distaste for the marginalized nature of first nations in Canada, and 2) my belief that more empowered first nation communities would have a positive effect on the totality of Canadian politics and society. I feel like no thought I can have regarding first nations in Canada can come without condescension and that nothing I write can come out without terribly patronizing connotations.

But as well it is not like first nations haven't tried to gain more autonomy in Canada ( but as often is the case no one listens.


Although historians and other scholars have been studying the St. Lawrence Iroquoians for some time, such knowledge has been slower to be part of common historical understanding. The hypothesis about the St. Lawrence Iroquoians helps explain apparent contradictions in the historical record about French encounters with natives in this area.
The origins of the word canada, from which the nation derived its name, offers an example of the changes in historical understanding required by new evidence. By canada, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians of Stadacona meant "village" in their language. Cartier wrote, "[I]lz (sic) appellent une ville Canada (they call a village 'Canada')". Cartier applied the word to both the region near Stadacona and the St. Lawrence River that flows nearby.[citation needed]
Both the Canadian Encylcopedia (1985) and various publications of the Government of Canada, such as "The Origin of the Name Canada" published by the Department of Canadian Heritage, suggest instead the former theory that the word "Canada" stems from a Huron-Iroquois word, kanata. It also meant "village" or settlement.
Historians now know that Cartier could not have encountered either the Iroquois or Huron, as neither group lived in the St. Lawrence valley in the 16th century. The account of Canada's name origin reflects theories first advanced in the 18th and 19th centuries. General texts have not kept up with the discrediting of such earlier theories by the linguistic comparative studies of the later 20th century. For instance, the "Huron-Iroquois theory" of word origin appeared in the article on “Canada” in the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1996.