Redefining the Relationship
What you are reading is unfinished. This guide is intended to be a living document. Just as human relationships are dynamic, so too is this document meant to grow and change. Change is holistic. When we change the way we think about things, these changes are reflected in our minds, bodies, spirits, and the ways that we relate to one another. Change is not easy, but it is necessary to look at history with fresh eyes to understand that colonization has and continues to affect us all. To be clear, there is a distinction between decolonization and Indigenization that may be new to people beginning to learn about the truth of Canada’s history. Indigenization is an important step, but this step must be approached with the full participation of Indigenous peoples: “Nothing about us without us.” Decolonization, on the other hand, is something we can all do. We can all identify the ways in which our thinking has been colonized and how we can learn in new ways.
Doing the work that is necessary to decolonize our thinking will benefit everyone, but it works best when we challenge ourselves on many levels. Decolonization isn’t just a box to tick on a form to say we’ve done it. It is emotional, experiential, and sometimes uncomfortable. We must re-examine history to uncover what Indigenous Peoples have long understood: Colonization has resulted in the denial of fundamental human rights for Indigenous Peoples living in Canada. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), adopted internationally in 2007, wasn’t signed by Canada until 2016, having originally voted against it. To date, Canada has not enacted legislation that would implement UNDRIP in this country.
Before contact, Indigenous Peoples were living and thriving on what many refer to as “North America” in complex societies with their own distinct governing traditions, cultures, languages, and ways of knowing. The Original People still exist and live all over Canada, from their traditional territories to urban centres. Indigenous Peoples have made, and continue to make, enormous contributions to Canadian society—politically, economically, and culturally. Sadly, too many Canadians are unaware of these contributions, and this lack of awareness is a barrier to improving relationships between all Canadians, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous.
The relationship between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people has not been an easy one, as you will learn throughout this guide, but it is vital that this relationship continue to improve. The strength of a good relationship is that everyone understands and knows the truth about past and contemporary realities. This is especially important in regard to Indigenous Peoples. By learning the truth about the past, confronting it, and acknowledging its consequences, we can move toward an inclusive future.
- This guide will introduce you to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and to the historical relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.
- You will learn about the past and the contemporary realities of Indigenous Peoples. This is an often misunderstood history, but we believe that it is only through an understanding of the past that we can create a better future.
- Whether you are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, we hope this guide and the accompanying links, videos, and activities will increase your understanding of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Turtle Island Creation Story
Long ago Kitchi-Manitou, the Great Mystery, decided to purify the Earth by sending a great flood, a mush-ko’-be-wun’. The Original People had become argumentative and were not showing respect for one another or their earthly relatives. The only one to survive the great flood was Nanaboozhoo, who held the oral traditions of the Anishinabe, and some of the animals. They survived by floating on a log, but there was no other land to occupy. One by one the animals tried to bring up some earth from the depths of the water, but it was too deep and they could not make it without becoming weak or out of breath. Finally the muskrat took a turn, but he was gone for a very long time. The others believed he had perished. When muskrat finally surfaced it was clear that he had died, but in his paw he clutched a ball of Earth. The others gave thanks for muskrat’s brave sacrifice. Turtle offered to carry the Earth on his back. Nanaboozhoo spread the Earth on turtle’s back. The wind arose from the Four Directions and spread the Earth into a large circle so that the People could begin life again on Earth. To this day, the contributions of muskrat and turtle hold special significance to many Indigenous peoples.
Let’s imagine a society, maybe Canada; we’ll call it “northern Turtle Island.” Imagine when people came off the airplane they were met by Indigenous people, not a customs person. When we look at traditional ways of entering up here on the coast, there was a whole protocol of ceremony and approach. What is your intent in coming? Are you coming for war? Are you coming for peace? If the newly arrived say, “I’m coming here for my family. My family is struggling, we need to help make money for them,” Indigenous people would welcome them. They’d help them get a job and help them get what they need. They would teach them about the real name of this continent, Turtle Island, and about the territory they’ve entered.
– Curtis Clearsky, Blackfoot and Anishinaabe First Nations, Our Roots: Stories from Grandview Woodland, Vancouver Dialogues, 2012.
Find a creation story from a different First Nation, Inuit, or Métis tradition. How is it the same as the one presented here? How is it different?
- Ojibway Story of Creation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX4GJTtSigY)