What is reconciliation? The chasm

For such a long time, Canadians and our government have been doing the same things over and over. By now, the patterns we repeat seem like our only choices, and our way of life the best one possible: we are one of the wealthiest nations, perceived as peacemakers, the envy of the world – perceived as being so nice and polite, especially when we travel overseas. Yet consider how we arrived where we are. We made this way of life by refusing to share the land. We signed treaties with our predecessors, and then we broke them, or misunderstood on purpose the agreements we signed. We also took a great deal of land without offering even the promise of compensation – much of this is now called “Crown land.” This land makes up most of Canada and is considered to be “un-ceded traditional lands” by those who lived here first.

In any case, we created and maintain our way of life by keeping almost all the land for ourselves. We parcel this land into lots for houses, roads and industry. We declared vast regions to be Crown land, where we have clear-cut, mined and drilled for oil. What little is left over we turned into national parks, where we manage the wildlife – counting the species of fish, birds and other animals. In parks, we dictate to visitors where they may walk or swim or pitch a tent. [But even today if you go far enough into the wilderness of these parks, you will be too far from human contact to be governed. And then, you travel at your own risk, among bears and other predators, across cold, deep lakes that no one has measured. There, you are far from Canadian “civilization” and also far from help.] After all of this, whatever is left over is for Indigenous peoples. They make up roughly 5% of the population but only 0.2% of Canada’s land base is allotted for reserves.  (https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100034846/1100100034847)

And so we hear the voices demanding the Canadian government acknowledge that most of the land is un-ceded Indigenous territory. Places with histories and lifeways that have existed for as long as anyone can remember. Lands and waterways that defy our management and cannot be accounted for by our science and technologies. We try to dismiss these voices by discrediting them – these other nations in our borders. We continue to build our houses in disputed territories, in places such as Kanehsatà:ke and on the Haldimand land tract at Six Nations, Ontario.

In the past, we hid the evidence of how we tried to wipe out the old cultures. Or if the truth comes out, we blame our behaviour on the ignorance of the times – we did not know better than to separate children from their parents; we thought starving and beating them would make them more like us. Our ancestors lived in a harder, crueller world. We had not yet achieved our current state of peacefulness and kindness – we were not yet fully Canadian. Nowadays, we sometimes allow the old songs and stories of this place to be told, but often we still try to orchestrate them. We want everyone to know how kind and accepting we are, and how it is much better for these people who want our land to settle their differences our way, under the power of the Crown and through our justice system that tips most often in our favour.

As we repeat the same mistakes, we create a dystopia. The lakes and rivers, mountains and forests become places where we are lost and drown. Our maps blow away on the wind, swept out of our hands into the wild. Animals turn from us, and predators attack. This is the chasm between us. It’s spreading: the place full of thorns and dead ground.

But still, we repeat broken stories of how we triumphed; how it was all for the best, while we stand on the ground of other nations. We think, how ridiculous: Indians having countries. The Indians who could have ruled countries are long dead and gone. There are no real Indians anymore.

We think this place could never seep in and grow through us, green and alive. It could never be so vast. Starlight doesn’t sing in valleys and light up the highest leaves or turn deep green pine needles to shades of blue. If we dream in our beds of open rooms where a starry sky appears each night, then it is only dreaming. If we wake from sleep and sit by the window to smell wet earth and the perfume of summer flowers. If we hear someone else singing in a soft voice from their yard. If we see the golden square of another window lighting up. Hear the coyote breathing as he searches through our garbage. We are not the only ones awake. If we could know these things. If we wake from dreaming; if we could know what would be.