What is reconciliation? Face in the mirror

The picture had not changed. It was folly to think so. Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel smile. Its bright hair gleamed in the early sunlight. Its blue eyes met his own. A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the painted image of himself, came over him. It had altered already, and would alter more. Its gold would wither into grey. Its red and white roses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain would fleck and wreck its fairness.

-A Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Reconciliation is an aside, a notion that will fall away and cease to matter once (or if ever) our ignorance falls away–if the scales fall from our eyes and our ears and our hearts open up, our hearts becoming bigger, capable of more compassion, able to hold more love. If we peel away the scabs that have grown over the wound at the heart of this place, Canada. Every time the wound bleeds, we treat it just enough so it closes over again and we can forget about it. Get on with business as usual. Look to the future; increase our wealth and influence in the world. Oftentimes, we are completely unaware of the pain and disfigurement just below the surface and we act out in anger and fear, not knowing the source–the weeping sore beneath our skin. The same as not knowing your history–if you don’t know it, you are doomed to repeat it.

And for the most part, we don’t know our history and so we repeat and repeat the same mistakes, get the same results but never learn from them. Sometimes we step out of the pattern of imposing our will on Indigenous nations and enter into true two-way relationships. We implement, together, agreements that are more bilateral and both parties come away better off.

So it’s a mixed thing. Some of us Canadians are learning the history and seeing Canada differently–questioning its existence as it is today. We repudiate the pernicious ideas at the heart of our colonial history–that only Europeans were fully human and everyone else that we “discovered” was less than human. One of the earliest doctrines to articulate this idea is the Doctrine of Discovery 1, through which European explorers and colonists gave themselves permission to take all the land and wealth everywhere they went.

And so what, 500 years later, do we inherit from this foundation? What does it do to us as a people and as individuals, to live in a society made possible by treating the people who preceded us as less than human? The legacy of this doctrine is, among other things, the reserve system, the crisis in child welfare, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, multi-generational trauma caused by residential schools, including loss of identity leading to alcohol and drug abuse and homelessness. And for us settlers, bewilderment, fear, anger and defensiveness at worst and at best a growing feeling that we are running out of time to save ourselves, whatever we may be–Canadians, inhabitants of Turtle island, misplaced immigrants. An urgency to save ourselves from growing environmental disaster and collapse, from living in a world solely ruled by institutions almost exclusively devote to turning profits any way they can.

A truly depressing picture of Canada, the west and even the world. But I would not have written this exploration of our relationship if I had no hope. And I have a lot of hope, although it is mostly about how things are going on the individual and interpersonal level. As individuals, Indigenous people from all nations are speaking out and transforming their own lives and their family’s and sometimes their communities’ lives–pushing back against ignorance and fear. And many settlers are learning about our shared history and understanding better why we need to change our relationship with each other, in order to change the trajectory of our society as a whole. And I have hope that the Canadian government has committed to implementing the UNDRIP and repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery by removing its influence from our laws and policies. Just the fact that these are even on the table. Although some of what we end up with will be inadequate and watered down. And maybe we’ve heard all this before.

Progress is slow and unfolds along a twisting, difficult-to-discern path. But at least we are on the path. We are catching a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror of truth and seeing the ugly parts. But at least we are seeing them. And starting to make room for the part of the story that we have always wanted to forget. But the story told in its entirety, is breathtaking in beauty, courage and hope. By opening ourselves to our painful history, we begin to recuperate the joy and wholeness we’ve been seeking all along; begin to finally become a country and a people.

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s word is wakatshenón:ni, which means “I am happy.” My cousin Mike asked me to do a post on the Mohawk word for happiness, so I did some research, and learned that although there isn’t specifically a word for “happiness,” Mohawk/Haudenosaunee culture has a powerful tradition that supports people in leading good and happy lives.

I thought it would be nice to talk about the concept of happiness in Mohawk culture, but I didn’t manage to get any answers from the people I contacted about it. Perhaps I would have had more luck in person than over email.

In any case, I did some reading, both online and in book form. One of the books I read recently was The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was co-written by psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler. The discussion of happiness in this book includes some reflection on the root of the concept of happiness in western culture:

The concept of achieving true happiness has, in the West, always seemed ill defined, elusive, ungraspable. Even the word “happy” is derived from the Icelandic word happ, meaning luck or chance. Most of us, it seems, share this view of the mysterious nature of happiness. In those moments of joy that life brings, happiness feels like something that comes out of the blue.”

Robertson Davies may have summed up the western idea of happiness best: “Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.”

Rather than simply “getting on with it,” from the point of view of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, happiness is the inevitable outcome of training the mind and of cultivating those things that promote happiness, while eliminating those that cause trouble, strife and unhappiness.

So simple! This is a new perspective to me, since I had always seen happiness as being the result of chance or luck, and not something that you could actually bring about intentionally. Living a good life seems like an attainable goal, since you can choose how you behave and treat others, at least to some extent. But I can’t choose how I feel, can I? I can’t will myself to be happy.

I guess the Tibetan tradition offers a path leading to happiness. I can walk along this path, growing a bit wiser and more peaceful with each passing day.

In my readings, I learned about the three principles that guide Haudenosaunee life: skennen (peace) kasatstensera (strength or power) and kanikonriio (good mind). This principles are the foundation of a good, happy life:

The Peacemaker brought three principles of peace. The first principle is that peace comes inside of us as an individual. And if we accept that peace within us, then we become a human being that loves themselves, and is confident about themselves. That’s the first principle, to maintain the peace within. The second principle arrives when the peace is put to work, and how that peace emits from the human individual, and how it will affect the other people around them. Because that’s what happens when you come next to a peaceful person. it kind of rubs off on you. And you will say to yourself, ‘Gee, I want to be that way too.’

So the Peacemaker had a very brilliant way of doing it. There were five warring nations that were murdering one another, and in the end they were able to come together and accept the three principles. And that’s how they obtained the power of a good mind, which is the third principle. And the power of a good mind was experienced this morning when we did the opening and we said, ‘Let us put our minds together,’ and we created a great power. That special spirit came among us to give us the strength to carry on our day and whatever we are going to be accomplishing today, that whatever comes to us will be beneficial to our future generations.

Jake Swamp, Kanikonriio, Power of a Good Mind

Kanikonriio, good mind, is having a clear, reasonable and gentle mind, that cares for all those around you and emerges from inner peace. A good mind is a mind that is compassionate.

This is similar to the Buddhist view, in which happiness is arrived at when we connect with our fundamental human nature – a nature that is essentially compassionate and gentle. Those who are happy are more concerned with the well-being of others; they are more generous and more kind.

So if you strive to be happy, do you try to exemplify kanikonriio (good mind)? Do you cultivate this good mind by developing skennen (peace) within, until it is felt by all those around you as kasatstensera (strength)? And then, perhaps we will we bring our minds together, and become a single good mind, with good and powerful goals.

In case you would like to express your happiness, here is the full conjugation of the verb to be happy:

wakatshenón:ni=I am happy
satshennon:ni = you are happy

rotshennon:ni = he is happy
iakotshennon:ni = she is happy
iotshennon:ni = she/it is happy (neutral)
ionkwatshennon:ni = we are happy
sewatshennon:ni = you are happy (plural)
ronatshennon:ni = they are happy (masculine, plural)
ionatshennon:ni = they are happy (feminine, plural)
ionatshennon:ni = they are happy (neutral, plural)

Mohawk/ Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s word is “rain” – iokennó:ron.

I picked this word because it is going to rain and rain for most of the upcoming week, and we are all in need of some spring green and flowers after the long winter. Also, my workmate Carmen, who plans on raising some kitkit (chickens), might like some rain to grow grass and encourage bugs and worms for his kitkit to eat. 

Kitkit was last week’s word of the week. 

At least we can be grateful it’s not raining chickens.