“it is understood that we are at liberty”

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an Anishinaabe basket, a calcite ps ikaite rock from Ellesmere Island

The day after the day after Canada Day (or Dominion Day as it was called during my childhood). Ours was quiet. We walked up along the Malaspina trail where the northern flickers (ours are red-shafted) rose  as we approached, reminding me of the wonderful play we saw in May. When their wings are spread, you can imagine them in firelight or starlight; you can see how their movements inspired the Dancers of Damelahamid. They fly from the meadow to the fringe of trees where the deep woods begin, from light to shadow. Everywhere up the mountain, the berries are ripening — trailing bramble, huckleberries, black-caps, salmonberries — and the ground is strewn with bear scats, reminding us that others walk the same trails. At one point I could smell elk — grassy and pungent, like horses.

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, I’ve been reading as much as I can about what the success of the leave vote means to Europe and to the rest of the the world. We often go to England. John is Yorkshire-born — his family came to Canada when he was five years old — and we both did our first degrees in English Literature. I know that this doesn’t mean what it once did,  and that the canon has expanded, as it should have decades before it did, and that universities protected a certain kind of perspective for too long. But that doesn’t mean that the perspective, the literature, the matrix of that culture, is negligible. Not at all. Everything has had to adjust to the understanding that many stories, histories, narratives of time and place need to be known, heard, nourished, and most certainly taught in a formal and informal way. Our museums need to expand. Our critical vocabularies — for visual art, for music, for story-telling of all sorts — need to grow. Our media outlets need to develop ways for all the stories to find new ways to tell themselves to us — and to each other. All the words we hear now — reconciliation, redress, apology: yes, yes; of course. But they don’t replace what we’ve heard for decades. They provide context and a lexicon for understanding. And it works both ways. If voices have been silent or silenced, let’s hear them now. But I want to hear them all. I want Shakespeare and the dream tales of the Dane-zaa. I want Mozart and Tanya Tagaq.

And I want to know the older histories and prehistories too with their own astonishing stories. It’s part of where we are and who we are and how we came to be here. My family roots in Canadian soil stretch back only a hundred years. But this is my home and I love every inch of it. I’m proud to stand on Wellington Street by the Houses of Parliament and remember the dates and names we were taught in school. There was a lot missing and I want to know that too, like the history that took place on the islands in the river below the buildings. And who paddled the canoes on that river, what they carried, where they came from, where they were going. And if the noisy ones among us can be quiet for a bit and listen, we can find out some of that other story. But it’s not other, not really. It’s original and important. That we ignored and tricked and silenced and cheated our way — or at least the we who were those who preceded us — into this country is not something to take pride in. But there was also courage and resilience. Samuel Champlain on the Big River. Alex MacKenzie from Canada by land July 22 1793. On that journey to Bella Coola, Alexander MacKenzie also recorded a vocabulary of the Carrier language, collected at what is now Alexandria on the Fraser River; his list included dekin (wood), lah (hand), yezey (elk), igan (arrow), and coun (fire). A practical guide to the country.

I’m reading the text of the Fort Victoria and other Vancouver Island Treaties, 1850-1854 right now; it should be required reading for residents of the Island, and elsewhere.

The condition of the or understanding of this sale is this, that our village sites and enclosed fields are to be kept for our own use, for the use of our children, and for those who may follow after us; and the land shall be properly surveyed hereafter. It is understood, however, that the land itself, with these small exceptions, becomes the entire property of the white people forever; it is understood that we are at liberty to hunt over the unoccupied lands, and to carry on our fisheries as formerly.

We have received, as payment, Twenty-seven pounds ten shillings sterling.

Our family is, well, a Canadian family. We have a rich mixture of heritage. In my generation: Czech, the province of Bukovina, Polish, and although my mother was given up at birth, she knew her parents’ names: MacDonald and McDougal and these surely suggest Scottish. In John’s: English and Scottish. Our children’s partners bring Irish, English, French and Franco-Ontarian and Anishinaabe. There are dark-haired people at our table, blonds, red-heads, light brown; there are blue eyes and dark brown and hazel and grey. (My father’s eyes were green.) Long-legged, sturdy, small noses and large. There are scientists and poets, historians and classicists, and I hope there will be musicians and botanists one day too. And those who love gardens, maps, the sound of water, birdsong, who know where the deer lie down, when the fish return each autumn, how to read the stars, follow a game trail, know how to replicate the inks used to embellish the Book of Kells, and any number of other essential skills.

I tried to think my way through all of this on Canada Day and found it was better to just take in the weather, the sound of fireworks down on the lakes (the summer people bring their noise!), to hope that my pleasure in the world doesn’t mean someone else’s sorrow, and that we all find a way to live on the earth without destroying it.

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~ by theresakishkan on July 3, 2016.

2 Responses to ““it is understood that we are at liberty””

  1. Very thoughtful post Theresa. One of the beauties of Canada is the diversity of our heritage. I hope we never lose sight of that.

  2. Yes, I hope so too. It’s strange to read the Douglas Treaty stuff, though, and realize that the land I grew up on — I see the old names, Christmas Hill, Mount Douglas, Clover Point — was bought for a handful of silver, a hundred blankets, a list of materials, tobacco among them. And yet, and yet. I loved it all so passionately – the gnarled Garry oaks, the blue camas, the springbank clover. Who belongs to what? And how does the heart value its memories, knowing how they came to be located in places acquired in such questionable ways.

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