By Bernie Bell
June is Indigenous People’s Month, and June the 21st is Indigenous People’s Day…. https://www.twinkl.ca/event/national-indigenous-peoples-day-2021
As a member of The John Rae Society https://www.johnraesociety.com/ I am aware of the help which the Indigenous Peoples of the far North of Canada gave to John Rae’s expedition – without their help, and without Rae’s expedition welcoming and appreciating that help, John Rae and his men would probably have died, and the whole story would have been very different.
The Society has acquired and been loaned or gifted some artefacts produced by the peoples of the far North of Canada which have previously been displayed on Open Days at the Hall of Clestrain, Orphir.
The uncertainty of these times means that it’s hard to know when Clestrain will be open again and when the public will be able to see these artefacts displayed in the new visitor ‘cabin’ which has been generously loaned to the JRS by Casey Construction – but it will happen – one day!
At the present time, I can’t write of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada without mentioning the children of Kamloops Residential School. The world did know about the scandal of Residential Schools – not this one specifically, but the fact that the children of ‘native’ people were taken from their homes and their families to be taught how to be ‘civilized’ and ‘Christian’, was known.
It happened in Africa too. ‘Of Water and the Spirit‘ by Malidoma Patrice Some, begins with him being taken to a Residential ‘School’ where he is mis-treated – and so, he walks. He starts walking and walks all the way back to his village.
It was a Colonial strategy, all over the world, to destroy the native culture of the place which had been invaded. The young are the people who continue to keep a culture alive – brain-wash the young and you go a long way towards clearing out a culture.
I’m put in mind of the novel ‘Greenvoe’ by George MacKay Brown in which the life of an island is just about obliterated, but some hold on to the old ways – quietly continuing with beliefs and ceremonies, and the idea we are left with is that those ways will survive and re-surface.
The way of life of Indigenous Peoples all over the world does appear to be in danger from modernisation more than colonisation these days, but some hold on to their language, legends, beliefs, forms of art and craft-work.
It hard to see where the world is going. We will have to wait and see, and meanwhile acknowledge the knowledge of others, and their ways of being, which could, possibly, help us all.
Often, colonists would not have survived without the help of the local population. John Rae and his men were Explorers rather than Colonisers, but found themselves to be equally reliant on native local knowledge – and kindness – which they accepted, and honoured.
When I saw the headline about the Kamloops children, I didn’t want to read further as I had a good idea of how I would feel about it. Then I told myself that I shouldn’t hide from the darker side of human behaviour, so I read……and I felt, much as I thought I would feel. And I sat and thought of those children, and all children all over the world who have been, and are being, mis-treated, abused – and killed. I was thinking of them, and trying to send them some kind of love, as one person to another, and as a grown-up to a child, as it should have been when they were alive.
We are of one blood – one race should not mistreat another race, they should help them, as fellow beings. The people who helped the John Rae expedition knew this, and practiced what they knew to be so.
In Indigenous People’s Month, and on Indigenous People’s Day, I honour them, honour their knowledge, their kindness – and their varied cultures.