Thursday, August 16, 2012

Canada's ugly secret and their annual celebrations

Shiloh along with all the other yachts in Grenada, have survived a few hurricane scares, as the storms dissipated or swung north.
Meanwhile I have been learning some shocking realities about the country of my birth.
Canada enjoys a great reputation in the world. Canadians are seen as friendly, non-aggressive, neutral. We encourage immigration from around the world and offer free education and healthcare. No one delves deeper. No one wants to know about the disease that plagues her. No one looks at the open wounds she carries. The ugly legacy of the Indian treaties and the modern day aboriginal dilemma.
But one only needs to drive outside the suburban numbness of southern Ontario. Something I never did when I lived here. Something most people don’t take the time to do.
It’s uncomfortable because there is no easy answer. Blame is useless. Children suffer.
Indian/Aboriginal Reserves are everywhere, dotted across the countryside. They have their own tribal councils and are exempt from many of the laws of Canada. They are a legacy of colonialism and they are not working. Poverty is rife. Education and healthcare is non-existent. Drug abuse is rampant. Child abuse and sexual assault statistics are disproportionately high.

Our native population has not fit into the puzzle of society. Residential schools took the children from their families and prevented the learning of traditional languages. Land was taken and treaties were signed. Today the people are looking for their land and welfare and a way to remember their history. They are dealing with alcoholism, poverty, depression. Casinos are not the answer, tax free cigarettes or ‘smokes’ are also not helping. The government and the chiefs have let their people down. The government looks at overcompensation in the wrong way, and the chiefs take the financial reparations and hoard it. Nothing trickles down to the reserves.
But there is one tradition that persists in native communities across the country. The Powwow.
These alcohol-free events are annual celebrations in aboriginal communities that follow a general structure, with the focus on dance and costume as well as traditional music, speaking of native languages (though only spoken by less than 25% of aboriginal people). There are spiritual speeches and prayers and gathering around a fire. And of course there is food and lemonade and vendors of t-shirts and dream catchers and miscellany.
And when we pass the many First Nation signs on the road all through Ontario, my curiousity is always peeked. Visiting a powwow is a way to see the people at their best and learn a bit about a lost culture and every time I visit now, I make sure a powwow is on our list.
This year, after the family reunion, and the sad stories around Fort Frances about the land that is being reclaimed by native communities and then falling into disrepair, it was time for some positives.
We headed to Serpent River and their annual event.
Welcome sign written in Ojibway and English
Many were camping, some in traditional teepees
Some of the costumes and dancers
A community elder who spoke at length in Ojibway and English about the importance of women
One of the leaders of the traditional bands, deep in song
This was the 'shrine' of a medicine man who danced in a trance around the centre
Among the spectators - an adorable little boy
And another...
When we saw this vendor first, I wondered what such a name meant, what it's significance was. I thought it might be a south American name. But then it dawned on me, as I saw many cool young guys in these hoodies. It was the youth, embracing their community and making it their own. It stood for 'on - the - reserve' or On da rez!!! Gotta love it!

I learned alot that day. Firstly, that Indian/Native/Aboriginal doesn't have one face. Doesn't mean only one thing. There are positives. There is a ray of hope. But things as they are, do not work. The pow wows are thriving in spite of every other aspect of their lives and the way the treaties are being dealt with. Should the reserves be abolished? If not, how will they assimilate and prosper in Canada as a whole? How can we/they improve healthcare and education? The faces of the kids got to me. They are caught up in the mess that carries on between our government and their leaders. It needs to change.Just can't think how.

JW was amazed and appalled at the secret Apartheid Canada harbours. He was shocked that the local and global media does not highlight the problems. How is Canada able to live with the problems we've created? Meanwhile the doors are open to thousands of others from around the world who come here for a better life and opportunities to prosper. Yet the very people who settled this land so many centuries ago, we cannot figure out how to ensure this future for them.


  1. I had no idea, thanks for posting this.

  2. I appreciate your words in this post, but did you get permission from those in your photos to post them? We must always keep in mind that when we post photos of other people on the internet without their permission, we are making the decision for them as to whether any person with internet access can use their photo in any way they please.