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.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Home and Away - the road trip and the tropical storm

I’m sitting in a trailer in Northern Ontario. Wood paneling on the walls, aluminum siding surrounds us. Beyond that, countless miles of pine trees and small lakes and rivers are broken only by ATV trails and the one highway that connects the massive province of Ontario. It’s a sunny morning in the wilderness.

It's beautiful and the air smells so fresh I can't breathe enough in. Here it's so removed from the hustle bustle of the city and the cookie-cutter developments of suburbia. This is the Canada everyone should experience.
We’re ready to make the last leg of our 1800km road trip from Toronto to Fort Frances, a paper mill town where my mother was raised.
But as we look forward to the welcoming scent of sulphur, and meeting extended unknown family members and many who’ve changed immensely since I last saw them at 12 years old, we have something much more daunting on our minds.
Back at ‘home’, in a little bay, at 12 degrees north, Grenada, Shiloh laps up and down on the waves, awaiting the potential for a hurricane, that is slowly developing out at sea, about a 1000km away.
I’m sure the cruisers are abuzz with the news of the weather formation out in the Atlantic. This is hurricane season, but no one really believes such a calamitous storm will hit, until the threat is this real.
And though some friends and fellow cruisers are headed ‘into the mangroves’ to tie up against the battering of the brutal wind and rain, we all still will wait and hope and count on the weather system breaking up and dissipating and/or moving north, missing Grenada and it’s cruising community of vessels completely.
 It’s amazing, sitting here, so very far removed, that it’s only been 4 months since we ‘set sail’ on the boat life adventure. Amazing that it feels like we’ve just begun, but how at home we feel aboard.
It is surreal now to be sitting here, on land, deep inland, where lightning storms are just a pretty display in the sky and don’t illicit fear and panic; where showers are long and hot and wasteful and decadent; and laundry can be done at your leisure, in your house, with the luxury of separating out the whites from the colours, the towels from the clothes… it’s strange and foreign. And where we feel at home is on a tiny rocking island, that is at the mercy of mother nature and her tropical storms.
As we head further north, our internet checks will be to the weather sites, the hurricane watches, and our hearts will be south and afloat with our boat and our anchored friends down in Hog island.