Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The words we have inherited

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Niigaan Sinclair went to Morris Tuesday to speak with the publisher of the Morris Mirror, which printed an editorial that disparaged First Nations people. Reed Turcotte refused to meet with him, but other residents welcomed Sinclair and encouraged him to keep this conversation going.

January 22, 2013

To the Editor of the Morris Mirror,

I want to give you something.

A gift. A story, maybe.

A piece of our home.

I offer this in the way I would bring food to a feast -- if you and your family organized that sort of thing -- and invited my family and I to enjoy all we had brought.

This is, perhaps, an unlikely vision -- but I offer it nonetheless.

I give this so that you might know a little about the land where you and I now reside. The earth, water, and wind have seen far more than you or I -- and will be here far after we have gone. They have witnessed far better than us.

I also give this as a rejection of what has passed for communication in our home: a cacophony of anonymous, Internet commentaries with name-calling and tired, predictable stereotypes based on little more than a passing glance. In editorials, rich in generalizations and lacking in accuracy.

I give this so that we might find a way to live together meaningfully, in the vision established by the agreement that made this place. This is a treaty that -- while never fulfilled -- promises mutual benefit, non-interference, and peace. These are words promised by the man who your town is named after, Alexander Morris. As Morris and those who oversaw the formation and delivery of Treaty One remind us: the vision of this agreement is a map marked with signposts of honesty, bravery, patience, and listening. We now have to trust that these are still there -- even if the brush has grown over them.

I give this to ask you to consider what could make a human being come to be seen as "lazy" and "corrupt."

I ask you whether these traits are some inherent, savage deficiency or the product of a constant barrage of words driven by the belief that second-rate, dying cultures exist. That these words became laws that locked people into unsustainable areas, made it impossible to make a living, and threw them in jail if they resisted. I ask you to think about those who promised much during treaty time and then supplied their friends with handfuls of welfare, told them how to run their community and then, finally, removed their children and put them into schools where they were physically and emotionally abused. These children learned that they were inferior and how important it was to destroy the languages and cultures they came from. Many resisted, but were left with the gap of years away from their parents and communities. Returning home, if any did, there were understandable feelings of confusion and disjunction.

I ask you to think about how, at the same time and in schools nearby, Canadian children learned the same curriculum and that they were superior. These children were taught the same words as what the other children endured: they were abused too.

I ask how you or your children might have turned out if any of this has happened to you. Now, call them "lazy" and "corrupt."

Human beings are obviously more than this.

I give this to you to honour a grandfather who fought for this country, lying about his age so he didn't have to return to residential school, and was injured, never to be healed again. I give this to recall how the government he fought for abandoned him and told him he was no longer an Indian. How he was left completely on his own, to struggle with alcohol and disability, with children to feed and bills to pay. I have no doubt that for Grandpa the vision of the treaty that promised him much was a blurry sight. It was probably made invisible when he lost the only woman he ever truly loved to illness and his first son was killed by Canadians who were never punished.

I give this to you to ask whether dependency is more about those dependent, or those who created the system of dependence. I ask where most questions need to be asked: to those who benefit incredibly through privilege and exploitation, or to those who trust promises and endure more about repairing the imbalance. Whether it is to those who hand systems of dominance to their children, or those invested in escaping this abusive relationship. Whether it is to those who want to call people dancing in a mall "terrorists," or to those who want to find another way, another path.

I give this to you to remember a man who quit drinking when his grandson was born. This man, defined by so many as broken, lazy, and dangerous, chose to give this little boy the greatest gift he could give: love. He gave it not in the hopes that he could repair the past but that he could give him a chance to see something better, something beautiful. Something more than the violence that had been rained down on him. This man, a member of Treaty One -- just like you and I -- chose to end cycles that had shaped so much of his life. This man chose to stand up, to be more than words and policies, and to tell a new story. I know this. I'm living it.

It is time that we all learn a little history about who we are and maybe, if we're lucky, make some new paths. I believe that we are more than the words and images we have inherited. I know that we can make a better home than this, that we can expect more of ourselves if we are brave, honest, patient, and if we listen. It is time that we give each other gifts of responsibility.

I ask you to be more than the words we have inherited.

And, I ask you to talk. Share food. Discuss how we can be more.

You have said that you are not ready. That's OK. Change is hard. I am ready.

I will wait for you.

Our home is too important.

Miigwech, ekosi, thanks, merci.

 

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair is a member of the department of native studies at the University of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2013 A12

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