Conversations with Canadians – and Lee Maracle

I read aloud from Lee Maracle’s latest book during a literary festival in April at the Morrin Centre.

My journey from Regina to Quebec City this time around was 15 hours long spanning three provinces and four cities. Because of a seat sale, I flew back home after a two week vacation on July 1st. I joked: what better way to celebrate Canada Day than spend it flying across the country?

‘‘Will you at least make it home in time to watch the fireworks?’’ A friend asked.

I hadn’t thought about it. I had missed Saint Jean-Baptiste Day, ‘‘la Fête Nationale,’’ the week before – the idea of landing in Quebec after a miserably long day of travel with my hungry Samoyed in tow hadn’t been top of mind. Now that I reflected on it, did we even celebrate Canada Day in Quebec City?

For Quebec’s own National holiday on June 24th, there was always a big televised celebration on the Plaines of Abraham with musical guests and lots of Fleur de Lys flags. But what did we do on July 1st? I couldn’t remember anything from previous summers.

‘‘I’m not sure if we even have fireworks,’’ I said to my friend, pondering aloud.

‘‘That’s sad,’’ she replied, clearly disappointed for me, noting that I would also miss the Canada Day festivities in Regina.

This year’s Canada Day celebrations were tied up in a growing controversy. Saskatchewan’s First Nations had set up tipis in Wascana Park in the same spot the organizing committee had planned to set up beer gardens. The tipis had been torn down once already, apparently in violation of a no camping bylaw, only to be resurrected by even more determined protestors to bring attention to their cause – reconciliation in a province where First Nations are over-represented in prisons, foster care and as victims of violent crimes.

The premier called for the tipis, which by July 1st had been there for 124 days, to be removed again – the chief of police refused. This issue drew haters and allies out of the woodwork, with many calling for a strategy to share the park on a day, they said, was supposed to be about celebrating our country’s diversity.

I missed all that, as I was in a plane thousands of miles away from the controversy, but it made me think of a conversation I was honoured to have with Lee Maracle back in April.

Lee Maracle and I had a conversation about reconciliation back in April at an event called Books and Brunch – check out the menu to get an idea for next year!

An accomplished First Nations writer and poet from BC, her latest book is called Conversations with Canadians, an eye-opening take on how Canada’s colonial history has had a lasting impact on First Nations especially, but all Canadians. As part of an English-language literary festival in Quebec City at the Morrin Centre, Maracle explained why she’s optimistic about reconciliation:

‘‘Canadians think about things,’’ she said, while Americans ‘‘not so much.’’

Read also: OUR WRITINGS: TWO POEMS IN QUEBEC CITY

She has faith that when Canadians start thinking about reconciliation they’ll start moving towards it. However, she cautions, ‘‘Doubt can allow you to dig deeper. Or doubt can colonize you.’’

To those who think it’s time that Canadians, particularly First Nations Canadians ‘‘get over’’ colonialism, she says it’s like this:

‘‘I’ll forgive you for standing on my foot, but first you have to get the f*** off.’’

That’s how Maracle explains where Canada is now in the reconciliation process. I would have loved to hear her take on the Canada Day protest in Wascana Park: the fight over tipis versus beer gardens that risked to miss the whole point.

Read also: LASTING LEGACIES

Oh yeah, so on my last flight on that July 1st excursion, I got a window seat and as we neared Quebec City I glued my face to the porthole to try to get a glimpse of the city lights for the first time. Over top of old Old Quebec, just above the skyline, I saw bursting Canada Day fireworks; they were almost surreal from the air, and just as beautiful, I’m sure as the ones I missed for Saint-Jean-Baptiste. Hmmm, I thought. So we do celebrate both.

8APR
2018

Sunday | 11h00

North Vancouver-born Lee Maracle is the author of numerous critically acclaimed literary works. A member of the Sto:Loh Nation, Maracle is a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, the JT Stewart Award, and the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Maracle is an instructor in the Aboriginal Studies Program at the University of Toronto, where she teaches Oral Tradition. She is also the Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House and an instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre. Her latest book is My Conversations with Canadians.

Host: Raquel Fletcher

Menu

APPETIZER
Yogourt and granola with fruit jelly of the moment and maple syrup crumble in a mason jar.

LE POCHÉ PANKO
Poached eggs served in a panko crust, roasted pepper coulis (2 eggs)
Asparagus and prosciutto roll
Potatoes served with fresh herbs
Toasted ciabatta
Butter
Homemade jam

Coffee and tea from David’s Tea

Good morning everyone,

I’m very pleased to have been asked to introduce Lee Maracle today and have – what I guarantee will be a fascinating discussion – and one I’ve been looking forward to since I read her book, Conversations with Canadians.

I would like to start by acknowledging that the land where we are gathered today is the traditional territory, unceded territory of the Abenaki and Wabenaki Confederacy.

I was born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, which is on Treaty 4 territory. I was a teenager, though, before I learned that it was Treaty 4 territory. In the beginning of Maracle’s book, she mentions that she wrote part of it on her long dining room table and that reminded me of a conversation I had at my grandmother’s dining room table when I was a kid. I was having lunch with my mom and my gramma. We had just learned in school that Christopher Columbus discovered America, something my gramma was also taught in school. And there we were, three generations of white women having been all taught the same thing, and suddenly my mom said, “Isn’t it strange that they say Christopher Columbus discovered America? The people who already lived here obviously knew it existed so how could he have discovered it?”

It was a simple question and yet profound at the same time…because what it does is flip history on its head. It’s the type of question that turns around the telling of history from the perspective of the settler and hands it over to the other side – from the people who were here first.

And Lee Maracle is that storyteller. Throughout her book, if you are a descendant of settler ancestors, history is going to be turned around for you constantly. While reading it, I kept thinking, “Huh…okay that makes sense now.” All those things that just didn’t jive in our history classes before, start to make sense.

Some of the questions that are answered in Conversations:

  • Colonialism – many Canadians view that as something that exists only in the past: how do you broach the conversation that in fact, colonialism – colonization is something that is very present; something that is happening right now?
  • You talk about reconciliation. And the idea that the word, or the concept “reconciliation” comes from the judeo-christian concept of forgiveness. The Christian teaching of forgiveness is coming from a Western paradigm, not a First Nations paradigm – so we’re all talking about reconciliation but does it mean the same thing to both of us?
  • If settlers had come to Canada and decided, “Hey, this is a nice piece of land, let’s share it with First Nations people – let’s sign treaties with these people to share the land and honour those treaties,’’ – what would Canadian society look like today?
  • How would we view gender differently?
  • How would we view spirituality differently?
  • You talk about the need for the power holders to hand over their power to First Nations – and obviously sharing privilege is not an easy thing to do. People with power want to hold onto their power. And I imagine that your ideas are often met with defensiveness and animosity. How do you deal with that in your conversations with non-First Nations people?
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