I heard your 150th birthday is coming up
I heard you’ll be celebrating that 1867 Confederation
Something to be remembered.
My father says he heard a man say how lucky we are to be Canadian,
How lucky we are to be brought up on soil that takes care of its people
I bite my tongue.
I’ve seen Guatemalan struggle for land, for water
Watched mother mourn loss of her partner
her back porch overlooking where her husband laid bleeding
every sunset she sees from her kitchen window, now a memory of death
That doesn’t happen in Canada.
You should be happy.
You should be happy in a country that takes care of its people.
Just because there is absence of targeted death
Does not mean that you have not contributed to the killing of my people.
Turned blind eyes.
Held back remedy.
Asked us to forget.
Put hand over mouth when we refused.
I am 28, a small fraction of your age.
I have too many memories that tell me of your lack of integrity.
Too many stories told to this young body.
It has aged me so.
I hold ancient songs in my bones.
I have absorbed the tears of elders, of young ones, from far off territories.
Our lands split up by mountains and rivers and your invisible borders.
I have seen you offer up apologies and promises.
While simultaneously taking actions that demand that we forget.
Demand that we bow to colonial rule
Over and over
Until we sit like a young spruce sapling under the winters weight of snow.
Celebrate with me, you call.
Let’s talk one hundred and fifty years.
I already know your numbers.
I do historical timelines in the communities
trying to undo the trauma from the past couple of centuries
1867 is on that timeline
I have sat with the people as they weep over numbers
and now you want me to raise a glass to you
To erase the truth of our past for you
I found out two nights ago
My great grandfather gave up his rights to be an “Indian”
to fight a war for you
his children losing connection to land and home
because their father had the privilege dying for a country
His sacrifice of life
didn’t make his children white
Did you weep that day?
When the Fathers of Confederation
Claimed you, named you something other than what you were
Told you what you were meant to be.
When the men took ownership of you for good.
Finally put the nail in the coffin.
1763 Proclamation, 1491 Discovery, ultimate victim of Manifest Destiny
I bet you were tired
I bet you were tired
I go to bed at night with numbered Treaties counted off like rosary beads
Sleep with my head to the East
Like my Grandmothers and Grandfathers would have
Pray for dreams for the people
For the people that Canada forgets to pray for
Pray that dawn breaks the mourning
Coming up on one hundred and fifty years
I guess that makes you pretty old eh?
It explains your memory lapses
The daughters and sons of dishonoured treaties and unceded territories
will be here to remind you
Oh, did you already forget?
We are still here.
Post Poem: If this poem makes you aggravated and want to say nasty things. Check yourself. This is exactly why it is written. How can I be Canadian when I am constantly receiving messages to forget who I am as an Indigenous woman from Canadians? My memory of who I am enrages you so. Why is that? One sided history? Controlled media messages? “Special Privileges” a.k.a. fallacies perpetuated by uneducated minds – Indians never pay taxes etc.? Maybe if half of the Canadians didn’t still want me absorbed and assimilated into the general body we could see this poem not needed to be written “Why don’t those Indians just forget it already? Why do those Indians still live on reserves? Why don’t they…just get over it?”. Trust me. I’m tired of this bullshit too. But the kohkums are still cryin’ and the babies are still dyin’. The territory is still getting cleared, Canada still covers it’s ears.
Very thought provoking !!
This poem doesn’t enrage me-it only makes me shake my head in frustration at the attitudes you criticize, the belief that you should “just get over it”, the fact that Art Manuel has been forced to repeat so many of the same things his father George did, the fact that Harold Cardinal wrote back in the 1960s that the Indian has been repeatedly asked what he wants, and constantly said, and then shouted it, over and over again.
I wonder how many of my own fellow non-Indigenous Canadians could have survived being forcibly dragged away from our homes, beaten for speaking English or French, told that our religions are a lie, targeted by perverts and sadists, constantly forced to vacate our homes and move because somebody else wanted the land, being denied access to food, movement, or even the ability to choose who we marry, so much power over our lives given to the whims of some unaccountable agent, forced to see our women be so disproportionately targeted for murder and sexual violence?
It’s as likely that we wouldn’t have survived it at all.
Loving and being proud of one’s country does not equal being blind to its very serious flaws, the violence and bigotry that stain its legacy. It is as Indigenous leaders like Cardinal and the Manuels have repeatedly said-recognizing these flaws, and addressing them, would benefit everyone, whatever their background. It would mean that Canada is that much further along to living up to its reputation-and what could be wrong with that?
Hi Helen – your work/word(s) – really powerful – would like to chat with you about speaking at a human rights conference in December in Vancouver/Richmond – unceded Coast Salish land. Please email me at hkarim@bcnu,org