In South Africa it is called Ubuntu.
Here, where the fierce prairie winds are not strong enough to blow away the memories of colonization and the residential schools that did their best to rip cultural identity out of the child with such force the scars still seep from the trauma today, it is called, “All My Relations.” That place where who I am is because you are who you are and what happens to me impacts the we of who we are together.
Yesterday, I attended a ‘Listening Session” on off-reserve indigenous affordable housing. There were five of us at the round table where I sat. Three of us were non-Indigenous.
One of the questions asked for feedback on how to increase length of stay in housing for Indigenous people after being housed in an urban setting.
“Stop making us feel unwanted everywhere we go, where ever we live” said one man who came from a reserve many years ago and now leads an agency which provides housing for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people exiting homelessness. “Stop discrimination.”
A tall order. Stop discrimination.
Yet, when I see it through its simplest frame, it appears so sensible. So obvious. Stop discriminating against the things we do not understand, the people we do not know, the history we do not want to think about. Stop seeing the world as ‘us and them’ and see it as, “All My Relations.”
One of the other individuals at our table whose PhD made him the most highly educated amongst, us shared the story of how, as a teenager, holding his first pay cheque in hand, he went to the grocery store to cash it.
“I didn’t have a bank account and my mom always cashed her cheques there,” he shared.
When he asked if he could cash it the manager said, without glancing at the cheque but staring only at his brown face. “You’ve got a welfare cheque already?”
All My Relations.
We are not separate. We are the same kind of different. The same human condition appearing in all its manifestations.
On this day in a week focused on celebration of National Aboriginal Day, I check to see where my privilege has landed me and find myself once again in that space of humility.
No one has ever refused to rent to me because of the colour of my skin.
I have never been denied service in a restaurant because I represent an entire nation of people whose culture, history, ceremonies and language were destroyed by the privilege I carry.
No one has ever called me names as I walked down the street that are meant to malign my culture, my past, my people.
And no one has ever spit on me, kicked me or beat me up because I am ‘a dirty Indian’.
Yet it has happened to thousands of my neighbours. To the people who called this land home long before the white man came and planted their roots and claimed this land as their own.
And it keeps happening.
I don’t discriminate against those who are ‘different’ than me but when I do not speak up, when I do not stand with those who have been beaten down because they are Indigenous, I am perpetuating the trauma through my silence and lack of action.
I saw my privilege laid out before me on a round table yesterday.
It is not a pretty thing to see when cast in the light of the trauma and pain its presence causes others.
It is of no benefit to me or the world around me if I do not use it to create better for those for whom the privilege of being treated with dignity, respect, honour is denied because, even though their connection to this land is deeper than mine, the colour of their skin and the vibrancy of their culture, once made them ‘savages’.
Long before the white man came, this land was filled with hope and promise. It was filled with rich and vibrant culture, with ceremony and peace pipes and drums beating.
We cannot turn back time, but we can turn the page to find ourselves writing a different story of how we treat one another. How we build tolerance, compassion, understanding, truth and dignity into our world. We can write a new story where we acknowledge, All My Relations is made of each of us doing better, every day, to build a Canada that is good for everyone.