Tag Archives: indigenous culture

Silly statements and other limiting words

I am talking with two of attendees at an event. They are both Indigenous Peoples. Both well-versed in sensitivities around Indigenous issues.  Both have been discriminated against. Branded as ‘other’. Felt the disdain of those who call themselves ‘white’.

I tell them about my awakening at an Indigenous training course I took a couple of weeks ago.

“I have never stopped to think about the richness and depth of Canadian culture as being grounded in Indigenous Peoples,” I tell them. “I have fallen for the discourse that our history as a nation began when white man arrived.”

It didn’t. It began thousands of years ago with a culture that is deeply connected to the land, the elements, nature and a desire to walk softly upon the earth.

“Discrimination and ‘other’ thinking is pervasive,” I say. “I participate in it without even recognizing I am participating in it.”

One of the men mentions the statement we make as a Foundation at the beginning of all our events acknowledging that we are standing on traditional Treaty 7 land.

“You know that calling it ‘Treaty 7’ land is a reference to colonization,” one of the individuals mentions. “For many of us, it is a reminder of all that has harmed us, not strengthened us.”

I am taken aback.

It is subtle this discrimination, this ‘other’ thinking.

Later, I am at a roundtable discussion on the National Housing Strategy the Federal Government is currently in the process of drafting.

Our host is a public figure. An elected official. Well-respected. Well liked. He has always been conscious and considerate in his approach to homelessness.

I am listening to the conversation. To my peers around the table talking about the content in the documents before us.

On a page referring to the themes to be covered by the Strategy is a list identifying those who need extra consideration due to the specialized needs of their demographic/human condition. ‘Homeless, seniors, youth, families, people with disabilities’. There is no mention of Indigenous Peoples.

Someone mentions the omission. The elected representative is surprised there is no mention. He comments that he doesn’t see how it could have gotten so far into development with such a glaring omission.

“Perhaps it’s like the language we use without thinking,” I say. And I ask him about a comment he had made earlier in the session. “You said, ‘We are not going to make silly statements like, we’re going to end homelessness. We know we’re not.”

How is that a silly statement, I ask. It is aspirational. Forward-thinking. But silly?

There is a pause and then they talk about how they were referring to the timeline. He tries to justify the statement until someone else around the table also speaks up in support of my question. “If the government plans on ensuring everyone has access to housing, won’t that mean we end homelessness?”

Another pause.

I stand corrected, the elected official says.

Language.

We get hung up in our words. Use them to divide and conquer. To separate and clarify.

We make words the ground upon which we stand, the positions we will not cede, the space we will not move from.

And in the process, our language becomes the battlefield upon which we stake our claim to be right. It becomes our battery of defenses against another so that we don’t have to give up our right to stand our ground.

It was a short week and a tough one. A week where words spoken awakened my consciousness to injustices caused by the language of Treaties that continue to define and marginalize an entire Nation. A week where language failed to inspire by its use of silly statements about what we can, or cannot do, amongst a group of people passionately committed to ending the very thing they called silly.

I believe passionately in our human capacity to create possibility from the seemingly impossible.

I believe we are all one humanity. One human race.

But the words I heard this week, and the ones omitted when they needed to be spoken, are cause for concern.

How can we stop discrimination? How can we end homelessness when the very words we use continue to mire people in the limited thinking of the past? How can we inspire one another to do better when the words we use build walls and tear down confidence in our ability to contribute our best?

 

Intersections.

I am walking out of the building where I work to go next door to the convenience store for a bottle of Pellegrino. A tall man walks towards me, smiles. I smile back. I don’t want to make assumptions, but I think it is possible he is homeless.

He stops and says, “Excuse me…”

I stop and turn to look at him. “Yes?”

“I don’t want money” he says immediately. “But, I’m kinda stuck here. I just got out of emergency and I’m really hungry.” And he shows me the cut on his foot. “Would you be able to help me out with lunch?”

I look at him. Consider my options and say, “I could buy you some lunch here.” And I point to the little take-out restaurant on the other side of our office doors.

“I’d rather go to Mac’s,” he says.

“I don’t have time to go to Mac’s,” I tell him. “I’ll gladly buy you lunch right here.”

He considers it for a moment, thanks me and we walk into the restaurant where he orders lunch.

As we wait for the server to tally up the bill, I ask him if he has a place to stay.

“I’m kinda couch-surfing right now,” he tells me.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“Hobbema or as I call it, Hellbema.” He laughs. Shrugs a shoulder. “I don’t like it there.”

“I know a number of people from Maskwachees,” I tell him, using the Indigenous name. “They are working very hard to create positive change.”

“Yeah,” he says. “But all my people there, they just judge me. Make me feel bad about myself.”

“Do you feel bad about yourself?” I ask.

Again, a nervous laugh. A shrug of the shoulder. “Yeah. Pretty well all the time. Life’s not easy.”

“I would have to say that for your people it has been very, very hard.”

He nods his head up and down. Looks me in the eyes. “You’re a good lady.” And he leans over and gives me an awkward, sideways hug.

I return the hug.

“How come you know people from Maskwachees?”

“I’m involved in a program called Choices,” I tell him. “I’ve met them through it.”

His face lights up. “Hey! My cousin went to Choices. When he came back, all he wanted to do was hug everybody! He loved it.”

This time, he gives me a full on hug. Laughing as he does so.

Laughing, I hug him back.

The server has my bill ready. I pay. I wish him well and tell him he could check with his band about going to Choices. “It might help you feel less bad about yourself.”

“I’d have to go back. I don’t want to go back there.”

“Sometimes, going back is the only place to find the way forward,” I reply.

He nods his head, side to side as if weighing my words.

I tell him I have to go. He thanks me for lunch and as I’m about to open the door to leave he calls out, “Hey wait! Don’t forget. We gotta hug!”

And I turn and we hug and I leave. I go to the convenience store next door to buy my Pellegrino and he waits for his lunch.

And life flows onward.

And both of us move on carrying the memory of a hug where our paths intersected.