In all fairness though, and this is something that I've had thoughts about for a great long time, conflicted ones at best so I'm sure some of what I'm writing about I'll get wrong. Yesterday I wrote that I don't work on Indigenous Peoples Day and it's true I don't, most Nish do though, and they also mark the day with something special to them. Be that a ceremony as simple as smudging to greet the day and laying down of Tobacco or a celebration of dance and drums with as many community members as can gather. It's not that the day itself holds some kind of sacredness to us, because it doesn't, and it's not that the government making a day Indigenous Day somehow grants it a sacredness either. What does hold a sacredness to us is the Solstice but it's not today in the sense that we choose this particular date in time to hold that significance, back in the day, it was this time of the year that was celebrated.
We're happy to hold this day and mark it with celebration and ceremony big and small, publicly and privately though, because why not? It's not the day, it's the time and we'd be holding ceremony and celebration regardless of when the government decided the date was. And that's the thing too isn't it, the government decided in the name of reconciliation to mark June 21st as National Indigenous Day, but it wasn't reconciliation back then it was just called “honouring our Aboriginal, Metis and Inuit people”. Later on we became Indigenous and the day became what it is today “National Indigenous Peoples Day” with Indigenous being meant to encompass Metis and Inuit people as well as First Nations. This is only part of the point though.
How are you to know any of this without asking the questions though, and how are you to know what our narrative is to these things if we and allies are going to say “Do the research yourself” or “Google is on your phone” instead of just answering your question? While that is true, you can do the research and you can do the self-education most of what you'll find in your google search is written by non-Nish and vaguely represents our viewpoints at best. So that's a problem. Yes, it's true there is more and more stuff on the internet that is from our point of view, so you can do the research and find out lots of things, including my telling this kind of stuff.
The thing that bothers me with this is, when if ever do we do the education when asked for it by someone who let's face it, built up quite the mountain of fragile courage to ask an actual Nish “why do you ...”? I understand the need to say and follow through with the “do the research” line of reply, but I question the answers that you'll find when you do that. They'll not really be about my people as much as they'll be about my people in a generalized kind of way. There are idiosyncrasies and nuances to my people because we are varied by region and people so when you learn about “Ojibwe” you may be learning about a different type of “Ojibwa” than my particular “Nakawe”. Which is what we call ourselves and when you ask my mother, she'd tell you that we're part of the Ojibwe nation, but we're not Ojibwe. Also, we're known mostly as Saulteaux and not Nakawe, the former being what the french first called us and like Indian it was wrong, but it stuck.
But you would never know that kind of thing unless we were to tell you, just as you wouldn't know that the Ojibwe (Ojibwa, Ojibway) are also known as Chippewa in the united states. So when do we answer your question and when don't we? There is no easy answer for that, well not one that is easy to explain to either you or ourselves. You see if we rely on our allies and do as they first suggested and not explain things, and/or ask you to see to your own education and that we don't owe you any explanation then we're just reaffirming that the narrative you'll hear and read about isn't from us. At least not directly and like I wrote earlier, it may not be about the actual people you wanted to know about, to begin with.
For the most part, we're receptive to the questions and we answer them when we get them, but we always ask you to do the work as well, do your own research and yes, by all means, keep asking the questions. Those of us tired of answering the questions won't, but we don't usually give in to an angry snappy response to getting asked, even if we're sick of hearing that same question over and over again. And you know why that usually is? Because those of us getting asked in the first place are just like you, we're already doing the work, we're already open to being asked, just like you're open to doing the asking, and we see you doing the work to do your own research. And that's part of the problem. We're both preaching to the choir as we try and create the world we both want to be in.
How do we both educate those who don't do the work, because they have no interest, because they don't want to, or they flat out don't care and may never will? Well, for starters this shouldn't be a conversation between individuals, like yourself and me, it needs to be one between people on a societal scale and it needs to be one the government is forced to have because its people demand it, insist on it, and refuse to take platitudes for it. Education needs to be at all levels of schooling, from pre-school, kindergarten on through public school, into secondary and post-secondary, and most definitely law and medicine. So by the time the next generation of students gets out of college or university, they all know exactly what has really happened, they know the names of the families, companies, governmental parties, and politicians who instigated, propagated and profited from the ongoing genocide of my people throughout the past five hundred plus years. Not for revenge or something equally stupid and nearsighted; instead the knowledge would be there so we as societies, as people, united can be and do better.
Then the teachers need to be Indigenous right from the get-go, not for us unless it's by us, this isn't to say that no history teacher can talk about or teach Indigenous history, it means that when you do, you are mandated to bring in an actual Indigenous person to teach alongside you, to be your guest lecturer, to share our culture with your students. Why law and medical students as well? Because you'd have no united states constitution without us, there would be no “restorative justice” without us, you'd have no hypodermic needles without us, and the list goes on, including advanced farming techniques or sign language.
Now google needs to be your friend.
To ask the question about my people because you want to know more, takes courage, to answer you also takes courage. To read our words, or attend our events, to protest with us, takes a desire to grow and growth can be scary because it means you're stepping out into the unknown; in this case who you will be after you hear our truth. Anyway thanks for attending my ted talk, I'm here all week, tobacco can be given when you see me in person, or better yet, learn how to offer it and return it to Creator.
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The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
NShannacappo is a Nakawe graphic novelist and poet from Rolling River First Nation in Manitoba. He's Eagle clan and currently living, working and playing in Ottawa. You can find his stories in the Indigenous anthologies called Sovereign Traces - Not (Just) (An)other, Vol 1 and Sovereign Traces – Relational Constellation, Vol 2. The graphic novel Mashkawide'e (Has a strong heart) was published by Senator Kim Pate and copies can be found by contacting her office. Neal published his own creation, The Krillian Key in November 2020, and is working on If I Go Missing which is being published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd., and Niikaniganaw (All My Relations) commissioned by a group of healthcare researchers.