(re)claiming your home
Greetings readers. My time in the west is coming to a close, and I’ve been reflecting alot on some common themes that have appeared over the last few months. One of those is my role as a settler, a second-generation canadian, on traditional First Nations land. I haven’t reached any conclusions through pondering this topic, except that I want to learn more about how to be an ally to indigenous people and communities. So, if you have anything to add, please leave me a comment.
I’ve considered this subject for a while, having been around folks doing indigenous solidarity work at home. When I arrived on the west coast I noticed much more native art (or art in the style of certain nations) in public – and colonized – spaces. In Victoria I started to think about the meaning of this art; whether it was a symbol of acknowledgement to the communities who experienced genocide, war, and displacement at the hands of settlers, or whether it was simply a way to make residents and visitors feel comfortable with the current state of affairs. After all, these communities are not extinct. Despite the way much of our society handles the subject of First Nations people, they are alive, they are our neighbours, and they are still experiencing the effects of colonization, as are the rest of us in some ways. The following is something I wrote during my time in Victoria, which I meant to publish at that time and never finished.
One thing I’ve been thinking about since I arrived here is my role as someone of European ancestry who is gaining so much from living on what was once indigenous land. During the workshop at Camas, one of the volunteers opened by stating that the shop is located on unceded Lekwungen territory, meaning that the land was literally taken from the Lekwungen people – it was never sold or given up willingly. At home I’ve been in spaces where people acknowledge such things, too – for example, I learned over the last few years that the Bruce Peninsula is the colonial name for the Saugeen Peninsula, and that the town I’ve enjoyed living in for the last 9 years is on traditional Attawandaron/Attiwandaronk territory, and close to many other traditional indigenous territories. When I arrived here in BC I was especially aware of my position of privilege as a white person who has the luxury of traveling to explore other cultures and gain something from them to bring home, and of how these actions (on my part and that of others) might affect the people whose homeland I visit. Beth (my host in Victoria) has a map of the area which includes current First Nations property, and which also shows the traditional territories of First Nations people which have since been colonized and developed. It was interesting and saddening to see that the three pockets of First Nations territory nearby are now so tiny. I can’t imagine any culture thriving in such a limited environment, at least not the way it must have before being pushed into this small space.
What later struck me is how much more conscious of this issue I am right now as a visitor to the area, compared to at home in Ontario, even though the areas I grew up in are also on traditional native land. I think that in part it has to do with the more obvious presence of native cultures here, even in their most sensationalized forms (such as gift shops in tourist areas that sell native art, or a token totem pole or carving in a park). They seem to have been co-opted by western colonial culture, which seeks to make money off them, or use them as a token gesture to the people whose land it has taken. Sometimes indigenous people are even spoken of as though they’re a thing of the past! I know that my home holds the same kind of history, and I want to start thinking about this more. It’s a hard topic for me to fully grasp, and a daunting issue when it comes to taking action. I hope that I can gain more understanding of these issues and become a better ally through that understanding.
What brought me back to this topic recently was (of course) Thanksgiving, and also the recent Sin’ixt barter fair, which occurs annually in Vallican where a small group of Sin’ixt people occupy a piece of their original land. I was told the story of the Sin’ixt people while at Gaia Shifts, and for now I feel that sharing it with you is a good starting point.
From what I’m told, and what I can piece together from this website, the Sin’ixt people were driven out of their home land (the Kootenay mountain region of what is now Canada, and also some of the area to the south of it which is now the US). They fled south when settlers arrived and tried to claim the land for their own. Later, the government would declare the Sin’ixt people officially extinct. A timeline of historic events can be found here.
Since then, some Sin’ixt people have returned to the northern part of their traditional territory. In Vallican, just south of where I’m currently wwoofing, the longest peaceful land occupation (if you can call reclamation occupation) is still in existence by a community of Sin’ixt people. According to the site I linked to above, they returned from across the border when remains of Sin’ixt people were unearthed during the construction of a highway, in an effort to preserve the sacred nature of the site and respect their ancestors. I’m told that this year, the first Sin’ixt baby in the Vallican community was born.
This, again, may seem like an issue that’s unrelated to farming, and you might wonder why I wrote about it on this blog. As I stated above, this trip has encouraged me to think about my relationship to the land, and other people, as a settler. I hope to acquire my own land one day, to live and farm on, but unfortunately my ability to purchase that land stems from a history of violence and imperialism. I feel that the least I can do is acknowledge that. In sharing this story of the Sin’ixt people, I hope I’ve done something positive, even if it’s just dispelling the myth that indigenous people no longer exist here.
To further this point, I encourage you to find out whose traditional land you live on, and learn about the history of that/those nation(s). Do members of those communities still live there? What does life look like for them? Or are you a member of such a community? If you have stories to share about any of these things, I’d love to hear from you.
Here’s a related image I’ve seen floating around recently.