As an Algonquin Anishinaabekwe now rooted in my Indigenous knowledge tradition I know that all entities are best understood as a paradox. I also know that more often than not knowledge moves through paradox and contradiction, rather than only in a linear way. Further, a common statement of mine is there is paradox, contradiction, and then there is hypocrisy.
Growing up as an Anishinaabekwe denied explicit discursive discussion of who I was, many things made absolutely no sense to me. I am sure this is similar to what many Indigenous people have had to deal with. As an example, it was particularly difficult for me to understand how it was that canada’s parliament buildings reside on Algonquin traditional territory, yet the Algonquin that I knew of where impoverished. Some Algonquin did not even have easy access to drinkable water. And why was it, I struggled with, that most canadians had no idea that my traditional territory was the host to canada’s government structures? As many can imagine it was particularly confusing for me to engage in the daily ritual of singing o’canada when canada did not give two turtle eggs as to who I was and how the disenfranchisement process was hurtful to mothers and their children. For the most part I slowly came to loath canada for the lies it told my friends who were/are for the most part descendants of settlers that were entitled to the very lands and resources that my ancestors were denied through colonial policies and laws.
Since my time as a child I have learned a lot about canada and what canada did, and continues to do, to Indigenous nations and Indigenous citizens. I have learned that canada criminalized Algonquin cultural traditions such as singing our clan songs. Cultural traditions and rituals such as these are fundamental to the human condition. Cultural traditions shape the thinking and actions of who we are as human beings. Cultural traditions move us forward in a good way. Without them, we cease to be who we are as humans. In this way they are gifts of Creation.
While most people will say that the reason canada criminalized our cultural traditions was because these traditions were and are backward primitive entities, and because they prevented us from moving along the upright ladder to civilization, I don’t think this was the reason. I think canada’s law and policy makers knew full well that who we are as humans is contained within our cultural traditions and clan songs and that it was and are these traditions that continually linked us to the land and water that canada wanted and needed to build its nation and shape its citizens. In essence singing our clans' songs and practicing our traditions serve to embody within us our relationship and responsibility to the land in both a mindful and heartfelt way. This is Anishinaabe law.
When European people first came here to Turtle Island they were very much in need of our cultural knowledge system. They needed to survive the cold winters, and needed to know what to eat and how to prepare the foods. They were also dependent on our knowledge of the medicines and the cultural traditions such as the songs and rituals that created a context of exponentially greater efficacious remedies. Clearly there was an appreciation of the knowledge we held.
At some point, though, once settlers became less dependent on us to survive, canada began the process of criminalizing our clan songs and cultural practices through policy and laws. From 1880s through to the 1950s we were legally prevented from relying on the guidance of our traditions. The rationale / argument was that our traditions were preventing us from advancing up to the European standard of what it meant to be a real human. Most people continue to think our traditions and songs are unsophisticated creations and silly relics of the past.
When I reflect on this, that canada prevented Indigenous people from living their culture because it was backwards, I find it rather hypocritical that while canada did this to the Indigenous people of this land at the same time Canada appropriated the power of song - o'canada - as the very tool relied upon to shape the minds and hearts of settler people to be above all else good obliging loyal canadians. This is the hypocrisy of canada. Hegemony is not just mindful - it is also heartfelt. Hegemony, like all things, is a paradox meaning it can be both good and bad.
Clearly it is time for a new hegemony and a new song. canadians need a song that serves all people and all the beings that came before us such as the Water Song. canadians need to feel more passionate about clean land, water, and air. This passion must out-weigh how they feel about the nation state - until then, things will not change and eventually we all will be without clean water.
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Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.