Multi-Cultural Food for Thought: An Ode to Canada Day.

In my last year of high school I was blessed with a full scholarship to attend a “multi-cultural” private school for the performing arts in Stratford. On a routine day, the vice-principal called me into her office and asked me the dreaded question, “Nahnda, what do you want to be when you grow-up?”

At sixteen the last thing that was on my mind was the rest of my life. “Uhm, I’m not too sure,” I replied.

She started pressing for information again, “What do you see yourself doing as an adult?”

I thought for a moment, and replied matter-of-factly the only concrete thing I knew to be true. “I want to be a mother,” I said.

“That’s not an appropriate reply,” she sneered back at me. Being a sixteen year old kid from Six Nay I immediately lipped back, “Says who?”

This caught my conservative second generation Iranian-Canadian vice principal off guard and an argument ensued as she tried and failed to direct me to a career in law or medicine in lieu of becoming a parent. She dismissed me back to class and later in the week called my mother and arranged a sit down discussion for the three of us.

Again my vice principal tried, and failed, to convince me that I wanted to go to university and “become something” in life. As I sat there and tried to grasp her reasoning I started to see a perspective that I’d never before considered. For this second-generation Iranian-Canadian woman motherhood as the ultimate goal translated into a failed life.

Coming from Six Nations in the 1990’s I don’t think I’d ever encountered that perspective anywhere. Throughout my reservation upbringing it was locked into my psyche that women are the foundation of the family and our future. I didn’t know for sure if I would ever have a career, but I knew with absolute certainty that I would amount to be a part of that matrilineal Haudenosaune foundation for my own family. Being ready for that responsibility was my ultimate goal, and that requires a training of its’ own.

This might have been the age I started to navigate the chasm that runs between the culture I was raised in and the culture I was surrounded by off the reserve. My “Canadian Friends” would spend hours studying for exams memorizing elements from note cards and reviewing the rules of grammar. “Six Nay Me” would fly through exams by the seat of my pants and spend reading week practising Esganye, learning how to make a proper scone and reading scriptures from the religions of the world to fill my spirit with as much as it could tolerate.

On the weekends my “Canadian Friends” would be off in Toronto buying the outfits they saw photographed in YM Magazine. Meanwhile “Six Nay Me” could be found, YM in hand at Value Village looking for fabric to Betty Cooper my way into those same outfits.

My “Canadian Friends” from private school had to learn the social standing of their parents in the grand scheme of society. They were taught to value the rich sons of rich fathers and seek them for husbands. They were ingrained by their culture to “fake it till you make it”. The end goal was to earn as much money as possible in some illustrious career or marry into as much money as they could to secure the chance for a better future aka as high a position in society that was realistically within reach.

Meanwhile “Six Nay Me” was standing side by side with my father and my Haudenosaune ‘cousints’ standing off at the Glebe lands or guarding the trees along the Oxbow from being clear-cut to protect the integrity and topography of the Grand River Territory. I was taught to value men who understood Haudenosaune sovereignty in the grand scheme of our colonial history and seek them as allies for the next time we had to come together to make a stand for our indigenous rights. “Six Nay Me” was ingrained by my society to be loyal, to be true to my word to keep my rez rep clean and to never make direct eye contact with another girl’s boyfriend lest I die.

My “Canadian Friends” were taught to value their Canadian culture and to de-value the things “Six Nay Me” values! On the flip side I was taught to value my “Six Nay Me” culture and to despise my “Canadian Friends” values. “Multi-Cultural” school my foot! No one ever instructed us on how to practically empathize with one another’s stories or to respect each other’s sufferings. We were never taught how to effectively engage with “the other culture” using tact and real understanding. Sadly, while learning to survive in our society, we became the pillars of our cultures that fortify the chasm between us and keep it gaping wide open.

I walked away from all of those friendships, eventually even unfriending them all on Facebook. My private school “Canadian Friends” went on to master a variety of spheres; they are lawyers, doctors, teachers and fashion designers. And “Six Nay Me” successfully became a mother. But to this day we all suffer from the same steep learning curve that keeps us apart: how can we engage with “the other culture” honestly when we honestly despise everything they have suffered through to become who they are today?

Despite our best intentions, despising “the other culture” is the hush-hush foundation of Canada that nobody’s “Canadian Friends” want to be reminded about on Canada Day. It is the buzzkill that even a bottle of our national beer can’t erase. Sometimes I wish “Six Nay Me” could trade off a piece of our history for the free cake and fireworks but it’s just not realistic. In light of that, how can we come together in spirit and in truth to celebrate one another’s struggled for identities on Canada Day or Aboriginal Solidarity Day if we can’t even tolerate it enough to stay friends on Facebook?

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1 Comment

  1. Hard to feel patriotic when native land was stolen. As an Anglo Saxon born and raised in Montreal Quebec, it’s always amazed me that the French and English are still fighting over which of the 2 thieves got here first.

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