Learning about diversity

This week I was driving about doing some shopping with my youngest daughter and we happened upon a parade running through the north end of Brantford. At least a thousand Sikh men, women and children walked in colourful procession for Khalsa Day – a tradition in the Sikh religion.

Sikhism is an Eastern Indian tradition from the Punjab region of India. And this Khalsa day, there were signs about that read, “Nagar Kirtan.” That is a tradition where the Sikh will walk through town singing holy hymns. At least, that is what Wikipedia told me when I got home.

As I sat in the car with my youngest daughter, we watched the procession pass us by. The men were all wearing bright orange turbans and the women were swathed in flowing orange and navy blue scarves.

“Mom, these are my third favourite people,” my daughter said.

I smiled and asked, “Oh really? Who are your other two favourite?”

She said, “Dwarf people and Chinese people.”

Earlier in the week we came across another mother-daughter combination shopping beside us in the drugstore. They were both little people and I don’t think this daughter had ever seen a real little person before.

She followed them all through the store peeking around corners to watch them shop. She looked up at me with big eyes and signaled to me that she wanted to whisper into my ear. I leaned down to her and she said, “Mom, I saw dwarf people. I think they’re cool.” Then she looked up at me with the brightest and most pure smile of discovering something about the world on her own.

This is precious. Discovering humanity in all of its diverse forms. And teaching our children to honour humans in all the shapes, colours and forms they come forward as. She was learning to love diversity – and I was loving the lesson.

As we sat there watching the Sikh community march by, I started thinking about human diversity. There were men playing strange instruments, flags blowing in the air with a script I couldn’t read on it and a large glass temple where the gurus were singing and drumming beautiful songs honouring the Creator. A crowd of people followed the temple, singing with their hands folded in prayer. One woman in particular caught my eye. She was pushing a baby stroller, singing the hymns and wearing a bright fuchsia scarf. We made eye contact and smiled at one another and as she continued on her way, I choked up and started to shed a few tears at the beautiful thing I was watching.

My daughter asked, “Mom, why are they doing all of this? What’s it for?”

“Because being able to express yourself in public is a very precious thing, my babe,” I answered her.

It’s so easy to get focused on our own oppression as indigenous people. We were colonized by newcomers to this land and subsequently disinherited from our lands. It’s easy to get angry – and stay angry – at any newcomer who doesn’t know what’s what. Especially when the government of Canada gets the final say on “history” regarding the Haudenosaune people.

Many immigrant people I have met are shocked to hear my side of the story regarding colonization and the oppression of indigenous people. They were taught something totally different when they came to Canada.

You know, when someone has something despicable that they want to hide they do two things. First, they hide the truth and replace it with a different version – the story they want you to think is true. And the second thing they do is they pump up their own image by bragging about all the good things they’ve done – a long list of successes and accomplishments they want you to look at instead.

This is the same across all nations, communities and territories. It is a deception. And when people in public offices such as the government of Canada lie about history to the public, it’s not necessarily the public’s fault for believing them. We all put faith in our leadership – whomever they may be.
And we expect them to tell the truth.

I think that is why I cried. I looked this woman straight in the eyes and for a moment our souls connected. She maybe didn’t recognize that I was Ongwehowe – but I recognized that she trusts the people who are leading her to tell the truth – that we are all vulnerable to those who want to lead – and that the freedom of publicly expressing who you are and what you stand for is a very precious thing indeed.

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