KANATA – Understanding the vast and diverse Indigenous civilization in the Americas can even elude the highest-ranking members of Canadian Society.
When current Governor General David Johnston offended many members of Indigenous Society by referring to aboriginal peoples as “immigrants”.
Besides calling Canada an ‘experiment’ and ‘a smart and caring country’ on CBC’s The House on June 17, the Governor General restated Canada’s social gospel as one of their “very fundamental tenets that life should be better not only for ourselves and the immediate family, but for others.”
“We’re a country based on immigration,” he added. “Going right back to our ‘quote’ Indigenous People ‘unquote’ who were immigrants as well 10, 12, 14 thousand years ago.”
No sooner did those words leave the radio and the Culture Police took action. Comments range from complete disdain for the “not so excellent” excellency to “he sure is confused” about Indigenous culture and history. And no sooner did the Culture Police’s words hit social media, then the Governor General took action.
“Let me apologize for not expressing myself correctly on this matter recently,” Johnston said in Ottawa on June 19. “Indigenous Peoples are the original peoples of this land.”
“The better country we desire is, above all, a more inclusive one that supports, encourages and acknowledges the contributions of all peoples, including Indigenous peoples.”
As affective-speech-acts go, the former McGill University law professor’s carefully worded apology changed little that was at the basis of his ‘immigrant’ claim — historical revisionism.
Whether we’re original, Indigenous, Indian, Metis, Inuit, or aboriginal, there’s that little matter of arrival. We all still came from somewhere else like China 10,000 to 14,000 years ago.
Shortly after the Oka Standoff on October 10, 1990 Indian Affairs’ deputy minister Harry Swain restated Canada’s official view of what Swain called “Indian country.” Besides telling other government colleagues to portray Canada as victims because of all the Canadian money spent on Indians he’s quoted as saying that governments “in particular feel a little wounded by the events of last summer.”
According to Swain, Asians crossed the Bering Strait at Alaska to sparsely populate vast and empty lands in the Americas “since Clovis times, about 11,500 years.”
What’s the big deal? Every classroom, including our own, teaches the Bering Strait theory. Despite a theory that’s never been proven. And despite a history of research that questions the Beringian assumption’s basic flaw — it’s about religion and not the true nature of human development.
That’s the big deal.
The Bering Strat theory is part of Western Europe’s understanding of how-things-came-to-be that is called the Master Narrative. In this narrative the Christian African Genesis includes migrations north to Western Europe, hang a left to the Middle East, across to Iraq and Iran, into China, across the Bering Strait, down to South America, then heading to the American northeast.
In 11,500 years.
As the Queen’s agent in Canada, the Governor General protected the sovereign’s duty as ‘defender of the faith.”
The same can be said for National Aboriginal Day.
In 1996, Governor General Romeo LeBlanc designated the ‘religious’ summer solstice of June 21 each year as National Aboriginal Day in Canada because “we owe the Aboriginal peoples a debt that is four centuries old.”
“It is their turn,” the Governor General said prophetically during the era of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples,” to become full partners in developing an even great Canada.”
The official proclamation said that “Aboriginal peoples of Canada have made and continue to make valuable contributions to Canadian society and it is considered appropriate that there be, in each year, a day to mark and celebrate these contributions and to recognize the different cultures of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.”
“Aboriginal peoples celebrate the summer solstice,” the royal proclamation states,” which has an important symbolism within their cultures.”
The summer solstice is observed by many Indigenous Peoples. We’ve all heard of the Sun Dance, usually associated with people living on the Plains. Some of our people shoot arrows at the sun this time of year. Many don’t.
But stating that the summer solstice is generally applicable “within their culture” is the kind homogenizing generalization that plagues Canada-Indigenous People’s affairs to the present day. Not in a country bound by 16 treaties with Indigenous people. Not in a country where their Supreme Court recognizes Indigenous title and pre-emptive rights. Not in a country where lower courts affirm an Indigenous right to govern over our affairs as an “inherent right” preceding the arrival of Europeans.
Here’s the Iroquois-Rotinohnsyonni-Haudensaunee-SixNay spin on National Aboriginal Day—something that the Governor General also knows.
As reported locally, in 1869 Canada’s rafter was raised inside the Long House of Many Relations when the Old Ones told the Crown “we stood you up in our land” (Iakorakowa…ionkiiari Wisk Nihohnnowentsiake ahensenonni atewatiteshstohn nera ohnwentsyate.) They agreed the relationship would last “as the long as the sun rises, the grass grows and the waters flow” (the Old Ones say “…tsi nikariwes enkahhwatsiratatie tahnon entkarakwinekenseke, ohente entkenyohseke, nok ohnekanos konnes…”).
The last part of relationship building was to brace the Canadian rafter to the Long House of Many Relations. The League of the Five Nations deliberated from April to June of 1885 to adopt the Indian Act of 1880. The chiefs’ names would be called to “state which side they choose to belong (i.e.) whether they are willing to accept the Act of 1880 or not.”
On April 7, 1880 the chiefs voted. A total of 23 Cayugas, Oneidas, and several Onondagas voted “In Favour of the Indian Act.” The Mohawks, Senecas, and Onondagas numbered 11 “Against the Whole of the Indian Act.” Mohawk chief Moses Martin didn’t vote. The chiefs asked Indian Agent Jasper T. Gilkison to prepare a frame of bylaws for the reserve.
On June 21, 1885, the chiefs confirmed the acceptance of the Indian Act.
The Indian Act braces the Canadian rafter to the continent-wide lodge. Although the Indian Act has become an instrument of power over our People, the original view was to bring Canada under Indigenous laws of the land—the Potlatch, Great Laws of Peace, and the Sundance.
On June 21, 1885, Canada became a legal country—another way to see why June 21 is National Aboriginal Day.
Thohahoken is a Six Nations educator