By Dr David Laing Dawson
Years ago go after I had attended a band council meeting and watched representatives of this small nation wrestle with affairs that we divide up into federal, provincial, and municipal, I had dinner with a Chief. A friend had told me the Anishinaabe language contained no swear words, no blasphemes, and so I asked this Chief what his people would say when angry, when mad, even after twisting an ankle or hurting a toe. He replied with a wry smile, “You must remember, we Indians had nothing to be angry about until the white man came.”
I was thinking of this as we drove through a First Nations Reserve in the beautiful Q’Appelle valley in Saskatchewan. We have driven through many reserves this summer and there is a sameness to them: clusters of small, poor houses, randomly spaced, minimally maintained, in much the same manner as the temporary abodes of a nomadic hunting, gathering society.
And I am sure before the Europeans came the consciousness of this world, of the indigenous peoples, was limited to the land they could see, and of stories passed down through generations. And now they live on small islands surrounded by an organized nation of others, with full awareness of many other organized (or marginally) organized nations of others on this shrinking planet.
A few hundred years ago the First Nations People began to learn they did not own this land, they had no God given right to this land, this part of the earth. There were in fact hordes of others seeking refuge, a field to till, a place to live and raise a family. In truth the lore of the First Nations People had always been more about stewardship and custodian responsibilities for the land and it’s abundance than ownership.
There is a connection here with Marvin’s blog, for we are now, all of us, in the position of being First Nations 400 years ago. And what I am talking about, as Hungary closes its borders, as Britain isolates itself, as Maxime Bernier shouts NO to immigrants, as the US rounds them up, is that we must accept, as the First Nations People had to, that we are collectively just custodians on this small planet. We “own” nothing. And if we are to survive we must do a better job as custodians, and where there is bounty we must share, and where there is trouble we all must help.
The indigenous people, a few hundred years ago, did not know there would one day be a Brazil. And 50 years ago I’m sure I did not know the Amazon was responsible for 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen, the cycle of stripping carbon from CO2 and releasing oxygen to the air. But, apparently it is, and it is burning.
Canada has pledged $15 million and water bombers to combat the fires, on top of $20 million promised in a G7 meeting. Trump skipped the meeting.
The good news here is that, apart from Trumpland, we are beginning to accept the fact that we are collectively mere custodians of a fragile planet and must take this role seriously.
Whoops, I wrote too soon. I forgot we have managed to elect so many stupid narcissistic teenage boys to high office and positions of power.