Aanii, Chadwick Cowie Ndiishnaakaaz. Manominiiking Ndoonjibaa. Montreal Megwa Dodaa. Myeengan Dotem.
I begin this post with the original language of my Anishinaabeg ancestors (specifically Mississaugi, a member nation of the Anishinaabeg). I do this to highlight who I am – a mix of Mississaugi and Irish background (I rarely have to explain my “Irishness” amongst Canadians) – a mix that begun when one of my ancestors, fleeing the horrors of the potato famine, settled in the traditional territory of my Mississaugi ancestors.
One would think that on July 1, 2017, I would have been out celebrating the 150th birthday of the Canadian state. However, this was not the case. I hid and avoided participation in all events.
Do I celebrate the birth of the state that sought to “destroy the Indian” in my family?
Do I celebrate the birth of the settler-state known as Canada – the state that sought to “destroy the Indian” in my family lineage like other Indigenous peoples on territory shared with Canada? Do I celebrate a state that sought to eradicate the original language of my Missisaugi ancestors? Do I celebrate the formation of a state that has, since before its inception, developed on lands stolen from the original nations and their inhabitants?
Do I celebrate knowing that my niece, sister, aunts and mother face a greater risk of going missing or being murdered than their non-Indigenous counterparts? Do I celebrate the constant and daily defence I have to make for being Indigenous, both within and outside of academia within the Canadian context?
As an Anishinaabe-inini I continue to see little or no reason to celebrate. However, the intersections that form who I am fight with each other over other reasons to celebrate. For instance, as a gay male I can remember the debates, rallies and arguments throughout 2004 and 2005 over a concept known as same-sex marriage. The jubilation I felt the day Canada would legally agree to recognize a future marriage I would enter, and all rights it would entail, was an important cornerstone for the thanks I would express to a state that, in other ways, tried to stomp out who I am as a person. It is because of Canada’s progress I will be marrying the person I love in November 2017. It is also because of the higher level of understanding, support and acknowledgment that I am fortunate to not be disowned or turned against by my family and friends.
The intersections that form who I am fight with each other over other reasons to celebrate.
But still, on July 1, 2017… I stayed quiet. I stayed quiet because, despite Canada’s progress and understanding of differences, this has not equated to Indigenous peoples at the same rate. I, on a regular basis, have had to defend being Indigenous, compared to defending being gay. What does this say? For me it says Canada and Canadians have a strong ability to change their mindset and understandings – but not so much towards Indigenous peoples. This echoes my view on my own field of study: political science.
The field of political science encompasses many items: institutionalism, constitutionalism, federalism, voting, political parties, provincial politics, theory, international relations and much more. Yet, little room has been made for Indigenous politics or “Indigenous spaces” within the areas of focus that political science dabbles in; they continue to be pushed to the peripheries or fields of Indigenous studies and law.
Still, there are a small number of Indigenous political scientists – even far fewer who are from Indigenous nations and who share their territory with Canada. The first Indigenous scholar to bring forth an Indigenous perspective in Canadian political science, for instance, was Joyce Greene in 2000. Kiera Ladner and Hayden King are just a few I can name who not only have a political science background but also teach within it.
Why is this the case? I would argue that the very essence of Indigenous politics, theory and mindset pokes holes in the traditional westernized structure of the field – whether right or left. For instance, Liberalism talks about land as private property – while Marxism talks about the state holding property (land) in trust on behalf of the people. For Indigenous peoples: How can you own Land? It is a living thing.
Reconciliation is a task that will be difficult to comprehend without Indigenous input.
With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations, academic institutions, faculties and departments are trying to figure out how to implement and “reconcile” the lack of Indigenous voices. This is a task that will be difficult to comprehend without Indigenous input or an acknowledgement that the entire western education system has been used to undermine the rights and existence of those it is trying to reconcile with. However, I see some moving forward in a good way: I see political science opening – albeit slowly – to Indigenous ideas.
Thus, I guess Canada at 150 may reflect, for me, cautious hope. Perhaps by Canada’s 200th birthday I will be able to celebrate – knowing steps towards reconciliation are truly being made; that political science will have finally made space; that I won’t have to defend being Indigenous to those whom we share our traditional territories with. I can only hope.
The views and opinions expressed within WOA guest posts are solely those of the authors.
For almost as long as there’s been a Canada, there’s been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.