Beverly Blanchard Selective history

Selective history

Cultural variety and hostilities were present

among Aboriginals before the Europeans came

Beverly Blanchard is an Ojibway First Nation from Northern Ontario.  She holds a degree in Economics. During the last twenty-two years, she has worked as a consultant to First Nation and Inuit organizations in a variety of disciplines including: homelessness, suicide prevention, violence prevention, childcare, HIV/AIDS, women’s issues, business planning, and economic development. She has also designed and delivered Aboriginal awareness and stress management workshops to Federal government employees. Currently, Ms Blanchard is a life strategy coach, author and energy healer in Ottawa.  
By Beverly Blanchard
True North Perspective

Most of what we believe is based on either traditions or customs that have been passed down through the ages or what society and the media have told us to believe. For most of us we blindly accept this information as truth and never really question whether these truths are actually grounded in reality.

I used to deliver Aboriginal awareness workshops to a federal government department.  At the start of most of my workshops, I would do what they commonly refer to as an ice-breaker.  I used a children’s game in which I would whisper in someone’s ear a statement and this person would whisper the statement to the ear of the person next in line. The whispering process would continue until the last person to receive the statement would stand up and repeat what was heard. Inevitably the statement was never even close to the original statement. I used this game as a starting point for demonstrating some of the problems with oral traditions. It is also a problem that is inherent with written traditions.

What we pass down from generation to generation sometimes has been based on the knowledge of the time. Sometimes this information is changed and no one in the succeeding generations is aware of the intent of the original message. As First Nations people we have many legends and stories that were attempts to explain that which we did not understand at the time. For instance, there were many First Nations that were fearful of thunder. To them, the thunder meant the gods were angry. There was no understanding of the scientific basis of thunder. The story was passed down as an explanation of what was happening. This is evident in all cultures. As a simple example, for numerous years’ people thought the world was flat.

History is another area that is selective and we tend to judge it based on today’s morals and values. We are also selective of the parts of history we want to depict. As First Nations we like to be portrayed as living in oneness with all of nature prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Yet in reality there were many Nations that were fighting against each other. Ojibway were known to consider the Mohawks and Sioux as enemies. In the treaty processes, there were Chiefs who gave away land that was not considered their territory.  

In addition to being selective, too often we think that what is here today was always here.  Many people are unaware that many of the animals and commodities were exported and imported by the explorers. For example the horse was not native to North America.  It was actually brought here by the Spanish. Similarly there was an exchange that went on with certain foods. The tomato was brought back to Europe by the explorers. Oat and wheat were brought to the Americas in the 1600s.

In the extrapolation of history, we have also depicted that all First Nations practiced the same traditions and ceremonies, and are a homogeneous group. Traditions and ceremonies were different across Canada. For example, the ceremonial herb sage used for smudging was never used in the West. Ojibways always enters a circle clockwise and Mohawks enter counter-clockwise. The medicine wheel was never a traditional teaching of the Ojibway.  

Presently there has been a significant focus on the Indian Act and the need to change the barriers that are impeding growth. Passed in 1869 by an Act of Parliament, this legislation sought to define First Nations and enforce assimilation into the Canadian general public. Over the course of the last fifty years, there have been small amendments to the Act. Some of the changes have involved citizenship and voting. Up until the 1960s, First Nations were not considered citizens of Canada and had no voting rights.

In the 1970s and 80s, First Nations were given the right to organize political organizations. It has been since this time that there has been a resurgence of First Nations’ teachings and traditions. Also in the 1980s, a form of discrimination against First Nation women was corrected.

Up until 1985, if a First Nations woman married a non-First Nations man, she automatically lost her status as a First Nation. In addition, she was no longer considered a member of the band. The legislation however was different for First Nation males who retained both their status and band membership. The amendment of this section meant that all First Nations women and their first generation children regained their status.  This amendment was further extended to the offspring of the first generation children in order to eliminate further discrimination.

Next week the Federal government and the close to 400 Chiefs will be meeting in Ottawa. The Indian Act will no doubt take centre stage as will housing, education and treaties. In order for First Nations communities to move forward it will be necessary to eliminate some of the barriers of the Indian Act; however it must also be recognized that regardless of the changes some First Nations communities will never prosper.

In the thinking of some who say in today’s terms, things would have changed for the better if the Europeans had never come to America. Perhaps First Nations would have had a better life; but then again, maybe not.  No one will ever know.