27 Jul Another 50 Years
Many, or most of you reading this essay, will have heard or read Chief Dan George’s, “A Lament for Confederation.” I’m unsure of when he wrote or recited this essay; possibly sometimes in the 1960’s. Now, we are supposed to celebrate Canada 150. Another 50 years has been added to his Lament for Confederation, and still we are treated like foreigners in our own land.
Well, my Granny Mahtah was born in circa 1860’s; she refused to speak English, although she could if she chose to. She said to me, “The Whiteman has come to my country, bringing a strange new tongue for us to learn. But, this is my country, so if the Whiteman wants to talk to me, let him learn to speak my language.” She held me on her knee, and by looking directly into my eyes, and uttering not a word, she imparted many of the lessons this poem holds. She was unlearned, by today’s standards, but she was a wise-women, full of Life’s teachings.
When I asked her how long we’d been in this land, she took the redcedar bailer, filled it with small stones and emptied it many times until there was a mountain of stones. She said that is how long we have been sovereign to this land. I was very young, had not learned my numbers yet, so I didn’t know she was saying we had lived here for thousands of years. And now, new archeological findings have backed up her words. We have lived here for more than 4000 years. For all anyone really knows, we may have lived here for 40 000 years.
She told me, without using words, that I was to learn everything they, (the elders,) could teach me, and everything I could learn from the Settler population, mix them together and form something that will bind all races together. I know I am not an anomaly, there are many more, just like me out there, wondering how to proceed with our life’s mission. The mission is to find a way that people of all races, creeds and colors can join together and speak with one voice.
VANCOUVER – The text of Chief Dan George’s speech “A Lament for Confederation:”
How long have I known you, Oh Canada? A hundred years? Yes, a hundred years. And many, many seelanum more. And today, when you celebrate your hundred years, Oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land.
For I have known you when your forests were mine; when they gave me my meat and my clothing. I have known you in your streams and rivers where your fish flashed and danced in the sun, where the waters said ‘come, come and eat of my abundance.’ I have known you in the freedom of the winds. And my spirit, like the winds, once roamed your good lands.
But in the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea. The white man’s strange customs, which I could not understand, pressed down upon me until I could no longer breathe.
When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority.
My nation was ignored in your history textbooks. We were less important in the history of Canada than the buffalo that ranged the plains. I was ridiculed in your plays and motion pictures, and when I drank your fire-water, I got drunk, very, very drunk. And I forgot.
Oh Canada, how can I celebrate with you this century, this hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to me of my beautiful forests? For the canned fish of my rivers? For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people? For the lack of my will to fight back? No! I must forget what’s past and gone.
Oh God in heaven! Give me back the courage of the olden chiefs. Let me wrestle with my surroundings. Let me again, as in the days of old, dominate my environment. Let me humbly accept this new culture and through it rise up and go on.
Oh God! Like the Thunderbird of old, I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success; his education, his skills, and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society. Before I follow the great chiefs, who have gone before us, Oh Canada, I shall see these things come to pass.
I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedoms of our great land. So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.