Today I’m feeling very grateful for the generosity of Indigenous knowledge keepers.
This is Treaties Recognition Week in Ontario – a province that is covered by 46 treaties and other agreements between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The treaties, which guaranteed that land would be shared and that communities would live peacefully alongside one another, were agreed upon by all parties to last “as long as the sun shines, as long as the river flows, as long as the grass grows.”
These sacred promises have been broken in every way imaginable over the centuries, and continue to be desecrated every day. Not a single Canadian government has managed to honour the treaties that have been valid all this time.
And yet, somehow, there are still Indigenous people who are willing to share what they know with the colonizers, as colonization continues to a shameful degree.
Today, I attended an online speaking event featuring Maurice Switzer. He is a Human Rights Commissioner and a treaties expert. He knows exactly how badly the treaties have been abused. But he speaks kindly. He answers questions with compassion and patience. (I saw him speak at an event once before and went to ask him a question at the break, and he was so congenial and gracious that I ended up having lunch and discussion with him.)
I am fortunate to have had opportunities to hear and speak with many Indigenous knowledge keepers in the past several years, including artists, educators, and residential school survivors, and I never fail to be amazed at the generosity they bring to the process. There has to be rage there – you know there is, because the truths they tell are so hard, and so, so unfair. But they share, and they do it with the kind of warmth and humanity that we should all aspire to.
To me, this is an example of true wisdom, not to mention astonishing resilience: to be able to acknowledge and understand the generations of trauma that have led to where you are, and to use your knowledge to educate those who need it, treating them with the kindness that was not shown to you.
For the record, though, I am ready to listen to, hear, and respect the anger. We settlers in general haven’t earned this generosity. We have earned Indigenous rage. The rage is also a form of wisdom, extremely hard-won.
I am grateful for the many ways non-Indigenous people in Canada have learned from Indigenous wisdom, and hope that someday I can be even a little bit as wise as those amazing people who have taught me. (And even more, I hope that Canada will wise up too.)