were all in it together

When I was growing up, the differences between Native people and mainstream Canadians were often remarked upon as striking.

When I was growing up, the differences between Native people and mainstream Canadians were often remarked upon as striking.

I grew up between the late 1950s and the late 1970s. Now, during that time there were tremendous strides forward in Native life, including the right to vote, the freedom to gather in public and to practice our spirituality, but every inch closer to an authentic citizenship seemed only to widen the gap between our neighbours and ourselves.

These days, it can seem sometimes that not much change has occurred. Any conversation with so-called ‘liberal’ thinkers, and I count numerous friends among them, almost always arrives at the ‘us and them’ barricade. There are the philosophical barriers of the Indian Act, the reserve system, treaty rights, land claims, and fiduciary wardship that only buttress their arguments.

We’re different. We’re separate. We’re a problem to be solved.

In my day-to-day life I seldom feel like a problem. Here in the mountains we work hard at maintaining our property, staying above the waterline of debt, taxes and bills, and enjoying the fruits of our labours at the end of the day. Sounds awfully normal to me. Held against the mirror of our neighbours lives’, it’s neither a poles apart reality or ethnically dissimilar.

We drive the same road to the same town in the same kinds of vehicles to do the same types of chores and business. We watch the same channels for the same news and often draw the same conclusions. We read the same magazines for the same gossip, see the same movies and hear the same music. We use the same computer programs to communicate at the same speed.

The truth is, Native life and the lives of our neighbours are more alike than is sometimes imagined. It all depends on the lens you use to scrutinize. A sociopolitical lens would offer a polarized view, while a humanistic lens would show a people given to the same spiritual, communal yearnings as everyone else. But if you just used the English language to examine our differences, the gap would cease to exist.

For instance, as an Ojibway man of nearing 53 years I have been marginalized, analyzed, criticized, ostracized, legitimized, downsized, Supersized, politicized, socialized, dehumanized, philosophized, fractionalized and one day, eulogized. What ordinary Canadian can’t relate to that?

In my time here have been uneducated, untrained, unskilled and unemployed. As a result I have been displaced, dislocated, disenfranchised, disinherited, disaffected, disappointed, disconsolate, disqualified, disrespected, disquieted, disentangled, disheveled, discombobulated, disingenuous, dishonest and disinterested.

In trying to come to terms with my identity I’ve been misinterpreted, misplaced, mismanaged, misfiled, misunderstood and misguided. Further, I’ve been misinformed, misdirected, misjudged, mismatched, misstated, mistrusted and misused. Occasionally I’ve been misquoted and mistrusted. Mostly these days I’m misgoverned and misrepresented.

Like most Canadians I have been overtaxed, overburdened, overextended, overdrawn, over-analyzed, over-the-barrel and overwhelmed. I’ve been overbearing, overbooked, overcharged, overcrowded, overdressed, overdue, overexposed, overhauled and overmatched.

I’ve often been overruled, overpowered, overseen, and sometimes oversexed.

By contrast, I’ve been under-funded, under-represented, under-appreciated, underwritten, and under-the-gun. Like my neighbours I’ve tried to be low-key, low-profile, low-maintenance, low-cal, low-cholesterol, low-impact, low-risk and low-pressure. Despite all that I’ve been low-browed, low-balled, low-budgeted, low-rated, and low-income. Sometimes I’ve been low-slung, low-tech and low-end.

I’ve been exasperated, exhausted, excepted, expropriated, extrinsic and excluded. It’s become apparent that all along I’ve been excepted, exhorted, expedited, explained, explored, extenuated, extrapolated and expunged. But marching along with my head in the clouds I’ve allowed myself to be expressive, exuberant, exclamatory, expectant and exotic. I’m an ex-athlete, ex-smoker, ex-drunk, and ex-husband.

Alliteration aside, becoming a fully functioning Canadian has caused me to be ethnic, multicultural, nationalistic and culturally specific all at the same time. I’ve had to learn to be open-minded, politically correct, gender sensitive, globally conscious, and self aware. I’ve had to learn to embrace the New Age as I approach old age. I’ve gone from the Good Book to Facebook, fireside chats to cyberchat, and from being offloaded to downloaded all in one lifetime.

I can be Googled these days. I can be faxed, instant messaged, Skyped and video-conferenced. I have a website, poor eyesight, the gift of hindsight and the occasional insight. I’m a multi-tasking, metrosexual, techno-geek with an I-pod. I surf the ‘net, play with the remote, rip CDs, burn music and tear it up on weekends.

All things considered, it’s our everyday language that brings us closer. We can spend a lot of time deliberating politics and differences, and in the end it only ever serves to highlight the separation between us. That’s likely because we’ve all come to trust our minds so heavily. We want things to be obscure, obtuse, and difficult. It makes our discomfort with each other valid somehow.

But in the words we use, in the lexicon that has come to be the scrutinizer of our time here, the ways in which we are similar become clearer and the pathways to resolution of outstanding problems and issues are markedly visible. We need to talk to each other. That’s how simple it is. We need to learn to use the language we share to introduce ourselves properly and share our stories.

It’s a matter of stepping out from behind the politics. It takes courage to do that. It means risking exposure. It means courting doubt and darkness and unknowing. It means being human and vulnerable with each other. It means allowing ourselves to be ourselves and letting the gift of language ease our worries and concerns. It means good talk with good minds.

I figure the politicians are best equipped to continue the obfuscation of detail. For me and my neighbours, my friends here in my community, we lean over the back fence and gab to each other. We use the local lingo. We chat openly. We use metaphor and simile, imagination and outright exaggeration. We use humour and we use tact and we learn that we are the same beneath the skin.

Just Posted

Lorraine Kuhn is seen with one of the many volleyball teams she coached. (Photo submitted by Sport Yukon)
The Yukon Sports Hall of Fame inducts the late Lorraine Kuhn

Lorraine Kuhn became the newest member of the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame for her work in growing volleyball amongst other sports

File Photo
A Yukon judge approved dangerous offender status for a man guilty of a string of assaults in 2020.
Yukon judge sentences dangerous offender to indefinite prison term

Herman Peter Thorn, 51, was given the sentence for 2020 assaults, history of violence

Crystal Schick/ Yukon News A former residential school in the Kaska Dena community of Lower Post will be demolished on June 21. Crystal Schick/ Yukon News
Lower Post residential school demolition postponed

On June 21, the old residential school in Lower Post will be demolished and new ground on a multi-cultural centre will be broken

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced 29 new COVID-19 cases on June 19 and community transmission among unvaccinated individuals. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs record-high 29 new COVID-19 cases

F.H. Collins prom attendees and some Porter Creek Grade 9 students are instructed to self-isolate as community transmission sweeps through unvaccinated populations

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read