Settler Identity

Why “Canadian Identity”[tm] has been so evasive.

The desperate need for Settlers to define themselves is palpable. We ask people from overseas what they think of us. In part, it’s because we don’t know ourselves. We have the hockey thing, and we’re big on suburbs and cottages and beer and SUVs at soccer practice. At least, that’s the impression I get from watching television.

Canada, whatever that means, exactly, celebrates 150 years of its version of confederation, which didn’t ask the Haudenosaunee anything about. My French ancestors came to Turtle Island about 400 years ago. That’s almost 3 times longer than Canada. Certainly, it’s nothing compared to the Anishnaabeg who were put here by Creator. For Settlers in this part of the world, it’s about as long as we’ve been here.

I don’t really identify with Canadian iconography – the mounties, the flag, the national anthem, parliament buildings, the stuff of public relations and marketing – so where does that leave me? I’m not Canadian. I’m not Native. I’m not a Newcomer. My heritage is Scot-French, I’ve visited both countries. It was informative, but neither is home.

A Change in Perspective

it’s remarkable how changing how you think of things changes everything. I have university degrees in literature and biology. I’ve discovered time and again how the stories we tell, the ones we repeat, have a remarkable affect on those exposed to them. Advertisers are expert at this.

Literary history, or the story of our stories, tends to begin with colonization, and the writing of French and English explorers, military types, etc. I studied Tomson Highway in university. One play. In English. Robert Bringhurst urges us to look at our classics as the mythology of the First Peoples of Turtle Island. Then we, the settler-types, brought our traditions with us. We even developed a new storytelling medium, moving pictures and  new music, from jazz to hip-hop.

Just this shift in perspective changes my behaviour. Any time I read non-fiction that begins with Plato or the Greeks, I send it back. I’ve heard plenty from the Greeks for a lifetime, and I will not give them more of my time. I’d rather learn about Haudenosaunee, Anishnaabeg, Inuit, Maya, Huichol, and how they viewed their place in the world.

The more I learn, the more I have to think on it. How did the Mexica (Aztec) wage war from cities without walls? How did societies deal with transgressions without prisons? How did lacrosse work to solve disputes in place of war? Thinking on it, and listening to the informed opinions of members of the communities in question. It’s a slow process, but rewarding.

For example, lacrosse was considered by some to be the Creator’s game, and it was played for the pleasure of the Creator. I’ve been thinking of what motivates us to competition. The current USAmerican version seems to be “winner take all”, whereas the “Pleasure of the Creator” seems to be the antithesis.

I’ve been motivating myself to please the Creator. It’s remarkable how effective it is. There’s no pressure to act. There’s no demands. If you do, and you are engaged in what you’re doing, and you seek to improve, and you push yourself past your boundaries with the help of others and vice versa, then what does a score matter? That’s competition at its best.

I’ve changed how I think about stories, and the story I use to motivate myself. In immersing myself in stories from First Peoples, Newcomers, people living in foreign lands, people from past times, whatever I could. I’ve come across many similarities in our great diversity. I think of mixed up Settlers such as myself, syncretism is inevitable.

How does one blend together aspects from several cultures, remove them from their contexts, and make them into something meaningful while still being respectful? We are influenced by what we see around us, and it shows itself in our creative work. The need to be respectful of origins is important.

The only way to properly figure out a Settler Identity is to tell stories that evoke what’s important to us. Coming together in hard times, overcoming adversity, sacrifice, meaning.

I’ve been exploring this through writing an 80,000-word-and-counting fiction manuscript, dancing, and juggling. The more I move, the better I process ideas.

Hope you like it.



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