I’ve always been amazed with the ignorance and the slackitivsm of non-Indigenous in Canada (particularly Caucasian ones) when it comes to Indigenous issues. Whether it’s the should’ve-been-decades-in-progress Truth and Reconciliation Report or the time it took a Canadian federal government to sit down with the National Chiefs and discuss actual pertinent issues (see video below), Canada as a whole is far behind in the push for equality of all its citizens. However, it can definitely be agreed upon that this recent push was far bigger then had ever been accomplished, and ironically, this push was from yet another Trudeau, almost a quarter of a century later with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (although Trudeau Sr’s efforts towards Indigenous rights have been, in simplest terms, largely contested).
“Our overarching goal is to renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. This renewal must be a nation-to-nation relationship, based on recognition, respect for rights, co-operation, and partnership.” – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (pm.gc.ca)
Although National Chiefs have met with Prime Ministers before, this is, as you can see in the following clip, the first time in a long time they have reason to be optimistic.
“It is the first time in many, many years that we have had the Prime Minister sit with us.” – National Chief Perry Bellegarde (1:45)
And it’s true–check out this excerpt from Bellegarde’s speech. (Full document:Bellegarde-speech-to-SCA-Dec-8-2015)
It seems there is reason to celebrate. However, this hasn’t always been the case. As Pierro, Barrera, Blackstock, Harding, McCue, & Metatawabin find in their 2013 study, over the years 2010-2011, only 0.15% of all Canadian news stories covered were of Aboriginal issues. They also found that over 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, the percentages of Aboriginal stories covered were 0.23% and 0.46% of total stories respectively. Reflecting how far we have come in recent years, the top theme in 2010-2011 was contraband tobacco at only 6% of those Aboriginal stories covered; in 2011-2012, the top theme was the Attawapiskat housing crisis at 22%; and in 2012-2013, the top theme was the Idle No More movement at 31% (Pierro 2013).
Nowadays, the situation seems a little less bleak. In a push for the clean-up of their water source, polluted with Mercury since the 1960’s, Grassy Narrows Indigenous youth created this music video, explaining in their own way the love they have for their home and their desire to be understood. Grassy Narrows’ pleas for help has been largely ignored until now, with the emergence of this video prompting a federal investigation into the condition of the water. What’s amazing is that this video appeared in mainstream media, and was played in full on CBC’s The National (May 4th 2016), setting in motion a viral trend on social media. (This video is the topic of my EDEC612 final assignment)
What this video creates is a dialogue through music about issues that have previously failed to be discussed by traditional means, and is coming to the forefront in an era of Canadian politics where Indigenous issues are being held in a more serious light (as seen by the TRC and Trudeau’s attendance at the Assembly). Particular elements of the film create a sense of the home these students know: broken glass, snow-covered cars, a steadily-beating drum, and above all “a story of hope” (2:19). Throughout the video, the audience sees a snow-covered landscape, frozen in beauty, and perhaps representing, in the students’ own ways, their connection to the land and its preservation in the modern age.
“Stand together as a nation and express what we feel” (2:54)
It is so important to recognize that movements like this and the Idle No More protests gaining media attention is a rare occurrence in Canadian society. The pedagogical implications are endless. Not only is this representative of a paradigm shift of Canadian politics, in an era of liberalness–as opposed to current ideologies being presented to our neighbors to the south–
–it also marks a shift away from the typical colonial dialogue of “aboriginals” and “natives” (See this helpful link! And this one!) toward a new sense of collaboration among those nations and cultures occupying the land. A form of media such as this, sung from the hearts of young people about the land they live on and will protect, provides the colonial eye with a new perspective from which to move forward and discuss issues of those excluded by the dominant culture. It is a positive move, but there is still a ways to go.
N’we Jinan, the production company behind the video, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to “giving a voice to First Nations artists through music and creative expression.” For a quick look at N’we Jinan, check out their website and their Facebook page.
Teachers should be encouraged to present this song and others like it as a way of circumventing traditional medias in order to facilitate critical dialogue. Through this dialogue, we approach tolerance and awareness, and we move towards a space of equality, something that has not dominated Canadian political discussion in a long time. This has positive consequences on both the federal and provincial levels: Not only are these issues being brought into the forefront, but they provide a model of open communication through which other minorities and under-represented groups of people can express themselves and gain traction and inclusion in this new sense of what it is to be Canadian. Hopefully this marks a new dawn for political debate and communication around the world.