Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, January 8, 2022

The people we rendered invisible

Sunday January 9, 2002


Canada finally seems to have recognized that the original inhabitants of this continent have had a raw deal. (I’m really nervous about writing this column – it’s too easy for people like me to pontificate about these issues.)

            On Tuesday, the federal government announced a “historic agreement-in-principle” worth $40 billion to – in the words of a CBC report – “compensate young people harmed by Canada's discriminatory child welfare system while reforming the system that tore First Nations children from their communities for decades.”

            The discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School, plus another 1,000 or so at other sites, shocked Canadians out of centuries of complacency. 

            It shouldn’t have come as a jolt.

            For seven years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission exposed story after story of persecution and discrimination. 

            The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls provided further evidence.

            Did we listen?


Absence from histories

            Harry Oussoren (a minister, friend, and publishing colleague for many years) asked the same question in his occasional blog (http://www.minister.ca). He wondered “how I was able to be so ignorant for so long, given the years I’d spent in education and informed, active living.”

            So he dug back into some texts that had shaped his perceptions of Canada. 

            The 1967 Canada Year Book, a special edition published the year of Oussoren’s ordination to celebrate Canada’s centennial, claimed that much was being done to benefit Indians and Eskimos (the only terms used then) “enabling them to cope with the transitions caused by government policy, settlement, and resource development.”

            That Yearbook praised seven treaties in the late 1800s, in which “the Indians relinquished their rights to the lands from Lake Superior to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The treaties, in general, gave Indians the right to hunt and fish in the ceded territory as long as it remained the property of the Crown.” 

            As Oussoren noted, the treaties said nothing about lands sold or licensed to third parties. Such as oil companies and railways.

            Oussoren also checked Donald Creighton’s monumental history of Canada. He was stunned to find only two references in its voluminous index: “Indians: exchange land for reserves, 26; Riel, 53-55.”

            The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1963) made no mention at all of indigenous peoples or their languages. It treated only French and English as “founding peoples.”


As if they didn’t exist

            Looking back at my own education, I realize that when I was absorbing whatever passed for Canadian history, Indians were seen only as helpers to European explorers.

            We learned the names of Radisson and Grossalier, Mackenzie and Fraser and Thompson. But the people who guided those explorers up the Ottawa River and down the Mississippi, across the Canadian Shield and the prairies, to the tidewaters of two great oceans, remained nameless. 

            They existed only as a means to an end. To our ends. To take over their land. 

            Intentionally or accidentally, we rendered them invisible. 

            Do you notice how even the pronouns I used reinforce the perception of “them” as different, distinct? Even though “they” lived here for thousands of years before “us.” 

            Canada’s original peoples should probably have received a share of Canada’s Gross National Product ever since Jacques Cartier planted a French flag on the Gaspe Peninsula in 1534. 

            By comparison, this week’s $40 billion is a pittance. 

            Besides, it perpetuates “our” way of dealing with any problem. We throw money at it.

            Indeed, accepting compensation expects “them” -- Aboriginal, Indigenous, Metis, Inuit, and First Nations -- to assimilate into “our” practice of monetizing everything. 


The means of changing

            Oussoren argues for better education, better laws. I agree about laws – although froth on the top won’t eliminate toxic mindsets lurking under the surface. 

            More equitable laws would at least enable aboriginal peoples to seek legal redress. Did you know that until the 1950s, it was illegal for native persons to hire a lawyer?

            Still, I submit that education isn’t enough. Knowing how Canada’s Aboriginal people have been screwed again and again by governments, corporations, industries, and churches won’t make any difference if those peoples remain closeted out of sight, out of mind.

            Somehow, our own lives must change. 

            Including my own.

            I just wish I knew how. 

            Living in more ecological ways would help. But that, by itself, won’t repair relationships with Indigenous peoples. 

            Learning to speak an Indigenous language might have symbolic value. But which language? And with whom would I speak it?

            I cannot become an Indigenous person. Even if I were invited to attend band meetings, councils, festivities, I would be an outsider. 

            Only one thing seems clear. As Harry Oussoren concluded, “We can’t go on acting as if all is okay. A return to ignorant bliss is inconceivable.”


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Your turn


Last week’s column about donating plasma brought, predictably, quite a few personal experiences.


Stephanie Wakelin: Thanks for this information.   I'll definitely look into donating plasma now! Congratulations on their acceptance and your persistence. 


Isabel Gibson: Thanks for doing what you do for Joan's sake, and thanks for the nudge.


Ruth Shaver wrote, “Giving any kind of blood product is a gift to the people whose lives one saves. I've been a blood donor since I was old enough (17), and though I have had periods of deferral for various reasons including travel and a cancer diagnosis, I am thrilled that this is one way I can be part of the solution to a problem. Currently, because I am blessed with ‘a lot of very sticky platelets’, I give platelets via apherisis through the American Red Cross. Regulations in the U.S. generally allow for up to 24 donations in a 12-month period, and donations can be made as often as weekly. If you are eligible to give blood or blood products, please do. Every unit helps!” 


Margaret Marquis is another regular donor: “Thank you for encouraging people to donate plasma! For several years I was able to donate platelets, every 2 weeks, for a total of more than 25 gallons, plus some whole blood donations. I continue to ‘preach it’ -- give blood ( whole blood, plasma, platelets) and you give the best gift of all -- life!”


Barb Dean writes as a receiver of others’ generosity: “Thank you so very much for your gift of donating plasma. For a number of years I have been the recipient of plasma transfusions containing immunoglobulins. I am alive and so very grateful for the gift of life and for all who have helped me navigate the ups and downs of health challenges.”


Janet Holland, too: “Last summer I needed an emergency blood transfusion.  In the busy hospital the overworked nurse took a moment before connecting the blood to my arm saying, ‘I like to take a moment to ask a blessing on the donor’.  What a moment of grace!  I have since contacted Canadian Blood Services to pass along the blessing and express my thanks for people who generously take time to donate blood and plasma.” 


Finally, this from Susan Peverley: “If you ever wonder if your columns make a difference, I can tell you that they do! I moved to a small community on the northwest corner of Sudbury in June of 2020.  Every time I drove to Sudbury I would see a huge billboard about donating plasma.  And my thought was always, ‘Too bad I can’t donate -- medications and all’  But your column inspired me to research, and to my surprise I am able to donate plasma.  I am up to 15 donations now.  In a world where I feel insignificant at times, this is something that I can do.  Thank you for the nudge.”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

               Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

               I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

               Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



               The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.




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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Indigenous, aboriginal, invisible



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