As I write this, I am very aware that I sit on land that is the ancestral home and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq nation.
I am grateful that they have been good stewards of the land for more than 10,000 years. Wela’lin.
Forty years ago, I went home from Halifax to visit my parents. Mom was an avid collector of antiques and quirky older things. The first thing I noticed was a new (to us) and very beautiful scroll hanging on her wall. It was the Lord’s Prayer in Mi’kmaq.
“Where did you get that?” I asked in surprise. She told me she had found it at one of the dozens of garage sales she would frequent in the Brantford, Ont., area near her home.
“That belongs in Nova Scotia,” I told her.
She could see the word “Micmac” on the bottom, but in the years before Google, she had not known anything about them.
It was a truly beautiful piece of sacred art. The hieroglyphics are wondrous to behold and I couldn’t stop looking at the piece. As I was leaving to drive back to Nova Scotia, she put the scroll in my hand.
"You can take this home,” she said.
But more about this later.
Recent events are indicating to me that we “newcomers” to Canada are still dropping the ball. Not everyone understands or has opted into the reconciliation process Canada promised to engage in with our Indigenous neighbours.
First Nations people keep waiting patiently — and for some — not so patiently anymore. But the non-Indigenous keep blundering along, seemingly oblivious to the efforts being made by those who graciously involved themselves in creating the reconciliation process.
On our behalf, down through the years, government officials have signed pieces of paper that made promises. And then those papers were put on a shelf. Out of sight, out of mind. And the country went back to the same status quo that puts profits before people and our precious land.
We are a country of a diversity of cultures. It is certainly something to be celebrated. Our consciousness of today seems to be focused on those we welcome to “our” country. But the reality is that we were welcomed graciously by First Nations people first.
And we should remain humbled by the magnitude of their welcome. We should remember with shame that the earliest Europeans did not ask permission to make themselves at home. They just did. And then, they took over.
If the original stewards of this land chose peaceful means to get our attention last month when we endangered the land and their way of life — so be it. It worked. And if the leader of our land chose to wait and be patient while the Indigenous spoke among themselves and took the time for discussion, meditation and consensual dialogue among themselves — so be it. If they looked to their own hereditary chiefs with respect for their answers — so be it. It is their way.
There is so much we can learn from a people who are patient, thoughtful, respectful and so spiritual in their ways.
I was offended for this country’s First Nations people when leaders stood and told the prime minister he is doing nothing and to hurry up with putting demonstrators in jail. I am offended when they stand in our House of Commons and call out our own MP, Jaime Battiste, because he wore an Indigenous medallion around his neck instead of a tie when he rose to speak in Parliament.
And I watch with gratitude as the original nations in this country respond with patience and quiet determination to teach us how to listen.
Forty years ago, I brought that Lord’s Prayer in Mi’kmaq scroll back to Nova Scotia and I hung it in each of my successive homes around the province. It was my most prized possession. And then, a couple of years ago, finally the spirit moved me to complete its homecoming. I took it over to Jeff Ward at the Membertou Heritage Park and put it in his hands.
He explained it is not a literal translation of the prayer and pointed out what the graceful and sacred symbols mean. I was so glad to see that the prayer was in a language and form that meant something to those who could read it.
For as much as I love that scroll and the prayer, it is also a symbol of colonization. Our religions were not their religions. They were imposed upon the First Nations people. The relationship they had with their Creator when they experienced first contact with European settlers is beautiful and meaningful. Some have maintained their spiritual beliefs, and some incorporate them into whatever organized religion they practice in their modern lives.
In typical First Nations fashion, Membertou has chosen to share the scroll prayer with visitors to the Heritage Park where it now hangs on the wall. I am so grateful to Jeff Ward and the Mi’kmaq nation for choosing to do that. For beauty needs to be maintained and shared. Canada’s Indigenous community has always known that. That’s what they always try to do. Wela’lin.
Rosemary Godin is a retired clergy and print journalist. She lives with hubby and Chuck (the dog) in Westmount where she learns a new word every day – and some are repeatable. You can reach her at: email@example.com