Settler: “a person who moves to live in a new area”
Indigenous: “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native. Also refers to the notion of a place-based human ethnic culture that has not migrated from its homeland”
I was inspired to write about this topic by two events disparate in time and space: first, by the constant news about the blockades of the Train lines across Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en’s desire to have the RCMP off their traditional territory as they seek to block the Coastal gas link pipeline and secondly by my Mother finding a short paper I wrote in grade 5 entitled “What is a Pioneer?” This is what I wrote in the 1960s:
“A Pioneer is somebody is somebody who goes where no one has gone before and leaves footsteps for others to follow. Another type of Pioneer is a person who invents something or discovers something. There are still frontiers to conquer in the oceans, the poles and space, in solving our pollution problems and poverty. We will always need Pioneers.”
Somehow the news about the blocking of the Train lines and this paper gave me this idea: We all start off as Pioneers who become Settlers and then, eventually, become Indigenous. In other words, being a “Settler” [that means all of you who did not walk here 10,000 years ago] or “Indigenous” is not a static concept it is dynamic. At any moment in time there are some human beings who are Settlers and others who are Indigenous and when they collide there is usually conflict. When you look at things this way the current conflict between the Federal government and Wet’suwet’en traditional chiefs [note: only some of them] looks different. I see this ‘conflict’ as our attempt to merge the dominant “Settler” culture with the previous “Indigenous” culture to create a new “Indigenous” culture that incorporates the best of both worldviews.
To me this is a helpful perspective given this simple fact: except for those who still live in the Rift Valley of East Africa where humans evolved all of us have been Settlers. We have ALL migrated and thus none of us started as Indigenous; rather, we become Indigenous when we become part of and identify with a place so strongly that our identity is wrapped with the place we live. This is a natural and healthy state of being that has been, temporarily, disrupted by the domination of Western culture across the world. An important point here, is this not necessity a “bad thing” – it is the way life works. All of us come from somewhere else, all of us were once Settlers seeking a new home. The trick is that when one group moves to a new place where, usually, people already live, the 2 groups must intermingle and become a new people who feel, in their hearts, that this is home and that they are of this place. Take my name as a case in point: Kubanek. I was born in Montreal, my Father grew up in England but his father was from the Czech republic so I am “Czech”. However, it turns out that the name “Kuban” is a river in Russia near Georgia. Does that make me Canadian? British? [I have a British passport!] Czech? Russian? Clearly, my family left Russia long ago for the Czech republic, then England and finally came to Canada. Clearly, we are Settlers. But I do not consider myself as such. I am not of Russia, or the Czech republic or England. I consider myself a part of Canada. My home is Canada. In my heart and in my bones I am of the Canadian Shield. I am Indigenous.
Thus, all of us are Settlers – including the Indigenous Canadians who walked here 10,000 years ago. We all become Indigenous when we choose, in our hearts, to become part of a place so much that if we do not live there we feel incomplete. Thus, our conflicts today are not really racial or even cultural, it is about the mass movements of millions of people who are being uprooted from their homes that become Settlers and come in conflict with the local Indigenous peoples. Only when the Settlers feel [and this takes time] that they too are Indigenous, can a healthy relationship with each other, but also with the land, be established.
This is why I find things like mass tourism and having dual citizenship a problem – it delays the process by which Settlers become Indigenous. If we really want to have true reconciliation with those Settlers who came before us and became Indigenous we must learn from them to become one with the land. We must feel, as they do, that to desecrate the land is to injure the people who live there. We must stop thinking of “us” and “them” by becoming “us”. In effect the only healthy way forward, if we want to avoid the conflict and violence that is the norm when 2 cultures collide, is for those of the dominant Settler culture [most of us] to absorb from those who came before us so that together we all become Indigenous.
So, remember dear friends, at one point in time ALL OF US were Pioneers, then Settlers – but now it is time for all of us to become Indigenous!