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I just finished reading a provocative article in the May 2017 issue of CCPA (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) The Monitor, which is called Views of Canada.  In it, an indigenous writer, Tara Williamson, writes about the current move toward reconciliation as just another attempt by white settlers to assuage their guilt at forcing assimilation on the first peoples of this land.  She writes “If reconciliation were actually about making amends from the past it would involve actions that accounted for the ongoing legacy of colonization.  We would be having conversations about land repatriation.  We would talk about dismantling structural inequities.  You would give us back our children:”.  (CCPA The Monitor, May 2017, p. 22)

Harsh words.  Hard for us settlers to hear and understand, let alone accept.  Land repatriation won’t happen.  No elected government would ever support that, and I don’t think any government anywhere (nor in recorded history) has ever repatriated land.  Armed struggle and revolution is the only way that land has been redistributed.  Yet there is truth in Williamson’s words.  So what now?

What would Jesus do?  Did he live in a land that had been stolen from its inhabitants?  Oh, yes, the Romans ruled Israel during Jesus’ lifetime.  Yet he said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Who is my neighbor?  What would it mean to love first nations people as we love ourselves?

How would we see land use and land ownership differently?  The early Jewish people believed they were stewards of the land, not owners.  Could we get back to that?  What would it take for our society to change from land ownership to land stewardship?  Would the banks suddenly stop collecting interest on mortgages?  Are the environmentalists who believe in land respect and stewardship in line with aboriginals?  Do aboriginals and environmentalists work together?

As I weeded my back yard I realized I would not give my land away, not to anyone, no matter what colour their skin or their needs.

“Terra Nullius” is one of the principles followed by the European settlers.  It means “land belonging to no one”.  That belief justified making the Indian tribes who lived on the land invisible, despite their initial welcome to newcomers and their principles of “sharing the land”.  The key words are “belonging to”.  Land ownership is at the heart of settler mentality and colonization.  After all, most of our European ancestors came to the new world as impoverished tenants with no resources, and they came because of the promise of free land upon which to start over.  Are we willing to look at that?  Is land ownership just another of the structural inequities that we must examine?  Could “terra nullius” also mean “land belonging to no one yet everyone upon it”?

Without a common understanding of the land and our place upon it, and without an agreement to live in love and respect for all our neighbours, reconciliation is just a word.

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I bought ‘Away’ at a thrift store, because I always browse the book section when I visit a thrift store.  I had heard of Jane Urquhart so picked this up.  ‘Away’ was one of her earlier books, and it just grabbed me and kept me spellbound while I read it.  This could be because of my Irish heritage, or maybe my desire to be a better writer, or perhaps the combination of dreaminess and rugged poverty.  I thought of others who have mined their families for historical myth and fact.  Sad and brave people.  Our ancestors.  The early settlers, searching for a place to start anew and to grow their own food and be sustained in safety.  I had tears frequently.

Another of Jane Urquhart’s books was ‘The Stone Carvers’, which I read mostly on the weekend of the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.  The Stone Carvers tells the story of a broken family of settlers, whose children were raised by a woodcarver father and a distressed mother.  Eventually the brother and sister move to become carvers of the Vimy memorial, but that doesn’t happen until near the end of the book.  Leading up to that is a tale of loss and pain, of love and despair.  Magical, which Urguhart is so good at displaying,

When I read her book ‘Night Stages’ I was carried away again to Ireland, but not a part that I have visited.  It also makes me want to visit Gander Nfld to see the mural at the airport.  This book was well-researched.  I thought a lot about marriage and mistresses, and sibling rivalry.  Sad.  However, one part I wrote into my journal, because she tells the legend of Oisin. She writes how Oisin thought he had been asleep for only 3 days, and he wanted to find his hunting companions.  St. Patrick met him and told him he had been asleep for three centuries, and his companions were long dead.  It had been a long time since the wars.  Oisin wept.  Patrick said, “I will instruct my monks to write down your stories and those of your kin, so they will not be lost.  for your world has been vanquished my my world, and will never come back.”  (P. 155)

This part moved me to tears, because I thought about the First Nations desire for restoration and our settler need for reconciliation.  This is sadness.  Acceptance of loss.  Sorrow.

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Another book I read was historical fiction, set in China before the communist revolution.  The Russian Concubine was a great read, entertaining as well as informative.  It followed two women, a mother and daughter, and taught me about the expatriate community in one of the larger Chinese towns.  Very good, and I can’t recall who wrote it.  Based on fact, I’m sure, but the characters were cleverly developed and gripped me with the intensity of young love.  The teen-aged daughter seemed totally real, disclosing her thoughts which often were in opposition to her behavior.  She could be a brat at times.

 

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This book by Madeleine Thien won the Giller prize this year, so I was anxious to read it.  I watched Madeleine Thien receive the award, when the Giller prize was announced, and she impressed me as a speaker.  Reading her book later impressed me by her writing and her wisdom.  She tells the story of an extended family in China during years that I knew about slightly through Canadian media.  However, this book shows the rich humanity and passion of the individuals, over years and generations.  Sad.  Sobering.  I cried, and I learned.  I wanted these people to live, and live well, and reconnect.  I wished I played piano and had experienced Goldberg and Brahms and Glenn Gould.  I have only a smattering of knowledge to bring to these pages, so I received much more in return.

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I have been reading this book off & on for about a month.  It is very detailed, and I am learning a lot!  However, the small print and many unfamiliar names frequently slow me down, and as non-fiction it challenges me and teaches me.  I lived through the years that Mandela was in prison, and thought I knew his life, but this book shows me that I understood little.  I have learned how long it takes to become an activist, and how one must stay true to one’s convictions and beliefs despite set-back and lack of support and imprisonment.  It is written by Anthony Sampson.  I shall continue to read it, between easier books of fiction and escapism.  Many events described in this book make me think of Canada’s indigenous people.  I continue to learn to understand colonialism, and racism, and the need for perseverance in the face of injustice.

 

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I continue to read, as well as write.  The more recent books have been by Jane Urquhart, who wrote ‘Away’ about 15 years ago.  It was new to me, but after I raved about her writing to a friend, I borrowed two more books by her. “The Stone Carvers’ was lovely, and since I was reading it the same weekend as the 100th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge, very appropriate.

I have just looked at the pile of books beside the sofa, and found ten that I haven’t written about, so I’ll add these to future blogs.

I have written another play, and it’s gone through 5 revisions so far.  Who knows if it ever will be produced?

 

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Still Reading Books….

So many books, too many to recall them all.  When we go to the Thrift stores, my partner checks for vintage pottery and I look at books.  What do I remember?  Which ones are still in my mind?

Elizabeth George – 3 mystery books, featuring Scotland Yard favourites

Russka, by Edward Rutherford

People of the Lakes, by Kathleen Oneil Gear & Richard Gear

The Lake House, by Kate Morton (my current escape)

Mindsight, by Daniel Siegel

The Brain’s Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge

Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert

One Story, One Song, by Richard Wagamese

Energetic Boundaries, by Cyndi Dale

A Place Called Freedom, by Ken Follett

Ann’s House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery

I think there were more books between last February and now, as it’s only 12 books in 6 months.  I realize I am a slow reader, but there were others I’m sure.  Funny how the fictional books are forgettable, but not the non-fiction.

 

 

 

 

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