Today is Canada’s 150th birthday, a day of celebration for most in the country. But lately I have been reminded that for many, many thousands of indigenous Canadians there is very little to celebrate. The past 150 years for them has been filled with horrific events that are only just beginning to be addressed and admitted on a national scale. Whether it is the shameful history of residential schools or the shameful impoverished conditions so many live with today, their story both past and present should not be ignored, especially on a day like today.
Over the course of my year of discovering creativity in myself and around me, I have encountered the powerful, gracious and elegant art of Native Canadians. In their expressions the spirit remains strong and the story endures. They are a crucial part of the nation and we are blessed that this people continue to shine despite the wounds inflicted on them.
I went searching for Canadian Aboriginal poetry and came upon a poet who resides in my city, Ottawa. Her name is Vera Wabegijig and she is from the Unceded Reserve of Wikwemikong, Ontario in Georgian Bay. Her poem “Hunting” is the art I want to share with you today. In her own words, Vera Wabegijig says this:
“‘Hunting’ has a lot to do with resilience and resistance and the reason why I wrote it was because I was thinking a lot about salmon how the salmon will teach, will give us teaching to help us, will give us insights or give us a way to overcome and to persevere, to live.
No matter what comes your way, no matter what the obstacles are, the salmon will teach me to just overcome, and to keep on going no matter what the obstacles are and to also learn from those obstacles and to integrate them into my life and to just move forward.”
A raven flies, wings with long blue-black feathers drifting on the wind
Currents under body and hovers in the air
Raven dives into the creek below that brims with sockeye.
A salmon leaps out of the water, with reds and silver arcs
Back fins wag and build a momentum, ascending further upstream
Bears with pigeon-pawed trot over with a swaying, heavy head, climb on top of rocks
Where the water flows and falls with mouth wide open
They bite the springing salmon, canine teeth pierce into the silver belly
Eagles swoop, massive wings slow the body down with talons wide open
Preying in the creek, rising with salmon in its golden grip
Yet the salmon move, push, and endure, through broken skin and hanging entrails
This gathering place is encoded in memory, bringing salmon home
This long journey that nothing can stop, not even eagles, ravens or bears