We have lived in Canada for almost a quarter century now and have lost count of our visits to Niagara Falls. Last week however, for the very first time we went over to the US side of the Falls. Family and friends from India were visiting the US and as they did not have Canadian visit visas, we went across the border to meet with them. While they were busy doing the usual stuff that tourists see and do, my wife went over to browse through the handicrafts created and being displayed by Indigenous ladies in the Falls park. A couple of wooden tables had been set up in the shade of the splendid, hoary trees; seated on camp chairs behind each table were a few genial ladies, pleasantly chatting with each other and letting interested tourists finger their wares. Occasionally, they would explain a special feature or quote the price of a product. My wife approached a table and as she browsed, the lady watching over the curios warmed up to her and they were soon in deep conversation.
She told my wife that their ancestors were among the original settlers around the Falls and that her family had always lived in the area. “Everyone else is an immigrant” she said, “We are the original owners of this land but every day have to assert our rights to be allowed to co-exist and just survive”. “Do you vote?” asked my wife and the lady said, “Who could we vote for? It’s all the same. I just want to live a life of peace and contentment, so do not get fussed about politics”.
On the drive back heading home, my thoughts wandered. Recently, I had read an excellent book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI”. In the 1870s, the Osage Indian Nation peoples were displaced from their ancestral lands in Kansas and forced south to rocky, desolate and presumed barren lands. In their treaty of subjugation, the Osage had been wise to retain rights to whatever lay below the ground ceded to white man’s law. So, when oil was discovered under their land drillers and prospectors had to pay drilling leases and royalties to the Osage. In the 1920s, on a per capita basis, the Osage were considered to be the richest people on earth! Then the usual devious schemes were put in operation and a white “guardian” was assigned for each Osage to look after his/her interests and their oil inheritance was gradually stolen from them. The Osage were befriended or alliances formed through marriage, and then they were systematically murdered through poisoning, alcohol intoxication or other means. The then Bureau of Investigation (which later became the FBI) was called in to investigate the disproportionately high rate of deaths among the Osage and found rampant corruption where state and local officials were either in on the plots, receiving payments to turn a blind eye to the murders or just couldn’t be bothered to investigate the death of an Indian.
Yet, the Osage remained firm in the belief that “What is gone is treasured because it was what we once were. We gather our past and present into the depths of our being and face tomorrow. We are still Osage. We live and we reach old age for our forefathers.”
The history of this land and its peoples was not known to me and it is only now that I am starting to learn more about the country that I live in. This blog is a humble and respectful attempt to remind other immigrants like myself, of the debt of gratitude we owe to the original owners for allowing us to settle in Canada.
While Indigenous peoples have done this from time immemorial, collectively we (the non-Indigenous settlers) now make a Land Acknowledgment Statement at the commencement of a ceremony or a formal event. It is not merely a statement.
“Using and participating in a land acknowledgement is a way to recognize the enduring presence and resilience of Indigenous peoples in this area for time immemorial. They are also a reminder that we are all accountable to these relationships.”
Meaningful relationships are enduring. They go back in time to when an affiliation was being developed. They also stretch into the future to forge new relations waiting to be created. While expressing gratitude to those that came before us, let us keep our hearts open to accept the settlers that are preparing to follow us. Acceptance, not division binds us all together.