Armageddon in Our Bones, Utopia in Our Souls
The Contemporary Indigenous Renaissance
We the first peoples of this land have Armageddon in our bones and utopia in our souls. Generations of trauma are imprinted on our chromosomes, linking our DNA to the sorrow of our ancestors.
Halcyon memories of continent-wide freedom resonate from our songs, shaking the souls of our Elders and calling our children to dance. We have inherited the dreams and nightmares of forebears — hereditary chiefs and abducted children, fierce warriors and ingenious artists, loving grandmothers and vagabond uncles.
We live in an era of reconciliation, but it would take an unprecedented transformation for the immense wrongs perpetrated against our people to be put right. To begin, we must peer into the abyss of these injustices.
Thousands and perhaps even millions lost their lives to colonization. Some died in pandemics that were preventable. Others were slain in bloody wars. Still others perished in brutal solutions to the so-called “Indian problem.” The morning greeting in my Secwepemc language, “tsecwínucw-k,” literally means, “you survived the night.” There were many nights our ancestors and relatives did not survive.
Our land was stolen, and with it our culture and lifeways. In recent decades, the Supreme Court and painstaking scholarship have independently confirmed this fact, which to Indigenous peoples is as plain as day. Children were abducted and incarcerated, first in residential schools and then through the child welfare system. To this day, our people are underrepresented in universities and overrepresented in prisons. In many communities, we cannot drink the water that comes from the tap. A trip to the nearest reserve or inner city where Indigenous people band together in communities knit with love and hope for brighter days will confirm that ours is neither a just society nor fair country.
It would be an egregious mischaracterization, however, to paint the Indigenous experience on this land as solely tragedy. There is triumph here too, especially in recent generations. After decades and even centuries of struggle, self-determination, not assimilation, is the zeitgeist of contemporary Indigenous renaissance.
It is a beautiful and proud thing to be Indigenous.
We count among our leaders the great Secwepemc Chief George Manuel. We have our own Michelangelos, like the masterful Bill Reid. Our literary community includes the lyrical Lee Maracle. We have grandfathers who teach us. Aunties who look out for us. Cousins who are line mates on the ice and best friends in school. It is a beautiful and proud thing to be Indigenous.
Across Canada and around the world, Indigenous people are emerging as clever leaders, guiding powerful social movements — forces for good, representing communities and values we need more of in this 21st century.
This atlas brings together voices from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, representing the diversity of intellect and profundity of tragedy, comedy and triumph in Indigenous communities from Tkaronto to Tuktoyaktuk and Victoria to Val-d’Or.
These voices are the warp and weft of the lands from which we come. In my Secwepemc language, which I had the privilege of learning with my kyé7e (my grandmother), the root suffix for people and place derive from the same ancient word: tmícw. But one need not study linguistics to recognize that the stories we tell flow from land and people — interdependent and inseparable.
More than a century ago James Teit, a Canadian Shetlander, settled in our Interior Salish territories. He visited our people and learned our languages. He became so fluent and knowledgeable that the famed anthropologist Franz Boas recruited him to contribute as ethnographer for the landmark Jesup North Pacific Expedition. During his time among our ancestors, Teit listened to our stories and reflected upon them. Eventually, he joined our struggle to right enduring wrongs, to reclaim our land and to realize a more just and fair society — a society built nation-to-nation, government-to-government and people-to-people.
It is our hope, reader, that the voices of the first peoples gathered in this atlas cause you to reflect and maybe even act as they did for Teit many generations ago.
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