Compiled by Kelly Anne Smith
Lament for Confederation – Chief Dan George in 1967
How long have I known you, Oh Canada? A hundred years? Yes, a hundred years. And many, many selenium more. And today, when you celebrate your hundred years, Oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land.
For I have known you when your forests were mine; when they gave me my meat and my clothing. I have known you in your streams and rivers where your fish flashed and danced in the sun, where the waters said ‘come, come and eat of my abundance.’ I have known you in the freedom of the winds. And my spirit, like the winds, once roamed your good lands.
But in the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea. The white man’s strange customs, which I could not understand, pressed down upon me until I could no longer breathe.
When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority.
My nation was ignored in your history textbooks – they were little more important in the history of Canada than the buffalo that ranged the plains. I was ridiculed in your plays and motion pictures, and when I drank your fire-water, I got drunk – very, very drunk. And I forgot.
Oh Canada, how can I celebrate with you this Centenary, this hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to me of my beautiful forests? For the canned fish of my rivers? For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people? For the lack of my will to fight back? No! I must forget what’s past and gone.
Oh God in heaven! Give me back the courage of the olden chiefs. Let me wrestle with my surroundings. Let me again, as in the days of old, dominate my environment. Let me humbly accept this new culture and through it rise up and go on.
Oh God! Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success-his education, his skills- and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society.
Before I follow the great chiefs who have gone before us, Oh Canada, I shall see these things come to pass. I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedoms of our great land.
So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.
Sid Bobb reflects on his Salish Great Grandfather’s Lament for Confederation. Chief Dan George offered his words as Canada celebrated one hundred years as a country.
Fifty years have passed since his famous ancestor brought First Nations to the forefront. Bobb says, “Much has changed and much remains the same.
I share my great grandfather’s sadness. I am sometimes overcome with grief with the amount of suicide in my communities. I talk with my son about the suicide around us. My son’s 10 years old.”
“For I have known you when your forests were mine; when they gave me my meat and my clothing. I have known you in your streams and rivers where your fish flashed and danced in the sun, where the waters said ‘come, come and eat of my abundance.’” – Chief Dan George
I have dreamed of the abundance within the stories shared with me by my father. There were dug-out canoes that were scattered throughout the Fraser.
There used to be an abundance of fish that once inhabited my wife and sons traditional territory of Lake Nipissing.
It maddens me to remember fishing with my family by moonlight, me and my brother hiding under a quilted blanket. As a fisherman I have lurked in the shadows.
As an artist I often lurk in the shadows. I am saddened and maddened. There is a fire in my belly and under my feet. My great aunt said Warrior up. I fight to keep feeling despite the immense grief that comes with having a heart in times of great despair.
They want to increase oil extraction in the tar sands. Trudeau has said we can have both, the economy and the environment. I have heard of both, the abundance of bison, salmon, and old growth trees. But I have not had both. I have heard of sparkling fresh water. I know many Indians across this country who do not have both and haven’t for a long time.
I don’t think Trudeau is talking about me. My dreams are still lurking in the shadows.
Give me back the courage of the olden chiefs.
I have tried to become invisible to avoid the beatings from non-native children when I went to school. I have tried to separate myself from my feelings as a child, teenager and young man.
But for many years I have been reaching for the courage of the olden chiefs. I searched to find the strength to open my heart to love myself, my family and this heartland.
But for many years I have been reaching for the courage to rise out of the sea like the thunder bird of old. To let go of the shame, fear and sadness from growing up in alcohol and violence. It was in my home, on the streets, in the schools. When trudeau says ‘We can Have Both’ it is violence. It makes invisible my rights and dreams.
So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation? “We can have both,’ Trudeau. Yes we can. Canada, clean up the waters in northern Alberta. Bring back the Salmon to the Fraser. During Canada’s 150 celebrations I have watched many Indigenous artists fold up shop as non-Indigenous artists perform our stories. Our stories of grief and violence.
Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star, a dance piece centred on stories of residential school was performed across the country on our largest stages, on the main stage of Planet Indigenous in 2015 at the Harbour Front Centre, in wigs. While Planet Indigenous’s Indigenous choreographers shared a smaller theatre. The Canadian opera Company’s Louis Riel was directed by a non-Indigenous director. My great grandfather did not get a chance to perform in large productions until his later years. We need Canada to move over and let us tie our place. Discrimination is violence. It is neither my value, nor Canada’s as I understand.
It’s possible. Things can change. This change has a price tag. The lack of change has a price tag. We are still impoverished. But it’s possible and I am heartened when we give voice to possibility and identity of what is actually happening in this country.
Trudeau, include me and Indigenous people in your pledges to possibilities. We Can Have Both.