This summer, I was listening to an episode of CBC’s Out in the Open about modern families, which focused on a “new twist” to the family model: moving back to the ’burbs, back home near mom and dad, living within a couple blocks of each other, having lots of support nearby. The reporter, Christine Birak, spoke about having a family to fall back on to share child caregiving with, about family suppers in the backyard, about the kids playing and growing up together. She spoke about it as going back to the idea of it taking a village to raise a child—the famous African proverb, the title of former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book.
Anishinaabek traditional ways of caretaking and parenting also include the village. I remember being a young child watching my grandpa and uncle go out to the bush, hauling out trees to build my uncle's first house. While this was happening, I had my own set of chores. My grandma would give me a bowl to fill up with blueberries and, once it was filled, she’d make blueberry pancakes and blueberry bannock. But that wasn’t my only job. I’d also haul water from the river, cut and stack wood, help out where I could. We worked from sun-up to sun-down, following Mother Nature’s cue, doing different chores according to the seasons. When hunts were successful, we’d share the bounty with the community, family, and friends. When times were hard, we could count on others.
Our traditional ways could have easily been woven into the CBC episode noted above, but they weren’t. And the editor didn’t hold the journalist accountable for knowing Indigenous practices—Canada’s history.
In 2016, media attention was focused on Gord Downie and his project, Secret Path, which told the story of Charlie Wenjack, a young Anishinaabe boy who ran away from residential school and died due to exposure. For Downie, this was his legacy project, one he’d be remembered for. Downie said he was introduced to Wenjack after hearing a 2012 CBC Documentary “Dying For An Education,” where the reporter cited a Maclean’s article from 1967.
Downie used the magazine article as his inspiration for his poetry, which he turned into an album and other media. He said in an interview this was the best thing he’s ever done and “it [helped] his heart.” All across the country, Downie is praised for bringing the Wenjack story to light and for exposing the truth that Canada has been “trained our entire lives to ignore.”
But what about Mi'kmaq artist Willie Dunn, who wrote a song about Charlie Wenjack in 1970? Dunn was a singer, songwriter, poet, and activist. He often created art that exposed the realities of Indigenous people, which earned him seven international awards and led to him being inducted into the Aboriginal Walk of Honour. Yet in the articles about Downie and the Secret Path, Dunn wasn’t acknowledged or credited for his contributions to voicing Wenjack’s story. The narrative is one of a white musician who brought forth the issues of residential schools.
How many other Indigenous voices have also been silenced or replaced with whiteness, both in Canada and around the world?