This week’s episode of Canada: The Story of Us primarily dealt with the abundance of Canada’s natural resources and the men who sought to capitalize on them. We covered the history of William Hazen and his lumber company and the burgeoning competition between the Hudson’s Bay Company and The North West Company. We learned the history of the “Canada stove,” the fur trade on the west coast of Canada and the quest to find a land passage to the west.
But in a history as rich and as controversial as Canada’s is, stories are left out, and not every perspective will be covered to everyone’s satisfaction. After the warm reception that author and historian David Plain received last week, I thought it might be fun to get his perspective once again; one that mainstream Canada rarely gets.
As I watched this episode, knowing that we would likely have this conversation, I was wondering what your reaction would be with respect to the environment and natural resources?
Elder David Plain: When you’re talking about natural resources you are talking about the environment. But [the producers] never acknowledged the environment. Instead, they accentuated the commercial aspect of natural resources. Nor did they present the difference in worldview between First Nations and the settlers.
Basically, the difference is First Nations understands our position to the environment is subordinate. Although we are a part of the environment its purpose is to nurture and support us. Settlers, on the other hand, see the environment as natural resources to be exploited for profit.
So where does this difference come from? Their creation stories inform their worldviews. The settlers look to their bible where after God creates everything he tells Adam and Eve to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. They understand this to mean human beings are over and above the environment. It is theirs to use and abuse as they wish.
Individual First Nations’ stories all follow the same vein. For example, in the Anishnaabeg creation story after Gitche Manidoo creates everything he then creates humans. But he creates them naked, weak and vulnerable. Then he calls a council with the spirits of all the other things he has created. That’s the environment. He asks them if they will give themselves in order for the humans to survive. They agreed. That’s why we lay tobacco down as a thank offering whenever we take and use anything from our environment. So the environment is over and above us.
Were there any other items about the episode that you wanted to share this week?
I was happy to see the show mention how differences are settled. First Nations in the west took coup. They use a war game where warriors tried to sneak up and touch the enemy with a stick. If they succeeded the enemy was out of the game. The side with no warriors left lost the argument. In the east, a lacrosse game was used. The field was huge and all warriors from both sides participated. The winner of the lacrosse game won the argument.
The European was quick to use the gun as seen in the story of trade on the west coast. The British and the Spanish were squaring off and shooting at each other over furs. The First Nations chief had to teach them the benefits of compromise and conciliation. Makes one wonder who were the civilized and who were the savages.
I was, however, disappointed that the program failed to explain the difference in the way First Nations traded and how Europeans do. It also goes back to the creation stories and where we fit in the scheme of things. First Nations understand everything we have as a gift. To try to profit on a surplus would be an affront to the Creator. So we didn’t trade in the European sense but rather shared surpluses with each other.
Europeans, on the other hand, see their surpluses as products of their own endeavours owned by them and to be used for profit.
Chi Miiwetch to David Plain again. I look forward to hearing your thoughts again next week!
Canada: The Story of Us airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
David Plain B.R.S., M.T.S., is the author of Plains of Aamjiwnaang, From Ouisconsin to Caughnawaga, 1300 Moons and has an upcoming book The Exmouth Chronicles: A Memoir due to be released April 2017 by Trafford Publications. You can reach David on Facebook or Twitter.