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 Facebookor Twitter.
Stephen McNeil said the CBC program Canada: The Story of Us was wrong to assert that the country’s first permanent European settlement was established in 1608 near what is now Quebec City.
The premier said the history of Canada started three years earlier, when French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded a settlement at Port Royal, N.S., now a national historic site in his riding. Continue reading.
Sunday night saw the premiere episode of Canada: The Story of Us on CBC and with it came some controversy.
Throughout its history, the CBC has been the messenger of the government of Canada, promoting policy and ideology of the Canadian government. It has been guilty in the past, like much pop culture media has, of re-telling the Indigenous story to suit its own agenda. However, in light of recent events such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its Calls to Action, the inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and #NoDAPL, the public has become a little more savvy or has at least developed an awareness of CBC’s tendency for prejudicial perspectives with respect to the Indigenous story.
During the airing Canada: The Story of Us, Dr. Hayden King tweeted that he regretted his participation in this episode, stating he had tried to convince producers to include a critical narrative about Samuel du Champlain. What was included in Sunday’s episode was the following statement from King: “When the French initially came to North America, they came in small numbers. They undertook trade on Indigenous terms. Indigenous peoples dominated the relationship, and controlled the terms of the relationship.”
For the series to have a speaker with the gravitas King and his reputation brings, and to then edit his appearance, I must ask: “What is missing?” Followed by, “Why is something missing?”
We reached out to King to give him the opportunity to clarify and educate all of us as to this side of history. That request has gone unanswered. I, for one, would love for King to share his knowledge of Champlain and would welcome the opportunity to hear it.
In the meantime, I reached out to a colleague of mine, an Elder from Aamjiwnaang (formerly Chippewas of Sarnia, Ont.), historian and author David Plain to offer his knowledge of Samuel du Champlain that was not included Sunday evening. The following is his statement about the history many of us never have the opportunity to hear:
Hi David, could you please introduce yourself? David Plain: Aanii. I am an author and historian from Aamjiwnaang Territory. I am Oak Clan. My grandfather’s name was On the Plain, his father’s name was Red Sky. His father’s name was Little Thunder and his father’s name was Young Gull. My grandfathers were all Aanishnabeg Chiefs. Young Gull was born around 1640.
Please educate us, and share with us the history of Champlain that has been passed down to you? Champlain did meet some natives on the southern shore of Georgian Bay when he was exploring that way. Champlain was the first to make contact with us [Aanishnabeg] in the early 1600s introducing us to some European trade goods by way of gifts, like an axe and a knife, but these people were not direct ancestors. He also gave us the name ‘High hairs’ because of the style we kept our hair. There are some historians that believe it was the Ottawa and some believe the Chippewa he met who were hunting on the southern shore of Georgian Bay.
The thing that I noticed in the film that I watched, they did not even attempt to describe the consequences of Champlain going up the Richelieu River and shooting those two Mohawk Chiefs. This was the first time the Iroquois had seen firearms.
Champlain was always trading with the Algonquin and the Wendat and not with the Iroquois. They talked about that in the episode but not the consequences of that action [the shooting]. It was a very rash thing that he did and it caused a rift between the Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] people and the French that still exists to today.
So all of the things that followed that, the fur trade and the fighting of the English and the French would have happened a different way if Champlain had not shot the Iroquoian Chiefs. All that he did was ensure the Iroquois trade with the English, and the Dutch before that. They would not trade with the French.
They did not mention the demise of the Wendat, which was also a result of that shooting of the chiefs. This was a consequence of the war and the trade policies that event established. There were three nations that were totally wiped out because of the French trade policies: the Wendat Nation, the Tobacco Nation and the Attawandaron Nation, all Iroquoian speakers. The French trading policy from the early 1600s to mid-1600s said no guns to the Wendat. As a result of the no gun trade policy, the Iroquois were able to decimate the Wendat.
Later, in 1635, the beaver hunting grounds south of the Great Lakes had become depleted. The Iroquois were trading with the Dutch at Albany. When the Iroquois were trading with the Dutch near Albany, for 20 or 30 years, they were trading for guns and goods for the furs. Meanwhile, the Wendat north of the Great Lakes were trading their beaver furs only for goods with the French. The Bishop of Quebec and the Governor of Quebec had a policy of no guns for trade. With the depletion of beaver to the south, the Iroquois needed to expand their fur trade territory to meet the demand of the Dutch for pelts and easily did so with their guns, essentially wiping out the Wendat. The Iroquois started sending raiding parties north of the lower Great lakes, raiding the Attawandaron ‘the Neutrals,’ the Tobacco Nation in the Bruce Peninsula, and the Huron [Wendat] in Huronia north of Lake Ontario. All fell to the guns the Iroquois received in trade, and can all be traced back to that moment Champlain shot the Iroquois Chiefs ensuring the Iroquois ally themselves to the Dutch.
Chi Miigwetch to Elder David Plain of Aamjiwnaang for taking the time to speak about this aspect of Canada’s history so many of us never get to hear.
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.
I have been hearing some noise about CBC’s Canada: The Story of Us, and to be honest, I was excited. I always fall for these milestone events—be they the Olympics or major moments with the Royal Family—and Canada’s 150th falls into this category. I also completely understand why Canada 150 touches a nerve and, depending upon my frame of mind at the moment, it touches mine at times too. However, as an eternal optimist, I always hope these events can lead to an opportunity for bridge-building rather than more walls erected.
And it is clear from the very first moment that this a politically-motivated series with an opening statement by Prime Minister Trudeau. It is a statement that needs to be made, but I question the need for it here. His message: that we as Canadians do have a “dark past that we are only just coming to understand as we move forward into a new chapter that is the story of us.”
And so it goes. “We are explorers, and risk takers, dreamers and fighting the odds in a land of extremes.” Go us!
The first episode is entitled “Worlds Collide,” and it very carefully walks the delicate line that currently exists between cultures as we begin—although I find the position of “beginning” questionable—a chronological journey through Canada’s history with the story of Samuel du Champlain and the Beaver Wars. Now I say “story” intentionally. Much of the grittier detail is elided over in this retelling, obviously for time’s sake. But throughout, I felt this was all sugar-coated; re-enactments enhanced by CGI imagery. Toss in the many celebrities liberally peppered throughout with the odd historian, like John English, Ph.D., History of Trinity College and you have the “opening chapter” of Canada: The Story of Us with the establishment of New France.
The first episode also describes the process by which France promotes population growth in New France: Filles du Roi—Daughters of the King—women sent over by France to propagate and make the new colony viable, the birth of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Battle of Quebec in 1759.
Episode 2 “Hunting Treasures” airing next Sunday, suggests the epic quest for treasures: our natural resources. Our country was not begun by a settler society but rather a mercantile society. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong and is what motivated the quest to conquer a landscape wrought with so many challenges.
First, we learn the history of St. John, New Brunswick, featuring the story of William Hazen, an American who has come north to escape the War of Independence and make his fortune in the wood trade.
Next, the series tackles the complexities that influenced the competition between the Hudson’s Bay Company and The North West Company in their quest for dominance and monetary gain. Enmeshed in this competition was the importance of horses and buffalo, and the alliances between Indigenous tribes and their unique connection to the land, all of which presented challenges that needed to be overcome. The abundance of resources created a mindset that ofttimes persists today: resources are to be entirely exploited until they are virtually extinct.
The story of Mathew Bell is the next story to unfold. Bell is a man from Britain who sets the course for industrialization in Lower Canada, and made Canadian winters bearable with his creation of the “Canada Stove.” This innovation also made Les Forges Saint- Maurice the first company able to guarantee his employees a year-round wage and set a precedent for company towns that would continue to spring up across the country like Hamilton, Ont., and Fort McMurray, Alberta. We learn a bit about Chief Maquinna of Nootka Sound in present-day B.C., and his influence on the north-west fur trade and current diplomacy for which Canada is renown.
We close with the retelling of Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s passage across the Rockies in order to bring The North West Co. to that coast, uniting the fur trade across the continent.
To be perfectly frank, after Episode 1, I was not at all impressed and delayed settling in to watch Episode 2 for the purposes of this review. I was also disappointed that The Story of Us, basically began with the traditional Discovery Story, the way our textbooks have always treated the history of Canada. Understandably there is more documentation regarding the history of Canada post contact, yet still at this time when we are working toward reconciliation, it would have been nice to have more than 45 seconds devoted to the 12+ thousands of years before Samuel du Champlain’s arrival.
However, I found next week’s instalment much more engaging and I am looking forward to seeing what Episode 3 will bring. It didn’t hurt that “Hunting Treasures” closed with Peter Mansbridge evoking some patriotism the way only he can, with his closing statement: “Our natural resources will always be incredibly important, but don’t kid yourself … it is our people, Canadians, that are our greatest resource.” You don’t have to tell me, I am well aware I am a sucker for this stuff!
Overall, the cinematography is stunning. The use of CGI was a bit overdone in my opinion. I am not a huge fan of re-enactments but these were well done. I wish, as a student, when I was forced to learn Canadian history I had Canada: The Story of Us to watch. It is far more entertaining and engaging than the dry textbooks we had to study. By no means does this cover all of the details, but as a tool for educators, it would be a worthy device to introduce segments of our history to students. Parents, sit down with your school-aged children and watch. Some events will be very familiar while others may be a pleasant surprise.
Canada: The Story of Us airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.