Amerindian Gods

In 1798 in Ohio, a Methodist minister named James B. Finley met with members of the Wyandot nation and asked them about their God and his. The Wyandots were descendants of Wendat refugees who, more than a century before, had fled from a land that kept changing names, and had just seven years earlier been renamed again, this time to Upper Canada.

He recorded what a Wendat historian describes as “the legend of a power struggle between the Amerindians’ God and the white man’s God.” This is what the Methodist wrote that the Wyandots told him:

Once, in the days of our grandfathers, many years ago, this white man’s God came himself to this country and claimed us. But our God met him somewhere near the great mountains, and they disputed about the right to this country. At last they agreed to settle this question by trying their power to remove a mountain. The white man’s God got down on his knees, opened a big Book, and began to pray and talk, but the mountain stood fast. Then the red man’s God took his magic wand, and began to pow-wow, and beat the turtle-shell, and the mountain trembled, shook, and stood by him. The white man’s God got frightened, and ran off, and we have not heard of him since.

Quoted from Georges E. Sioui’s Huron-Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle.

Photo by Laszlo Ilyes

Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters

This week, a Nepalese coworker mentioned that, in the Nepali language, the word you use to refer to your cousins is the same as the word you use to refer to your siblings, and the words you use to refer to your aunts and uncles are the same you use to refer to your mother and father. So, he explained, he calls all his cousins “brother” and “sister,” and he calls his aunts and uncles “mom” and “dad.”

For parents, aunts, and uncles, there is a qualifier he can use, which he translated as “first dad” for his actual father. For siblings and cousins, there is no available qualifier, so there’s no short way to say “this is my real sister;” all of a person’s sisters have equal status in the language, regardless of if they’re from the same parents.

I’d heard of this language characteristic once before. The 1,000 years old Wendat language from the land now called Ontario works the same way. From The Children of Aataentsic by Bruce Trigger:

The [Wendat]* word for mother (anan or ondoiien) also meant mother’s sister. Sisters referred to each other’s children as sons and daughters (ayein|eyein), and all their children called each other brother and sister (ataquen|etaquen), although there were separate terms distinguishing older brothers and sisters from younger ones. Thus, in an ideal longhouse, all of the women of maternal age would be called mother, and all the children were equally sons and daughters to these women and brothers and sisters to each other.

I told my friend this, and further quoted Trigger as saying that this characteristic of the language “in no sense [obliterates] the identity of the nuclear family,” but “must have encouraged a more far-reaching sense of family unity than is apparent” in the English terms.

“Yes, that’s right,” he told me. He still feels like he has a clear sense of who his nuclear family is, and that they are his closest family. However, by calling all of his cousins “brother” and “sister,” most of the time he doesn’t make any distinction between them and his brothers and sisters who are from the same parents. In practice, they all feel like his brothers and sisters, and his uncles feel like “additional” dads.

One of the things I find fascinating about this is how much language itself shapes our culture and our thoughts without us even realizing it. If I’d been told from birth that all my cousins were brothers and sisters, I’d think differently about my relationship with them, even though the only thing that would have changed would be a few words.

These kinds of differences also underline how much can be lost in translation when we try to understand a different group of people. “The failure of French writers to take note of” this feature of Wendat language, Trigger writes, “creates serious ambiguities in their accounts of [Wendat] life.” And those were writers who were there at the time, not ones trying to understand this civilization as it was from more than 400 years later.

The centrality of language to culture, and specifically Indigenous cultures, is also a common theme in Chelsea Vowel’s writing. “I think Indigenous resurgence is very much rooted in the use of Indigenous languages,” she says in Indigenous Writes.

Confusion and miscommunication can happen across languages even when both languages have similar terms for nuanced concepts like “justice” or “peace,” says Vowel. Even just “recognizing that the way people who speak that language perceive the term is different from the way you perceive it, because of historical and cultural specificities, means you’ve been given a very important insight (even if you do not fully understand those differences).”

*Trigger uses the French word “Huron” instead of “Wendat,” the word used by the people themselves (the French were always renaming everything). By replacing it with “[Wendat]” I’m following the lead both of Trigger himself, who wrote in an updated forward to the book that he wished he could go back and use that word instead, and of Trigger’s friend Georges Sioui, who, when quoting Trigger years later, replaces all instances of “Huron” with “[Wendat]”.

Photo: Huron-Wendat Nation at Wendake, Quebec.

Werewolves of Quebec

On Halloween, Canadiana, “a web series on the hunt for the most incredible stories in Canadian history,” posted a story about a French Canadian The Werewolf:

In the 1760s, strange reports began to appear in a French-Canadian newspaper. There was, according to the Gazette de Québec, a vicious beast preying on the population of the colony: a werewolf was on the loose.

The story was appropriate for Halloween, but also for a time when there is a lot of discussion about trust in news and media. The credulity of these Gazette dispatches about a werewolf surprised me. But I guess people of every time believe strange things that their media in turn reflect.

Adam Bunch of Canadiana assembled these tweets to tell the story. For more like this, follow Adam and Canadiana on Twitter.

A brief history of eugenics and sexual sterilization in Canada

In 1921 the American Museum of Natural History, of which I am a member, hosted an International Eugenics Congress in Manhattan. Alexander Graham Bell, a Scottish-born American sometimes claimed by Canada, “served as honorary president.” The conference aimed to foster a “climate of international cooperation for eugenics goals.”

There was indeed growing enthusiasm for eugenics on both sides of the Atlantic, including in Canada. Many American states had already passed sterilization laws, and in March of 1928 Alberta joined them with the Sexual Sterilization Act, the implementation of which was overseen by an appointed Eugenics Board.

On paper, the bill provided for “consensual” sterilization when deemed medically wise, but the law’s wider aims were no secret. By way of introducing the bill, the Minister of Health for the United Farmers of Alberta government said sterilization was in response to “the growing burden of taxpayers in caring for immigrants and mentally disabled persons.” Those who lobbied for the law, like the The United Farm Women of Alberta, dreamed of “genetically ‘superior’ children as the hope for a future utopian society.”

Insisting that it was not arguing for or against sterilization, but merely stating facts, The Gateway newspaper explained that regardless of what you thought of sexual sterilization it could hardly be considered cruel, and that it would “at least… prevent the propogation [sic] of mentally deficients, without working any hardships” on said deficients, who were merely subjected to a “slight incision.”

In 1930, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published “an editorial promoting the sterilization of Canadian citizens on eugenic grounds,” saying that “persons should be sterilized if it is to the interest of the race that they produce no children.” The publication of this editorial, writes Sheila Gibbons, was part of “Canada’s role in engaging in eugenic discourse during the eugenics movement” internationally.

Two years later Emily Murphy, a member of the “Famous Five,” warned in the Vancouver Sun of “race suicide” if “inferior” people were allowed to continue to reproduce. “Another prominent campaigner for sterilization was the suffragist [and Famous Five member] Liberal MLA Nellie McClung,” writes James Marsh, “whose promotion of the benefits of sterilization, especially for ‘young simple-minded girls,’ was vital to the passage of eugenics legislation in Alberta.”

British Columbia joined Alberta in 1933 with An Act respecting Sexual Sterilization. “The written aim of the legislation is the sterilization of individuals living in designated state institutions deemed to have undesirable traits.”

In 1937, Alberta’s new Social Credit government passed an amendment to strengthen the Sexual Sterilization Act, furthering legal protections for the people performing sterilizations, and loosening the already dubious requirement that victims “consent” to the procedure. Luke Kersten writes:

The years immediately following this amendment saw a steady rise in sterilization rates of Aboriginal Canadians. From 1949 to 1959, for example, rates tripled. Consent was only sought in 17% of these cases. Grekul and her colleagues estimate that 77% of Aboriginal patients presented to the Eugenics Board were diagnosed as mentally defective and hence sterilized without consent being required.

The year of the amendment happened to be the same year that Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King met with Adolf Hitler in Berlin, and wrote in his diary that he told Hitler he “had seen of the constructive work of his regime, and said that I hoped that that work might continue.” 1937 was also the year Nazi Germany began sterilizing children for not being “pure Aryans,” and when Canada proposed requiring that all “Eskimos” wear government-issued ID badges, a program the government implemented in 1941.

Then in 1942, Alberta passed a second amendment to further expand the list of reasons people should be sterilized in support of eugenics, a program that continued well beyond the end of World War II.

This history resurfaced in 1995 thanks to Leilani Muir, who successfully sued Alberta for her sterilization in 1959 at the age of 15. Muir didn’t learn she’d been sterilized until she was in her 20s. “She said officials told her at the time that she was having her appendix removed,” the CBC reported.

Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act wasn’t repealed until 1972 under the Progressive Conservative government of Peter Lougheed, which had unseated the Social Credit government the year before. “From 1929 to 1972,” writes Marsh, “the board approved 4725 of 4800 cases brought before it, of whom 2822 were officially sterilized.”

“The BC records have been destroyed.”

Photo: The Eugenics Board in 1936. Left to Right: Dr. George Mason, Mrs. Jean Field, Dr. John McEachern, Dr. Edgerton Pope. University of Alberta Archives Accession # 81-104-257

Non-revolutionary Canada in the Revolutionary Era

From 1776 to 1825, wars of independence swept through the Americas. Canada, for the most part, was an exception. Why?

The Americas in the Revolutionary Era, a Great Courses lecture by Marshall C. Eakin, surveys the countries of the Americas and how they gained their independence. It focuses on the period he calls the “revolutionary era,” starting with the Revolutionary War of the 13 colonies, followed by the Haitian rebellion and the Spanish American wars of independence involving Simón Bolívar and his contemporaries, and Brazil’s independence which was achieved through “relatively little bloodshed” by a member of the Portuguese royal family living in exile from Portugal during Napoleon’s domination of Europe.

Eakin draws a distinction between revolution — being a sudden profound change involving political, social, and economic systems — and independence. In many cases independence in the form of “self government” comes without any real “revolution.” In fact, that’s often the point. A common pattern is that the elites of the colonies decide they want to continue to exercise their power without being subject to a colonial power, and manage to affect an independence that perpetuates their rule. In Spanish America this led to the expression “same mule, different rider.”

Eakin emphasizes that there are common causes of independence — for example, a desire for free trade — but also differences. For someone searching for an answer to questions about why Canada didn’t join the U.S. revolution, or pursue their own independence sooner or more aggressively, this could be frustrating. For example, one of the reasons many American colonies were hesitant to pursue a revolutionary path was that the elites were afraid of a slave uprising, like what happened in Haiti. (Haiti was ultimately a successful slave revolt, but started out with many stratified disgruntled classes all jockeying for power.) Canada had slaves, but not so many that slavery explain Canada’s hesitance to split from the throne.

When Eakin finally addresses Canada directly about 20 lectures into the 24 lecture course, he points to a few key factors in Canada remaining loyal. One, the population of the Canadian colonies at the start of the American Revolutionary War — the first example of colonial independence in the Americas — was very small. Then, during and following the war, many loyalists moved to Canada in significant enough numbers to substantially change the makeup of those colonies. In fact, Eakin says it was that influx of immigration that forced the split of the Canadian colonies into two Upper and Lower colonies, partly due to the increased scale of the population and partly due to the clear distinction between a French Catholic population and a new English Protestant one.

The second major factor that Eakin identifies is that Britain had learned their lesson. Having lost a war and the 13 colonies, they understood the risk of full independence and did not want to incur the cost of that happening to their remaining North American interests. So they were much more willing to give concessions to the colonies in Canada in order to avoid a drive for full independence while maintaining at least some control. The main demands seem to have been free trade (which was less of an issue in British America than in Spanish America, since most of what the Spanish colonies meant by “free trade” was “access to British markets”) as well as some level of self governance. This perspective suggests that incremental Canadian independence was gained peacefully in part thanks to the American violence.

Even so, in this survey of revolutions in the Americas, there were two Canadian rebellions that Eakin deemed notable, one each in Upper and Lower Canada. He centered his mention of each on their leaders: William Lyon Mackenzie in Upper Canada and Louis-Joseph Papineau in Lower. The fact that these rebellions were not successful supports Eakin’s thesis that successful rebellions to gain independence throughout the Americas were not as inevitable as history can make them seem. Eakin views Canada as an interesting counter-example to the larger trends of independence in the Americas.

Nazi submarines in the Saint Lawrence

Among the things I would have expected to be taught (and remember being taught) in high school is the fact that during World War II German submarines were sinking boats and killing Canadians in the Saint Lawrence River and Gulf. Instead, I learned about it from this tweet:

Rimouski is on the south side of the Saint Lawrence, just a little bit down river from Tadoussac, visible in this photo from space that I wrote about before. The U-132 attack in July of 1942 was part of the larger Battle of the Saint Lawrence, which the Juno Beach Centre sets up this way:

During the night of 11th to 12th May, 1942, the inhabitants of Cloridorme, a fishing community in the Gaspé Peninsula, were awakened by an explosion that shook up their houses as an earthquake may have done. Some lights could be seen out at sea, then vanished; in the morning, lifeboats drifted ashore. After several hours of searching, 111 survivors were rescued, seven men are missing.

The attack made the headlines and public opinion was alarmed. A threat that no one had dared mention until then, had just materialized: German U-boats in the Gulf of St. Lawrence; Nazi Germany threatening Canada from within. Public opinion demands an explanation and protests against censorship.

The prospect of Nazi submarines in Canadian waters is so intriguing that there are also many rumours and claims of Nazi subs even further inland, and of Germans coming ashore for provisions and for drinks at local pubs. Tristin Hopper reported on some of those stories for the National Post in 2013, including arguments that the subs came inland into Labrador, and “within sight of Baie-Comeau just as a young Brian Mulroney was taking his first steps.”

The evidence for those even more eye-popping scenarios, Hopper reports, is not particularly strong, and he quotes some very skeptical historians. I’m impressed enough by the battles we know did happen that I don’t feel a strong need to believe the murkier tales.

What I’m reading about Canadian history

I’ve said before that a tagline for this blog could be “I read Canadian history so you don’t have to.” I started out with very little knowledge of Canadian history and have written about the parts I’ve found interesting as I’ve learned. This is my 40th post out of the 52 weekly posts I promised this year, informed so far by 21 books and lectures as well as articles and other shorter sources. Here are some of the highlights.

The history book that kicked off my current binge was the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton, based on the musical Hamilton (or maybe it was the other way around?). I loved it, not just because of the way it revealed the musical to be surprisingly faithful to the source material (Angelica Schuyler really did compare Hamilton to Icarus, and he really did write “I wish there was a war“) but also because there was somehow even more drama in Hamilton’s real life than in the Broadway version.

All of this has pretty much nothing to do with Canada, but because I do not have a Hamilton blog, here, very briefly, are the three craziest things from Chernow’s Hamilton biography that aren’t in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version. One, years before their final encounter, Aaron Burr helped prevent a duel between Hamilton and future president James Monroe. Two, Thomas Jefferson tried to have an affair with Angelica while they were both living in France. And three, after Maria Reynolds’ affair with Hamilton she got a divorce from James Reynolds, and Aaron Burr represented her! Come on!!

Ok so then I went looking for biographies of Hamilton-like figures from Canada’s story, which initially led me to Chester Brown’s “comic-strip biography” of Louis Riel, and Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer.

Champlain’s Dream is a beautiful book that paints Samuel de Champlain in a very positive light. Fischer’s vivid descriptions of Champlain’s voyages helped inspire my post Where the Great Lakes pour into the sea, itemized the extent to which the French were always renaming everything, and also illustrated that Canadian history is world history, since neither Fischer nor this book are particularly Canadian. (Fischer has a personal connection to Champlain via Maine, a state that Champlain explored with flagrant disregard for the Canada-U.S. border that didn’t yet exist.)

In Champlain’s Dream Fischer also says that he changed his mind about the meaning of a famous incident in Champlain’s life after reading the work of Bruce Trigger, an archeologist and historian who researched and wrote much of what we know about the Wendat (he called them Huron in his writings, the name the French re-named them, but later said he would have gone back and instead used Wendat, the name they gave themselves, if such significant revisions to massive print books were feasible).

When I say massive, just one of Trigger’s books on the Wendat, The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660, is almost 1,000 pages including notes. The simple existence of this book — the fact that a person could write so much covering the history of just one group of people who lived in one small part of Canada (roughly today’s southwestern Ontario) and covering only the time before 1660 (which, I now realize, is a lot of time) — shook my lazy assumptions about the land now called Canada prior to colonization. I realized I could spend years only learning about Indigenous nations and still only skim those depths.

So I started reading The Children of Aataentsic partly in the hopes of getting a different perspective on Champlain, and I did indeed acquire a much less glowing impression than the one Fischer lushly painted. Still, while I was somewhat reassured that Trigger had a connection with Wendat communities, I worried that I wasn’t getting Wendat history from a Wendat person. The solution to that problem serendipitously presented itself only recently.

While I wasn’t yet aware of any Wendat source for Wendat history, there was a lot of buzz about a new book called Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel. I strongly recommend this accessible and entertaining/enraging book for anyone who’s wondering where to begin on this stuff. 9 things I learned from Chelsea Vowel’s “Indigenous Writes” is the only post I’ve written so far that’s specifically about a book itself, and is also my second-most-read post to date. It was also from Vowel that I learned of Canada’s mandatory “Eskimo Identification” tags.

Other than Indigenous histories, the part of Canada’s story most inaccessible to me as someone who doesn’t read French very well is French Canadian history. Thankfully, as a start, there’s Legacy: How French Canadians Shaped North America. It’s from Legacy that I learned of the French Canadian mayor of Los Angeles.

My parents-in-law gave me that book as a gift, and I’ve also helped myself to a few others from their shelves, including one with a title that immediately excited me: The Patriot War Along the New York-Canada Border by Shaun J. McLaughlin. From that book I wrote three posts about the ill-fated Republic of Canada (another exciting name that isn’t actually in McLaughlin’s book, but which I discovered doing supplementary research), and two posts about the Battle of the Windmill, a ridiculous story about a group of mostly Americans who did a very bad job of invading and liberating Canada.

Speaking of battles, I have so far not been particularly drawn to military history, however I do about half of my “reading” via audio books, and there are almost no audio books about Canadian history, except, for some reason, a whole bunch of military history books by Mark Zuehlke. I chose to listen to Juno Beach: Canada’s D-Day Victory June 6, 1944, an entire book about a single country’s contribution to a single day in World War II. From this book I wrote about a jaw-dropping escape from a land mine and a not so well-thought-out plan to try to make tanks float. Now I find myself looking forward to reading (or listening to, probably) Zuehlke’s other books about Canada at war.

Come to think of it, I guess I have written about war more than I realized, though most of my discoveries about Canada and war have been mentioned as tangents in lectures I’ve listened to on different topics. Due to the aforementioned dearth of Canadian history audio books I’ve been listening to any history I can get via the Great Courses series, which are abundantly available on Audible.

It was, for example, a general history of WWII that alerted me to Operation Fish, the secret plan to hide Britain’s gold in Canada in case Britain fell to the Nazis. A lecture on the American Civil War noted the time that Canada almost entered the Civil War against the North, a fact suspiciously and conveniently absent from Canada’s story as I’ve known it. And it was a lecture series on the French Revolution where I learned of the Voltaire quote from which this blog gets its name.

Most recently I was walking up the main street in Bracebridge, Ontario when I spotted, in the window of a used book storeHuron-Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle by Georges E. Sioui. This was the book I didn’t know existed, but had been looking for nevertheless! I picked it up and was excited to learn that not only is Sioui himself Wendat, but he was friends with Trigger and draws heavily on his work (meaning I didn’t have to throw out everything I’d already read about the Wendat). My two most recent posts, Standing for anthems and A circular past and an extended present, come from Sioui’s poetic and challenging book.

I started this project with a list of about 100 books I wanted to read, and I’ve now read about 20, so I only have… 157 left to go? Why did I keep adding books to the list?!?

A circular past and an extended present

Regular readers know I’ve become interested in the idea that it’s very difficult to understand the past unless you can gather enough context to develop what some call “historical empathy.” In short, people from the past have world views different enough from ours that their actions and experiences can’t be interpreted through our own sets of beliefs, values, and assumptions.

This post is about how the people who lived in the land now called Ontario more than 400 years ago thought about time and creation, in order to start building even a partial foundation of “historical empathy” before later posts get into more detail about how they lived, loved, fought, and died. My source is a book by Georges E. Sioui called Huron-Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle. Sioui is a Wendat, who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in the history of his own ancestors in order to “scale the imposing heights of the citadel of white knowledge” and be taken seriously as a scholar.

I’ve mentioned the Wendat before (the French re-named them “Huron,” because the French were always renaming everything). The Wendat Confederacy and its predecessors have thousands of years of history in the land now called Ontario and beyond. Sioui writes that they were “people who had possessed a civilization — a brilliant civilization worthy of being known and recognized.”

The challenging idea at the centre of his book is that Wendat civilization was fundamentally different from European civilization, and therefore can’t be understood using a European frame of reference. “First and foremost,” he writes, “Amerindian world vision is circular, as opposed to European-based linear world vision.”

One consequence of a circular world view is that the concept of “advancement” becomes difficult, if not incoherent. Europeans considered Wendats, who lived in villages and grew a surplus of corn, “to be ‘more advanced’ than their Algonkian hunter neighbours,” but “the Wendats apparently did not, in any way, see their move to agriculture as a shift to a superior subsistence mode. On the contrary, this society, with its strong spiritual (circular) sense, seems to have viewed the nomadic life of the hunter as being closer to holy things and therefore an ideal human condition.”

Many of us are so used to the idea that agriculture represents a “more advanced” type of society that this is surprising. We’re also frequently exposed — sometimes explicitly, sometimes insidiously — to the idea that European cultures were superior to Indigenous ones. But “the belief in cultural evolutionism — a fundamental premise of linear thinking — is absolutely and permanently foreign to Circle civilizations. In North America, in any case, over five hundred years of indefatigable assaults have failed to convert Amerindians to a linear perspective.”

A related distinction is that “Amerindians in general, and the Wendats and Iroquois in particular, have a sense of morality that differs completely from the Christian tradition. Christian morality advocates and seeks an absolute good, while Amerindian morality sees absolute good and absolute evil as equally dangerous concepts.”

Sioui recounts the Wendat creation story and points out that it involves a “woman who comes from a paradise and founds a human race in a world that is a testing ground fraught with danger; and the presence of two brothers, one of whom kills the other.” The similarity to the Christian myth of the Garden of Eden is striking, especially since both stories developed while the “old” and “new” worlds were completely isolated from each other.

But a key difference in the Wendat creation myth is that “life triumphs without eliminating death.” And instead of having “a single God who is infinitely good and who crushes evil… Wendats have Aataentsic and Tawiskaron, who protect them against absolute good.” [Italics in original.]

Therefore, in circular societies, “nothing exists by and for itself. Good is partly the product of evil, as evil is partly the product of good, which means that neither quality exists as an absolute.” Also, because of their animist spirituality, which depends on a “capacity to perceive the soul (anima) inhabiting all beings and all things,” the Wendat were “unaware of the concept of human and non-human exploitation aimed at the accumulation of power by certain groups within a society, to the detriment of the majority.” That any society could be unaware of that concept is shocking to me, since it is such a cornerstone of my own.

This spiritual and moral context is relevant to all other historical understanding, Sioui says. “For peoples without writing (a characteristic of Circle societies, generally speaking), life cannot and should not be a purely material and temporal venture. History that fails to address the human spirit and conscience is of no use.”

And, he says, historians have done a particularly bad job of appreciating the special circumstances that arose when circular Amerindian societies were suddenly severed from their past by the violent insertion of linear European societies:

Their historical trajectory was abruptly and radically curtailed by the coming of Europeans to the Americas. It is only natural that Native peoples should still feel the violence of the shock, as well as the psychological and spiritual trauma resulting from this collective severance. It is also normal, therefore, to find that Amerindians have been unable to distance themselves spiritually from the repercussions of its terrible impact, and that they cannot view this impact as over and done with; they see it as part of their present and something to which they must necessarily and inevitably reconnect.

Ok but time does move in a straight line forward… doesn’t it? That belief is so fundamental to my understanding of the world that all of this still feels a bit lost in translation.

The story that helped me get the closest to grasping a circular relationship to time was one that Sioui recounts from N. Scott Momaday, who himself is remembering a story his father told about his own father. As a storyteller, Momaday’s father “invariably slipped into the present tense.” A story that began “he loved melons… we stopped at a certain place” would become “he loves melons, and he always stops at that place.” Momaday says “this is a common thing in my experience of the Indian world. For the Indian there is something like an extended present.”

After quoting this story, Sioui writes that “with regard to their respective conceptions of time, historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists speak languages that are unintelligible to Native people, and vice versa.”

Standing for anthems

The country where I live has been talking a lot about anthems this week. What does it mean to stand for a national anthem, and what does the anthem itself stand for?

Georges E. Sioui — an historian and Wendat who lives in Vancouver — remembers being taught the Canadian anthem at his Lorette reserve school, run by French-speaking nuns.

Sioui remembers his teacher, “her thick, dark eyebrows streaks of war paint rising to the starched white helmet beneath her veil,” imparting a pointed education when he was six-years-old.

‘Your poor ancestors were savages… The king [of France] took pity on them and sent missionaries to convert them, but your savage ancestors killed the missionaries. They became our Holy Canadian Martyrs, who died to save the savages.’

And with this, moved almost to tears, she made us kneel and pray for forgiveness from the Holy Canadian Martyrs for our ancestors’ cruelty… ‘You should ask God’s forgiveness every day for the sins of your ancestors and thank Him for giving you the Catholic faith and snatching you from the hands of Satan, who kept your savage ancestors in a state of idolatry, deceitfulness, thievery, war, and cannibalism. Stand up; we’re going to sing a hymn of thanks to the Blessed Virgin.’

The hymn she then launched into was not the national anthem, but when the Canadian anthem came up at the end of that day, Sioui remembers it being part of the same chain of thought:

The nun — we called her ‘mother’ — proudly announced she was going to start teaching us our national anthem… ‘You must learn it as a prayer,’ she preserved, ‘because it’s more of a prayer than a hymn. It expresses not only our pride in being Canadians, but even more our pride in being Christians.’

This was the word of the Government of Canada. Today some people want to argue that history like this is in the distant past. Sioui’s story shows that it is within living memory, and those living memories draw the past into the present.

Notably, Sioui also writes that that phrase, “the distant past,” would not have made any sense to the original peoples of this land. The title of the book where Sioui tells the above story, Huron-Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle, refers to the idea that the Wendat and other Indigenous nations had a circular view of life, including a circular view of time, which is at odds with the kind of “linear” outlook that places the past far away in one direction.

I’m so accustomed to living in a “linear society” that I’m finding it difficult to deeply understand what it would be like to live in a circular one. To that end, next week’s post will summarize Sioui’s chapter on the “origins and mythology” of the Wendat Confederacy, a nation that was central for centuries in the lands now called Ontario, Quebec, and the northeastern United States.

8 surprising tweets about Canadian history

The bad news is I’m very sleepy, typing from a cozy bed, and I’m not going to last long. The good news is that I’ve got a collection of tweets to share with you, BuzzFeed-style, before I lose consciousness.

1. Bet you didn’t know Labrador has a flag, well it does

2. Winnipeg’s Portage Avenue is so wide because of carts

3. This is what the Toronto TD Centre looked like when it was built

4. Canada’s anti-Nazi war propaganda was great

5. Also from WWII, whatever this is

6. A visualization of human history in the land now called Canada

7. This crazy stat (though note the “Canadian” qualifier is what makes this true)

8. This perspective on the recentness of colonization