Why your story matters and historical revisionism

barbed wire at sunset
Barbed wire, south coast, Jamaica

When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak. – Audre Lorde

I’m feeling more than a little sick.  I went to listen to a talk at the AGO last night given by Charmain Nelson and I’m still trying to recover from one of the facts she stated during her presentation. She said that during years of teaching at a Canadian university (McGill) she asked her students to raise their hands if they knew there was a history of slavery in Canada and that none of her Canadian born students raised their hands. None. Let that sink in for a minute.

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. – Audre Lorde

Really?  None? I knew that there were huge gaps in the curriculum in elementary and high schools in Ontario (the only place I went to school so I will stick with that). And of course all history is written by the people who have the power to write, repeat, fashion, shape and revise history. And yes, many have heard of Harriet Tubman and how she carried slaves on the Underground Railway from the US to freedom in Canada. But somehow it is never mentioned that there was a time before that when there  wasn’t anywhere on this continent to escape to. And before Africans were kidnapped and brought to North America, the indigenous people of this land were also enslaved. link

When the ax came into the forest, the trees said the handle is one of us. – Alice Walker

I actually didn’t realize that in 2016, there was still such ignorance out there about the way this country was “settled”.  It’s something I think we should be talking about more. It is “the elephant in the room” whose shadow is cast across this land (yes it’s a mix metaphor but so be it). And it is our collective responsibility to see that the fullness of this history is taught in our schools. And for those of us who did not learn this history in school, it is our responsibility to seek this information out ourselves. Black History, First Nations and Inuit history. The history of settlement and the history of our discriminatory immigration policies.

The only person who can tell your stories from your perspective is you. Period.

One thing I read in regards to the recent Truth and Reconciliation committee findings regarding Canada’s history of Residential Schools was that Canadians should take the time to educate themselves about First Nations history. It’s seems to be the best option, until that history becomes a part of the curriculum. I recently heard an interview on CBC where Audrey Rochette said that during a university class she was attending, when the topic of the Canadian Residential School system came up, students were actually crying. Crying because this was their first exposure to the topic. First.  Here is the link to the interview: link

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin

On historical revisionism: there is a sin that Catholics call “the sin of omission” and as far as I know it is considered as serious as a lie. When you omit something of course, it means you leave it out. That’s why people in court are asked to swear to tell the whole truth. Obviously there is a lot of history missing in what passes for the “Canadian History” that is taught in our schools. I thought more had changed since I was in school (over 30 years ago). And I am beyond shocked, I am actually disgusted. Some of this shock I reluctantly admit lies in the White Privilege I carry with me. I have the luxury, on a daily basis, of forgetting (if I choose) how much work is still left to be done, and of ignoring how much racism remains a reality in Canada.

As a storyteller these omissions, more accurately called “lies” are among the reasons I believe so strongly in the power of  people telling their own stories. And one of the reasons I tell mine. If I don’t, who will? And through what lens? My belief is that the only person who can tell your stories from your perspective is you. Period.

All history is written by the people who have the power to write, repeat, fashion, shape and revise history.

There is so much more to say, but for now I will leave you with some resources:

The Freedom Seekers by Daniel G. Hill, the first Director and later the Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Daniel G. Hill is the father of Lawrence and Dan Hill. Lawrence Hill an author and wrote the acclaimed novel, The Book of Negroes, (which has been made into a mini-series by CBC) Dan Hill is a Grammy and Juno award winner, musician, producer and author. The brothers grew up in Don Mills, which at the time was a suburb of Toronto.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada

APTN History Archives

The Ontario Black History Society

Black History Ottawa

Truth and Reconciliation on CBC

Marie-Joseph Angelique

 

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