Claire and her Grandfather
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It was about the time when the leaves were turning colour when our teacher, Mrs. Okatsiak, told us what we would do next week in school.
Canada is made up of people from every country in the world, she said.
"They brought with them different things that make Canada what it is today. I was born in what we now call the territory of Nunavut, and my people are Inuit. Inuit are one of the first peoples who lived in what we now call Canada. Next week, I want each of you to tell the class about where your family came from, and what your people have given to Canada."
Later, at recess, I asked Paul Lambert where his family came from.
"I know that my Grandparents on my Mom's side are from Ireland, and my Dad's family came from France a long time ago. What about you, Claire?"
"My people are Odawa," I said.
"Ottawa?" asked Paul.
"That's a city, not a country!"
I didn't know what to say. Everyone knows Ottawa is a city, but I didn't know how to explain that it was also the name of my people.
Later, at dinner, I told my Mom and Dad about what we had to tell the class next week and about Paul saying that Ottawa is a city, and not the name of a people.
Mom smiled and said,
"I think we need to call Grandfather."
Grandfather is one of my favourite people. He has white hair, lots of wrinkles and is always interested in what I'm doing. Dad said Grandfather's wrinkles are from all his smiling and because he is always so happy. Mom said that many people like to talk with Grandfather because he is also very wise.
When Grandfather came over, I told him about what my teacher said. I told him what Paul said about the city called Ottawa.
"You, Claire Whiteduck, are of the Odawa," Grandfather told me.
"The Odawa are one of the First Nations who lived in the eastern part of the land that is now Canada. First Nations and Inuit are the Aboriginal people who were here long before pioneers came to this country. Sit down, Claire," said Grandfather,
"and let me show you something about Canada."
Grandfather laid out a large map of Canada that showed all the provinces, territories and cities.
As I looked at the map, Grandfather pointed to places with Aboriginal names.
"When Europeans first came to Canada, First Nations and Inuit often helped them travel through the land, and showed them the way. Settlers sometimes gave towns and rivers the names of places they had known in Europe. But at other times, they would ask Aboriginal people what their names were for these places, and we would tell them. Can you find places on the map of Canada that still have their Aboriginal names?"
I found many Aboriginal names of places, like Kamloops, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Quebec, Maniwaki, Oromocto, Iqaluit and Nunavut.
"Sometimes, the new settlers translated our names for places into English or French. Can you find any of these translated names?" Grandfather asked.
I looked carefully at the map. I found Rivière-du-loup, Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw.
"Good," said Grandfather. Then he told me:
"The name Canada is a First Nations word. It comes from the word 'Kanata' which means 'village' in the Mohawk and Huron languages. I'm sure that when you start looking, you will see many places that show the contributions that Aboriginal people made to the map of Canada as it is today," said Grandfather.
"Grandfather," I asked,
"what are contributions?"
"Remember when Mrs. Okatsiak said that people brought things from their lands that helped make Canada what it is today?" Grandfather asked.
"Well, those things are contributions. They are ideas, objects and ways of life that are still used in the world today. Just like Aboriginal place names."
"What are some of the other contributions Aboriginal people have made, Grandfather?" I asked.
"One very important contribution is art," he said.
"All around the world, when people think of Canadian art, it is very often Aboriginal art that they picture first in their minds. First Nations and Inuit have always used art as a way to show what they believe and their respect for the wonders of nature. Aboriginal artists make masks, sculptures, paintings, baskets, weavings and beautiful clothing. Aboriginal artists have influenced the designs for some of the clothing and furniture many Canadians have today, and even the buildings, too. Our Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, is a good example of how the forms and ideas we find in Aboriginal art can be used to create a building".
"One thing many people don't know," Grandfather continued,
"is that there are many different styles of Aboriginal art. That's because Aboriginal peoples are not all the same. Inuit are very different from First Nations, for example. And there are 52 First Nations in Canada that altogether are made up of 610 bands. Each of those 52 First Nations has its own way of doing things and its own way of looking at the world."
The next thing Grandfather talked about was tools.
"Fishing was and still is important to many Aboriginal people," he told me.
"Many Aboriginal people used large fish traps called weirs. They made these weirs out of wood. In the North, where hardly any wood can grow, Aboriginal people used stone to make their weirs. The weirs were like a maze (a lot of winding paths leading to one central place). The fish had to follow the twists and turns of the weir into a big area where people could easily catch them. Today, fishermen use weirs around the shore and in rivers because they make the fish come to them. The fish are then easier to catch."
"Did you know," Grandfather asked me,
"that Aboriginal people didn't need to use metal to make their tools?"
"But Grandfather, we use metal for almost every tool," I said.
"How could Aboriginal people live without metal?"
"Remember, Claire," Grandfather said,
"that Inuit and First Nations lived for thousands of years without metal for their tools. They made sharp knives, scrapers, hammers, drills and spear heads from stone, wood and bone. Some of the tools Aboriginal people made were as sharp as tools used by doctors today."
"Mrs. Okatsiak will tell you about how Inuit designed snow goggles out of bone so they wouldn't go blind from the bright snow," Mom said.
"Inuit also designed a special round knife called an ulu, which Inuit women used to prepare food and clean animal skins. Inuit still use ulus today. But now, ulus are often made from metal."
By this time my older brother Alex was sitting and listening to Grandfather too.
"Grandfather, tell Claire how northern people like Inuit lived comfortably in such cold weather," Alex said.
Grandfather told us that Inuit used animals' skins in special ways to keep their families warm and comfortable.
"For instance," Grandfather said.
"Did you know that if you use wolf hair around the hood of your winter coat, it won't freeze and stick to your face? And often, Inuit used four different animal skins to make a cold-weather coat or parka. Some skins were waterproof so that the coats kept people dry. Other skins were good for keeping people warm. Inuit are experts in staying warm and dry."
"Makers of modern winter clothing owe a lot to Aboriginal clothing designs," my brother Alex said.
"We knew about dressing in layers and how to keep moisture away from the body. Today's clothing designers use different materials but you can still see Inuit and First Nations designs in parkas, snowpants and high leather boots that lace up the front."
"Aboriginal people were experts at using natural materials to make their shelter and clothing," Grandfather told me.
"Did you know that First Nations on the West Coast used long strips of cedar bark that they softened and wove together to make clothing, containers – and even jewellery?" Grandfather asked.
"And even today, Aboriginal artists produce some of the best jewellery from bone, antlers, porcupine quills or other materials."
"What else can you tell me about contributions?" I asked.
"Today, many Canadian families own a canoe or kayak. Both these boats are based on Aboriginal people's designs," Dad explained.
"That's right," said Grandfather.
"A canoe can carry a very heavy load, but when you get to a difficult part of the river, it's light enough for you to just pick it up and carry it to a safer place."
"And it's easy to paddle, too!" said Alex.
I remembered spending time during the summer at Grandfather's place and how much fun I had had with the canoe.
"I think people like the canoe today because it's so much fun!" I exclaimed.
"And think of the kayak," said Mom.
"Imagine travelling out on an Arctic sea, far from shore, hunting animals for food and still feeling safe."
"Today, people all around the world use canoes and kayaks," Grandfather explained.
"Canoeing and kayaking are Olympic events now!"
Grandfather had more to tell.
"Claire, what did you eat for dinner last night?" he asked. Mom and Dad both smiled.
"Ummm…we had squash and corn and wild rice, turkey and mashed potatoes," I told Grandfather.
"Oh, and pumpkin pie too! My favourite!"
"Well, except for the potatoes, which primarily came from Aboriginal people in South America, you ate the kinds of foods that First Nations enjoyed for hundreds of years before Europeans came to this country."
I learned that smoked salmon and maple syrup came from First Nations, too. I couldn't imagine eating pancakes for breakfast without maple syrup!
"First Nations like the Cayuga, the Mohawk and the Seneca all raised corn, beans and squash in their gardens. They named these plants the 'Three Sisters' and planted corn and beans together in the same mound. The stalks of the corn supported the climbing beans. They planted squash at the same time, and it grew on the flat ground between the mounds. The broad squash leaves helped keep too many weeds from growing. Aboriginal people have a lot to teach the world about farming and nature."
With all that talk about food, my stomach let out a loud rumble!
Grandfather laughed again.
"Grandmother's cooking used to make my stomach growl just like that," he said.
"Luckily, Grandmother knew almost every plant to settle my stomach."
"First Nations and Inuit knew many things about plants and animals. They knew how to use many plants as food or medecine. They passed this knowledge down through time, and it is still used today."
"Claire, your Grandmother knew more about plants than anyone I ever met," Dad told me.
"She even knew about a kind of moss that was used as a baby's diaper."
"Remember that time when Alex was sick and Grandmother boiled up some wintergreen to help his stomach?" asked Mom.
"I sure do," remarked Dad.
"Alex got better right away and we could finally get some sleep!"
"Grandmother seemed to know how to cure just about anything using the medicines from plants," said Grandfather.
"With Grandmother around, you didn't need a first aid kit – she could find whatever she needed in the plants growing around her."
"Claire, did you know that First Nations created one of Canada's national games?" Alex asked me.
"Hockey?" I asked.
"Actually, it's lacrosse!" laughed Alex.
"That's right," said Grandfather.
"Lacrosse is a fast-running sport played with a hard rubber ball and special hooked sticks that have a kind of net to catch the ball. There are lacrosse leagues all over Canada, the United States and in other countries."
"In many ways lacrosse is like hockey, but it's played with the ball in the air most of the time and there's no ice. Some people say that hockey comes from the game of lacrosse. I've heard some Elders laugh and say that the word hockey is from the Mohawk word, 'aki,' (pronounced 'ahgee'). It means 'ouch!' or 'that hurts!' That's what Mohawk lacrosse players would say when they got hit with the hard ball!"
"The Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia played a game called ricket, which was a lot like hockey, too." Then he added,
"Did you know that there are many great Aboriginal hockey players? Years ago a lot of people liked George Armstrong, the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was very popular. I always liked Johnny Bucyk – two Stanley Cups and more than 500 goals! Then there are the younger players, like Gino Odjick, Chris Simon, Blair Atcheynum, Craig Berube and many others."
"In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Waneek Horn-Miller was the co-captain of the Canadian waterpolo team. She's carrying on the history of Aboriginal people competing in the Olympics. World-class athletes like Tom Longboat, Alwyn Morris and Angela Chalmers were all Aboriginal medal winners in the Olympic Games."
Grandfather told me that Aboriginal people have always been great athletes – all the way back to the time when the Coast Salish peoples competed in canoe racing along the coast of what is now called British Columbia.
"Everyone knows about the Olympics," Grandfather said.
"But many people are also learning about the North American Indigenous Games. They're held every year. Thousands of Aboriginal athletes come together from all over North America to compete, and learn about each other's ways of doing things. They compete in modern sports, and also do demonstrations of traditional competitive sports – like the Inuit's 'One Foot High Kick!'"
"Grandfather, tell Claire about how important community is," Mom said.
"Community?" I asked.
"Community is very important," Grandfather said.
"It can mean different things to many different peoples in the world. Aboriginal people, for instance, believe very deeply that a community stays strong when people help take care of each other."
"In First Nations and Inuit communities," Grandfather explained,
"large groups of people are often like big families. They look after each other and spend time together. Elders – who are often found among the oldest people – are the wisest people in the community. Community members often go to Elders when they need advice. Scientists also often talk to Elders and use their traditional knowledge to learn more about nature."
"The role of an Elder is very important in Aboriginal communities. An Elder is a person who gives advice and is able to teach traditions to other community members. Elders are chosen because they are good at listening to people, and have lived through a lot of experiences."
"Another thing, Claire – you should also know about the contributions and sacrifices made by Aboriginal war veterans," said Grandfather.
"More than 7,000 Aboriginal people enlisted to fight for Canada in the First and Second World wars, the Korean War and other battles."
"Really?" asked Claire.
"Oh yes. Some of my friends were among them," Grandfather replied.
"In fact, during the First World War so many Aboriginal men enlisted, that on some reserves there were hardly any men left at all."
"I can also tell you that Aboriginal people from all across Canada received many medals and commendations for their skill and bravery during the wars, including a well-known hero, Tommy Prince. Even though it was a difficult thing for them to be so far away from their people, they were proud to serve Canada. And there are Aboriginal people serving as Peacekeepers right now in countries around the world," Grandfather added.
"Don't forget to mention government, too," said Dad.
"Oh yes," said Grandfather.
"Aboriginal peoples have always had their own forms of government."
"Before Europeans arrived, the Iroquoian nations already had a confederacy" explained Grandfather.
"Grandfather, what's a confederacy?" I asked.
"A confederacy is where several nations work together without giving up their independence," he said.
"The League of the Iroquois was a confederacy of five tribes: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga and the Seneca. The confederacy was later joined by a sixth tribe, the Tuscarora. Six different nations worked together so that they could be stronger in trade, travel and war."
"They met in a longhouse, and the representatives of each Nation had their own place, just like in the Parliament of Canada today," said Mom.
"By using the confederacy, the different Nations made sure that they could talk about problems and vote on solutions. Six different groups were able to work out their differences and form a stronger nation."
"And today, Aboriginal peoples still have their own laws and forms of government, which their ancestors passed on to them."
"How were different groups able to talk to each other if they spoke different languages?" I asked.
"Aboriginal people created one of the first sign languages. The experts who developed sign language to help people with hearing problems saw how Aboriginal people used their hands to make signs to communicate with each other. They were inspired by Aboriginal people and used the same idea. They created a sign language for people who have difficulty hearing."
"Sometimes a good idea leads to something bigger that can help a lot of people," Grandfather added.
"I never realized how many of Aboriginal peoples' contributions were around us every day!"
I told Mrs. Okatsiak the next day what I had learned from Grandfather about Aboriginal people. I asked her if he could come and talk to my class about our First Nation.
Mrs. Okatsiak said,
"That's a wonderful idea, Claire. I'd love to have your Grandfather come and visit us."
The next week, Grandfather came and showed the children snowshoes and tools. He told them about traditional medicine, how to make a canoe, and how many Aboriginal people use
"consensus" to make decisions. Grandfather explained that consensus is the way a group makes decisions together so that everyone is happy with them.
After that, Grandfather told my class about Aboriginal role models and the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. He also told us about some of our great athletes.
"Everywhere you look, you'll see the contributions of Aboriginal peoples," he said.
"If you pay attention, you can see Aboriginal influences all around you."
"And now I can answer Paul's question about who I am!" I said to the class.
"I'm Claire Whiteduck and I am Odawa, one of the First Nations in Canada."