A recent article reminded me of the natural affinity the Chinese have always had with our Aboriginal population.
In a publication called Rice Paper Magazine, Jackie Wong wrote about, “The Mysterious Life of Wah Kwan Gwan.”
It was about the late Wah Kwan, an Aboriginal adopted by a Chinese family at a young age, who went on to become a major contributor to Vancouver’s Cantonese opera community.
It reminded me of events in my life in Toronto’s old Chinatown community.
Although of mixed blood myself, my personal circumstances made me closer to the Chinese-speaking community.
My recollections are typically juvenile because Cantonese opera took over the Casino theatre normally used for “adult” burlesque during the week.
The Sunday costumes of the Cantonese opera reminded me of Aboriginal dress.
A trip to China a few years ago, confirmed my memories.
In the modern Shanghai Museum’s Chinese Minority Nationalities Art Gallery, the costumes were so reminiscent of Canada’s Aboriginals one would have to be willfully blind not to see the resemblance.
Each group has its own costume and adornments.
Different ethnic subgroups have their own distinctive styles and patterns.
Costume and adornment become symbolic.
They use various raw materials such as fur, pelt, cotton, hemp and silk — not unlike the differences between Aboriginal tribes here in Canada.
In my mind, there’s no doubt Canada’s Aboriginal community came from early migrants from China and the Mongolian nomadic tribes indigenous to that region.
Genetic and archeological evidence reliably demonstrate human habitation of the Americas from Asia occurred following the last ice age, roughly 20,000 years ago, and that widespread migration continued for thousands of years.
Aboriginal claims “the Creator” put them here to be the stewards of the environment may inform religious and cultural truths and should be respected.
But the terrestrial bonds between Canada’s First Nations and the rest of us are real and genetic.
We are, in the broadest and truest sense, one people. We’re all immigrants.
The hard and unpleasant reality of history is that when colonization occurs, earlier inhabitants are displaced.
But the history of Aboriginal North America, too, is replete with examples of inter-tribal violence, war and the displacing of other tribes over territory.
This is not meant as an insult to Aboriginals.
It has been like that throughout human history, and was similarly prevalent across Europe and much of the world when Canada was colonized by the Europeans.
How then are we to reconcile our current and frequent conflicts between Canada and our Aboriginal people?
In a recent Toronto Star article, Chief Myeengun Henry of the Chipppewas of the Thames First Nation makes the common argument that negotiations must be on a “nation-to-nation” basis.
Henry specifically argued that the National Energy Board failed to adequately consult with the Chippewas Nation about plans by Enbridge to reverse the flow and increase the capacity of a crude oil pipeline running through their traditional lands.
In so doing, he said, they violated that “nation-to-nation” relationship.
That failure violated both the spirit and intent of treaties signed by the Crown and Indigenous peoples, Henry suggested.
But Canada’s Supreme Court disagreed, found the Chippewas had been adequately consulted and allowed Enbridge to proceed with its pipeline plans.
Henry suggested to reporters that “Aboriginal rights have once again been stepped on” — but in fact, due process was followed.
I sympathize and empathize with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada given the indignities and wrongdoing rained on them — particularly in the residential schools — because of my own childhood experiences sandwiched between two vastly different cultures.
That said, at some point we must assume agency over our own futures, rather than relying on government, with its unctuous virtue signaling, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pious platitudes on climate change, gender and Indigenous rights,
Shamefully, politics and rhetoric now epitomize the relationship between Canada and its Aboriginal leadership.
Meanwhile, despite the billions of dollars spent annually on pressing challenges affecting the daily lives of Aboriginals — ranging from poverty to addiction, unsafe drinking water and substandard housing — problems continue to fester and remain largely unaddressed.
We must find a new way to build a better future, together.