I know I have not written in awhile, I thought this was important to write though. I initially ment it as a personal journal entry, but realized it is maybe something I should share. A bit a preface to the talk, I have been asked to give in August, as a part of the Amiskwaciy History project.
I have spent the day compiling research for an upcoming talk on Edmonton history and I was constantly finding myself wanting to throw in the towel and escape inside of Netflix and a pizza. I know a lot of you might be thinking, yea researching local history makes me want to escape inside of Netflix and pizza too, but this wasn’t boredom, I was upset. Since my wallet and my waistline have been fairly unimpressed with this coping mechanism, this has been something I have been trying to deal with in a healthy manner and part of that has been to call these pizza moments out before I am halfway though a second pepperoni pizza and eight episodes of Star Trek Voyager (which in moderation is perfection). Part of that has been trying to figure out what exactly it is I am trying to escape from. I kept finding myself in between compiling research, opening up this photo on my computer and staring at it. I was consistently being brought back to this photo, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I have been bringing this photo up a lot lately.
The photo I kept opening up is my parents wedding photo, this has been one the only photo’s that tied me to my past. My mom used to hide it the back of her closet in an old 80’s briefcase with grey flowers but like most deviant children I knew all her hiding spots.
Whenever I felt confused or angry, I would sneak into my mom’s room and take it out and usually stare it at, for any clues to who these people were, where we came from, or how we got to where we were. My mom has always been a poor historian; dates and facts were always changing. The past was never anything she wanted to talk about, so our history was always on shaky ground. My father was gone and off dealing with his own battles before I hit kindergarten. The mother that raised me after that, seemed like a different woman, then the one in that photograph. My Metis maternal grandfather had passed away when I was a toddler and no one seemed to know much at all about who my paternal grandfather was. All I could remember about my paternal grandmother was she was a very very tall, slightly intimidating and her house was dark and had glass bowls full of hard candy. The only person I recognized in that photo is my maternal welsh grandmother, who for most of my childhood was my only constant. Her past was only a fraction of that story though, and even then she never seemed to enjoy speaking her past either. So when she passed away last year it felt like some of that stability and all of the family history and all the stories went with her.
Just like when I was a little girl staring at that photo in my mom’s closet, searching for a history, wondering why we didn’t seem to have one. When my grandma passed away the desire to find it and reclaim it became suddenly more urgent.
Last year while I was researching for my Pehonan piece, I came across a lot of information, which started to give glimpses of what came before that photo. Like I said earlier my mom is not the best historian, I was aware there were ties to local Edmonton history but in a blurry, maybe my Mom misinterpreted some things kinda way. So last year when I was researching local history, names started to pop out at me, names I had seen on a family tree somewhere. I remember her maybe 12-13 years ago telling me we had family buried at Rossdale and some of our ancestors were some of the first Metis in the area, but when I pressed her for more, she stated she couldn’t remember. So it wasn’t until I was doing research for my film project that certain names had started to jump out at me. When I delved deeper into their history and reconnected the dots, between me that photo and literally anything that happened before that photo was taken, the story that had started to piece together through google searches and trips to the archives, left me with an anger that has been hard to shake since. A anger at a history that Edmonton has buried so well that even it’s own decedents have had to fight to put the puzzles pieces together.
Last week, I heard Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Papachase speak on the history he was taught of Edmonton, he spoke about how when he was younger, the history of his ancestors was not taught to him. It wasn’t until he was older when he first heard about this history.
I lived in downtown Edmonton for most of my twenties. As most twenty year olds, I lived in a range of different apartments. Once I was finally able to financially shake roomates, I started my solitary habitation in this quiet dingy apartment building in Rossdale, named Rowand House. I once moved out to live with a boyfriend in the Oliver neighborhood, none the wiser to any of these names, or whom they represented or how I was connected to them. I usually always found my way back, to that dingy apartment in Rossdale, it weirdly felt like home. The rent was cheap and I had a highrise view of the river valley, the last time I lived there my direct view was a view of the baseball field, the powerplant and the burial ground. I grew up in Millwoods but for some reason the flats always felt like home. The deeper my research lead me, the more that feeling was closer to the truth.
As I was compiling this research on this history and those names, when I was introduced to this article by Dwayne Donald. Which if you haven’t read yet you should read now, he explains this experience so much more eloquently, I felt like I was reading all the things I knew but didn’t know how to say. “Edmonton Peminto” http://jcacs.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/jcacs/article/viewFile/16868/15674
“I argue that the Aboriginal people that lived in the region of the city of Edmonton, Alberta have been written out of the official history of that place. The stories that Aboriginal people tell of Edmonton were forgotten when the city started to grow and modernize. This tendency to separate the stories of Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people is one symptom of the legacies of colonialism and paternalism that have, both subtly and plainly, characterized Canadian society. Most Canadians can plainly see that Aboriginal people lived in the place we call Canada before Euro- Canadians arrived, especially in place names like Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Wetaskiwin, or Medicine Hat. Canadians can also plainly see that there are Aboriginal languages, traditions, and cultures that are uniquely adapted to this land in interesting ways, although most would argue that these are outdated and largely irrelevant. What is more subtle, and what is often not noticed or acknowledged, is that Aboriginal people and Euro- Canadians are intimately connected through the stories they tell of living together in this place. This relationship persists to this day, despite the distrust, misunderstandings, and animosities that punctuate it. It is in these relationships between people, and the ways in which the stories people tell reveal these relationships, that a new form of Canadian citizenship can be imagined. “
I also came across this article when researching my ancestor Michel Calihoo and noticed Jodi-Stonehouse, stating something eerily similar;
“My identity wasn’t as important to me though, until I was working as a college student. An elder came up to me and said ‘Your great grandfather is Johnny Calihoo. He was such a good man, a politian. He fought for our people,’ I was like, Huh? Johnny Calihoo?”
She said she knew bits and pieces of her native heritage but there were never any ceremonies or traditions such as feasts and round dances practiced in her family.
“The more I investigated I started to recognize how the process of colonization broke down those ceremonies.”
Delving deeper, she learned that Johnny Calihoo was the first in the area to go to the very first residential school in Alberta in Hay River, called the Dunbow Industrial School.
“They took him from the reserve, 400 km away from his family and he was educated. He was the first to be sort of colonized and stripped away from his heritage. When he came back to his reserve and had a family, all of his children went to St. Albert to residential school from the time they were five till they were 16-years-old.”
It made me start to question, how many other descendants are out there, whom are sitting at home right now, who also have a photo and an empty history? Wondering how they, their parents and their grandparents got to where they are now. It also made me furious knowing how many people may never know the true history of this space. Instead they will live in neighbourhoods named after Frank Oliver or live in a city whose main focal point is a hotel named after Sir. John A MacDonald.
How many descendants will walk in these neighborhoods, walk by these landmarks and have no clue that the policies these men created are the reasons for the blank spot in their own personal histories?
The history of Aboriginal people before and after contact with Europeans has been ‘painted over’ by mainstream interpretations of official history. In that sense, we can say that an attempt was made to displace or replace Aboriginal history and memory (as the history of Canada) with a new ‘painting’ of a new civilization. The Aboriginal ‘painting’ was not considered to be a useful or viable portrayal of the new brand of Canadian society that was emerging. It became a separate and distinct item in an isolated part of the museum of Canadian history. However, Aboriginal history and memory has begun to show through in the official history of Canada, conceptual holes in the historical narratives have become obvious, and this has caused many to look more closely to see what has been missed. This kind of re-reading of history is predicated on the desire to recover the stories and memories that have been ‘painted over.’