Friday, 7 November 2014

The Difficulty of Discussing First Nations Culture

I had an interview lined up for this week, but it unfortunately fell through. The goal was to focus on Metis culture, in light of our new Metis mayor of Winnipeg.  That will have to wait for next week.

Instead, I'm going to touch on the beauty and complexity of First Nations culture in North America.

There are hundreds of different cultures that fall under the "First Nations" umbrella. This is why it is difficult to make general statements that attempt to discuss all of their needs and concerns.

The Cree of the northern woodlands, the Squamish of the pacific northwest, the Anishinaabe and Iroquois around the Great Lakes, and the Innu of the northeast are just a few unique cultures to fall under this umbrella term.

There are some similarities, but all of them share their own oral traditions and history. 

Despite these differences, they have all been negatively impacted by colonialism and therefore must band together to create a stronger political voice and push for change.

In Canada we have the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) that is tasked with the difficult goal of speaking up for all indigenous issues such as resource allocation, environmental concerns, educational needs and economic development.

A new National Chief, who heads the AFN, will be elected on December 10 and three of the leading candidates recently sat down for a debate here in Winnipeg

This will be an important election as many issues, especially the use of natural resources on treaty land, have been brought to the forefront by an aggressive federal government that would like to develop first and discuss the consequences later.

As with all political bodies, the AFN leadership does not enjoy the trust of all First Nations people.

Progress for their communities still requires this political representation. Yet, politics is just one part of cultural upheaval and increased representation in Canadian society.

A history of oppression and segregation is never easy to grow out of, and this history is very recent when you consider that residential schools ran from colonial times through to the 90s. 

Art is an important part of building cultural pride and also influencing wider society. 

In recent years, I have watched with glee as First Nations people create their own version of hip-hop and pop music that uses their beautiful chants and drums mixed with profound social commentary.

In this vein, I see a culture that is being reclaimed instead of ashamed. I think that music will play a major role as the fastest-growing demographic in Canada fights for fairer representation in Canadian society.

With that in mind, I'll leave you with a very interesting trailer for MTV's 'Rebel Music' series looking at Native America. Inez Jasper is a Canadian musician from B.C. who figures prominently in the documentary and I look forward to watching this when it airs.

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