The History of the World

December 2, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

Patricia and I went to see Buffy Sainte-Marie this week and she blew us away. I have known and been a fan of hers since forever but Patricia knew less about her. So, I was anxious that she see Buffy and hear some of the stories Buffy tells and listen to her songs of protest and sagacity. She sang her powerful “War Racket,” in which she abuses the arms manufacturers and the sales of munitions, selling weaponry to both sides of a conflict, indifferent to the devastation of war but keen to promote war for money ­– “Money,” she says, “is only temporary confusion.”

She sang Universal Soldier. And Starwalker.

She sang about beauty and love too; her Oscar winning song, Up Where We Belong; love songs that have been covered by many other star singers.

A few days later, I was researching her and came across a lecture she gave about education at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. It was very moving, what she had to say and she encouraged us to research the Document of Discovery. This morning I did that. She had told us what it said but reading it was definitive, was confirmation.

It is an edict, a directive, a permission issued in a series of bulls by the popes of the time, as far back as the 1100’s and coming to the ones issued in 1455 and in 1493 that declared it right and righteous to kill, enslave and subjugate any people discovered living in a new land or Africa that were not converted to Christianity. All people, this running document decreed, not converted to Christianity were subhuman and deserving of ill use.

Since the 1100’s and, most meaningfully, since the 1400’s when the Atlantic Ocean was conquered and the “Americas” were discovered. Britain, France, Spain and Portugal were the most active in the trade, murder and abuse of native peoples but the rot never stopped and we were and are, as Buffy Sainte-Marie warned us, “embedded,” now as then, embedded by this Document, this law dating back to the 1400’s, followed all the way to a hundred years of residential schools here in Canada and all the way to today with poisoned drinking water, as standard in some of the northern reserves of this country and so much more….

Without this information coming to us as the roughest thunder in a storm, turning our thinking upside down and chucking us to the ground with the horror of it, how can we dig ourselves out of this embedded place and clear our thinking to search for healing really? For our own selves, yes but more importantly for those who have been under the heels of this Document of Discovery. We have been the aggressors all these centuries but they are the victims of the insanity that is the Document; the obscenity of it. 

It begins as adults with admitting to it in a very fundamental way that will see us pushing against the pipelines going under rivers that provide drinking water and fish habitat. It will lead us to speak out against police brutality against people protecting their land from the ruin of further discovery and distribution of fossil fuels as in the Wet’suwet’en lands, for example but it is an example of wider spread illegal incursion on other lands. Unending pressure from all of us, joined at the hip with our fellows in Wet’suwet’en, demanding the retreat of the fossil fuel companies, demanding they turn their millions of investment dollars into alternative sources of energy – now!

It begins for our children with education. Buffy Sainte-Marie has spent years pitching for changes to core curriculum in schools, based on the perspective of the indigenous people. How their children see the world, their true history, math, language.

In order to learn another language, say I who speak a few, you have to learn to think in that other language and in order to do that, you have to understand what it is to be a person of that language. The French point of view, the Italian, the Mohawk.

Emotionally, I don’t think we can “walk in another person’s shoes.” We can only interrupt the experiences of others through our own, individual filters.

That doesn’t let us off the hook of caring and action. Whether we can ever know what it is like to protest in a completely peaceful way against a dangerous and certainly environmentally destructive pipeline and then suffer arrest and beatings is doubtful but we can admit it happens and rail against it. Letters to the MP’s that allow it; letters to the papers that report it – making sure they continue to report it.

Learning to say “Konoronhkwa.” That is Mohawk for “I love you” but it has a deeper meaning too.

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