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Around the Kitchen Table

By Donald Ward

 

05/24/2017

The Cree author Harold Johnson, a Harvard-educated lawyer from Treaty 6 territory, and my adopted niece Tenille Campbell, a Dene woman from the English River First Nation in Treaty 10 territory, tell me that the proper way to introduce yourself is to state not only who you are, but who you’re from. This may be a relatively simple task for people who have lived here for millennia, but for mongrel Canadians like me it can be rather complex.

I am Donald Bruce David Ward. I was named after my father’s only brother and Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, who defeated a superior English force at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. David I chose as my confirmation name, after the patron saint of Wales — and with a nod to King David the psalmist, for whom my mother had a special devotion. I am the first Catholic in my family in several generations.

My father was Norman Ward, an author and academic from Hamilton, Ont. His father was Arthur Ward, a jeweller by training and a stalwart member of the Masonic Lodge whose prejudice against Catholics grew in proportion to his advancement in the order. His family emigrated from England in the 19th century. There was an Irish connection there, too, dating back to the 1700s, but no one spoke of it.

My father’s mother was Rachael McQueen from Glasgow, Scotland. She and a gang of irascible siblings arrived in Ontario early in the 20th century.

My mother was Betty Davis, a journalist and social historian from Stratford, Ont. Her father was Ernest David, a veteran of Vimy Ridge who managed to come through the Great War without a scratch. His people were ship-builders in Wales, and before that they were rumoured to be pirates.

My maternal grandmother was Edith Reynolds, who died when my mother was two. Her people fled to Upper Canada during the American Revolution in 1776, and before that they came from Scotland.

My parents came to Treaty 6 territory in 1948. My father had a one-year contract with the University of Saskatchewan, which was extended year after year until they ended up spending the rest of their lives in Saskatoon. Their ashes are buried at Wakaw Lake, where my family spent the summers throughout my childhood.

What this demonstrates, among other things, is that I am a product of the British Empire. I cannot apologize for this accident of history, nor do I wish to. I love my language and I love my culture. I cherish my faith, and the rights and freedoms I enjoy as a free citizen in a constitutional monarchy. I love being Canadian.

Having said that, I am not ignorant of history, nor of the injustices that have been committed in the name of progress and settlement. The history of humankind is one of migration, invasion, conquest and colonization. The Romans invaded Britain and subdued the Celts, then the Celtic remnant were conquered by the Saxons, who in turn were overrun by the Normans. The English invaded Ireland, and then much of the rest of the world. Canada is one result, an ongoing experiment in democracy.

As we approach the nation’s 150th birthday, it is fitting that we acknowledge those who came before us, and who sacrificed so much so that we could enjoy the lives we lead today.

Foremost among them are not the war heroes, the pioneers, the politicians and the industrialists, but the people who had been here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. They welcomed us, they traded with us, they taught us how to survive in a hostile environment, they intermarried with the early traders and explorers and created the new nation of the Métis, they negotiated treaties with us so that we might share the land and its resources, and they called us kiciwamanawak — cousins.

Alexander Morris negotiated many of the numbered treaties on behalf of the Crown in the 19th century. He did so in good faith, but as he grew older he became increasingly disillusioned with a myopic federal government and its subservient bureaucracy for their refusal to honour these sacred agreements. A hundred and fifty years later, many of us — Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike — remain disappointed and disillusioned.

I was born here, and if my life has taught me anything, it’s that this is where I belong. But I live here by right of treaty. If I forget that fundamental fact, I dishonour the true founders of this nation.