Chi­nese groups, First Na­tions re­late

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By NA LI in Toronto re­nali@chi­nadai­

Chi­nese groups lis­tened with an un­der­stand­ing forged by ex­pe­ri­ence about the chal­lenges faced by Canada’s First Na­tions’ abo­rig­i­nal groups.

A sym­po­sium, Shared Cul­tural Pasts: A Com­par­a­tive Con­ver­sa­tion Ex­plor­ing the Cul­tures of Multi-eth­nic Chi­nese and First Na­tions Peo­ples in Canada, was held in Water­loo ear­lier this month.

Hosted by the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute in Water­loo and the In­sti­tute of Eth­nic Lit­er­a­ture at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, it gath­ered 18 Chi­nese eth­nic mi­nor­ity schol­ars and writ­ers along with their North Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts to en­gage in di­a­logues of com­par­a­tive mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in Canada and China.

Guo Xuebo, a nov­el­ist born in In­ner Mon­go­lia, dis­cussed sim­i­lar­i­ties in reli­gious prac­tices be­tween Mon­go­lians and the First Na­tions.

The First Na­tions com­prise the var­i­ous abo­rig­i­nal Cana­di­ans, of which there are cur­rently 634 groups across the coun­try.

“I dis­cov­ered that the reli­gious be­liefs of th­ese peo­ple, in­clud­ing their cus­toms and at­ti­tudes to­ward na­ture were sim­i­lar to that of the Mon­go­lian peo­ple, and this made me feel con­nected to th­ese peo­ple,” Guo said.

Guo said that since the an­cient Pleis­tocene glacial pe­riod, when the sea level fell, the Ber­ing Strait ex­posed a nar­row strip of land, which the an­ces­tors of the Inuit crossed. Some of the first Cana­di­ans crossed the strait that con­nected Asia to North Amer­ica.

“In par­tic­u­lar, I found that the Inuit re­li­gion ap­pel­la­tion is called ‘Shaman­ism’, which is ex­actly the same as Mon­go­lian Shaman­ism,” Guo said.

Guo’s Mon­go­lian group is just one of the 55 eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups in China, in ad­di­tion to the Han ma­jor­ity. All of the groups have tra­di­tions of writ­ten and oral lit­er­a­ture.

“Eth­nic mi­nor­ity lit­er­a­ture came into a new era since the found­ing of a new China in 1949,” said Yin Hanyin, a Manchu eth­nic writer, who was the ed­i­tor of Na­tional Lit­er­a­ture mag­a­zine.

Chi­nese eth­nic mi­nor­ity lit­er­a­ture be­gan to flour­ish after the open-door pol­icy was adopted, Yin said. In re­cent years, more eth­nic writ­ers have be­gun writ­ing in their na­tive lan­guages.

“The mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion­al­i­ties in China have func­tioned pri­mar­ily to­ward pro­vid­ing re­sources to main­tain the vi­tal­ity of the main­stream Han cul­ture through­out China’s long his­tory,” said Yan Li, di­rec­tor of the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute in Water­loo. “In the past years, th­ese mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion­al­i­ties have demon­strated their vi­sion for pre­serv­ing their worth­while her­itages, which the ma­jor­ity-group peo­ple should learn from.”

“North Amer­ica is a rel­a­tively new na­tion, and it be­gan its his­tory by col­o­niz­ing the indige­nous peo­ple of the Amer­i­cas, and that has had dis­as­trous con­se­quences for the indige­nous peo­ples of the Amer­i­cas,” said Dar­rol Bryant, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Di­a­logue and Spir­i­tu­al­ity in the World’s Re­li­gions at Reni­son Univer­sity Col­lege.

“China on the other hand, has had thou­sands of years to deal with their mul­ti­eth­nic her­itage; I think ac­tu­ally there are things as Cana­di­ans to learn from the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in China,” he said.

“There are a lot of in­ter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for com­par­a­tive or co­op­er­a­tive ed­u­ca­tion with stu­dents from China and Canada, to learn the tragic his­tory and the con­se­quences,” said Keith Carlson, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan.

At the sym­po­sium, Lila Bruyere re­called her ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing de­prived of us­ing her na­tive lan­guage.

As a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion “sur­vivor “of Canada’s res­i­den­tial school sys­tem, Bruyere was taken away from her home com­mu­nity of Couch­ich­ing First Na­tion in north­ern On­tario at age 6 and spent eight years at what she called a “feared” build­ing that now houses the Abo­rig­i­nal and First Na­tions’ of­fices.

Res­i­den­tial schools were set up to as­sim­i­late abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren into Cana­dian cul­ture.

“I was told not to speak my own lan­guage, be­cause our lan­guage is bad,” she said with a qua­ver in her voice. “So I missed out on my lan­guage, but I think my lan­guage is still here, in my heart.”

Bruyere was ac­com­pa­nied by her son, Shawn John­ston. The cy­cle started from her par­ents and con­tin­ued to her son, she said.

Bruyere said the trauma has af­fected so many abo­rig­i­nal fam­i­lies like hers.

“I wanted the cy­cle of aban­don­ment to stop; I started my own heal­ing and kept my­self in treat­ment.”

De­spite those ob­sta­cles, Bruyere and John­ston grad­u­ated from the Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity’s Mas­ter of So­cial Work Abo­rig­i­nal Field of Study pro­gram, and mother and son donned grad­u­a­tion robes at the same time.

Bruyere’s and her son’s sto­ries are some of the wrench­ing tales that res­i­den­tial school sur­vivors have shared since the no­to­ri­ous sys­tem was closed in the 1980s after al­most 100 years in op­er­a­tion.

“The loss of lan­guage and cul­ture is the loss of worlds as we know them,” said Wendy L. Fletcher, prin­ci­pal and vice-chan­cel­lor at Reni­son.


Mem­bers of the Abo­rig­i­nal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter at St. Paul’s Col­lege play a tra­di­tional song of the First Na­tions on Oct 3 in Water­loo.

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