When I first came to Canada, I settled in Ottawa. For the first few months I was busy finding a place for us to live, getting my son into school, and then researching about what I wanted to do and what kind of skills I would need to begin my new life.
During those busy few months, I was keeping an eye out for people who may look like those from the First Nations of this land: darker skin, beautiful long black hair, perhaps different languages. I remember one day I went to school a bit early to pick up my son, and waited by the door to see if any First Nation people came to pick up their children. None; no parents nor any students…
I began to wonder why I couldn’t see them anywhere, and even whether any had survived the wars of conquest I had heard about. I wanted to ask people, though did not know how. To my mind they were the first people of this huge continent, and they should be everywhere.
I completed a term of my new college program and managed to make some close friends. One was a sweet girl with whom I often studied. One day at our lunch break I boldly asked what happened to the people of this land from before the European arrived, and why I could not see them like everybody else.
“O,” she said; then stared at me for a bit. “Good question, I think they are mostly living on reserves.”
“What is a reserve?” I asked
“A place they have as their land and they live there together.”
“And where is that?”
“I do not know, at the edges of cities, I guess,” she said.
Well, that was not good enough for me. I wanted to know why people that I heard had lived here for thousands of years were not easily to be seen on the streets, at workplaces, and in schools like everybody else. Also, I learned that though my friend was a very nice person, she didn’t know much about First Nations people, nor cared to know. It was disappointing.
A few more weeks passed and the May 1st International Labor Day arrived. I knew that that celebration had been changed to the first Monday of September, though I never understood why. I went where I was told there may be some gathering in downtown Vancouver. There, after several years living in Ottawa and now in Vancouver, I finally met a good number of First Nations people. Many seemed in very poor condition, but many were absolutely smart, walking around talking and educating.
Then I heard a strong voice with a unique accent speaking. He was communicating about “my people” so beautifully. He talked about the enforced reservations as segregation, hunger, displacement, genocide, as well as disappeared and murdered women.
It was a beautiful day, though breathing became so difficult all of a sudden.
- Nasreen Pejvack, author of Amity