Saturday, June 21, 2014

National Aboriginal Day brings out Brantford's diversity

There’s a lot of diversity in Brantford, if you look in the right place.

The National Aboriginal Day celebration on June 21st at Harmony Square in the downtown core is one such place.

Amidst the toddlers splashing about among the square’s fountains, local residents from all walks of life came out to celebrate the occasion with spirit singers, drum circles, popcorn and snow cones.

Brantford Native Women's Drum Circle performing The Gathering Song during Brantford's National Aboriginal Day celebration
National Aboriginal Day is a nation-wide celebration of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people’s unique heritage, cultures and achievements. It is also an opportunity for non-Aboriginal peoples to learn about Canada’s Aboriginal history.

Different communities across Canada held their own festivities to mark the occasion. Local organizations responsible for Brantford’s celebration of National Aboriginal Day include Brantford Native Housing, De Dwa Da Dehs Nye>s Aboriginal Health Center, Laurier Brantford’s Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, the Niagara Peninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board, the Woodland Cultural Center and the Grand River Employment and Training.

I took my mom with me and I was happy to see her go shutter-happy at everything she. As newcomers to Canada, we weren’t exposed to the country’s Aboriginal history and culture beyond what we found in a travel brochure.

My shutter-happy mom and Jefferson in his full traditional dress on National Aboriginal Day at Brantford's Harmony Square.
It was through our own exploration that we discovered the Mohawk territory and Kanata Village located just ten minutes from our house. Looking for a quiet place to read one day, my dad discovered Mohawk Chapel, officially known as Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks. The oldest surviving church in Ontario, the chapel is home to the tomb of Joseph Brant, also known as Thayendanagea, leader of the Mohawk people. The chapel was a reward to the Mohawks for fighting with British troops during the American Revolution.

While jogging one day, I discovered that the path I was on was named after the late Tom Longboat, or Cogwagee, the renowned Onondoga long distance runner from the nearby Six Nations of the Grand River. Oh, and I also learned only very recently that the reservation – locally known as “Six Nations” – is the largest First Nations in Canada and the only territory in North America that is home to six Iroquois Nations – The Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora.

This may all seem like common knowledge to some or even trivial to others.

To me, as a Muslim, this knowledge is of the utmost importance. It teaches me about my neighbours whose concerns and hopes for the community aren't so different than mine. It teaches me about those with whom the Canadian government has made agreements on my behalf. It is forbidden for Muslims to eat from the fruits of an agreement where one party is shortchanged while the other prospers; knowing that First Nations peoples have been severely shortchanged and that many treaties remain unfulfilled, I am obligated to support them in their struggles.

Most importantly, this knowledge led me on a personal path of learning about the similarities between my beliefs as a Muslim and the spiritual beliefs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. They consider the environment a sacred trust, as I do. They treasure the ties of family and community, as I do. They deeply revere their elders, as I do.

The "Old" Mosh Boys performing on National Aboriginal Day at Harmony Square, Brantford.
I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for the phrase, “we are more alike than we are different.”

In some strange way, learning about Canada’s diverse community of Aboriginal peoples gave me a stronger sense of belonging than any newcomer program has.

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