roots and bones

I got to look at my mom’s family tree this weekend. Jacob Grass got on a ship sailing from Hanover in 1752 called The Nancy (my mom’s name). He came to what would become the United States to begin with but of course it was 1752 and the United States did not exist yet.

I am also descended from a Cameron and a MacGregor. No wonder I’ve always been a Jacobite! But! Also, a Hanoverian! No wonder I’m so mixed up.

And so there are roots and bones stretching back through time, to people I don’t know and am only beginning to learn about. I am Jacob Grass, I have his genetics. Perhaps I look like him or at least recall an expression he had in some forgotten way and it’s all jumbled together with everyone else to create something uniquely mine, uniquely me.

Jacob Grass took a risk. He got on a ship to an unknown land and he tried something. Why did he do this? Was he leaving something? Or going towards something else?

I wonder if he liked tea. And cats.

Why history? If it is a bewildering clutter of dates and names, no wonder people lose interest. Stories have power and influence, so this is better. But still, why? Why should anyone care about what happened in the past, and what influence does it have on our daily lives?

October is the right time to explore themes like this, to ask questions of the ghosts that haunt us, and reflect on how we can perhaps be connected to and guided by them instead.

Sometimes, the impact of history is big and broad … like a war that killed two percent of the British population or twenty million missing bison.

And sometimes, it can be small and relevant to how we can live life today, just now.

I’ll tell you about a little practice that I have. I say good morning to my grandmas every day. When I make my tea, I use tea cups that were given by my great granny to her daughter-in-law, my grandma. My other great-grandmother gave my grandma (her daughter) a tea caddy as a birthday present. I don’t have anything that belongs to my mom’s mother, but I say good morning to that stylish, courageous French girl with the beautiful structured jawline every morning too. I do have something of hers! That determined, rather elegant jaw. Merci, madame.

I imagine getting a hug from each grandma. It makes me feel rooted and connected as I start my day. And sometimes to be honest the rest of the day isn’t very good. But I can start off feeling loved and supported. I think this is a small example of how history can help us to live more thoughtful, meaningful and loving lives.

If I’m descended from healers (nurses) and teachers, I’m also descended from warriors. The Gordon Highlanders Museum sent us my great-grandfather’s war record from World War One a few weeks ago. Henry Grey was awarded three medals.

  • 1. The Military Cross
  • 2. The British War Medal
  • 3. The Victory Medal.

Henry witnessed and suffered terror that I cannot imagine, was wounded several times, and he also experienced the drudgery and discomfort and boredom and loneliness of that forgotten and overlooked time between battles that soldiers also experience.

I think, how hard that must have been … awful food, the dreaded endless rounds of Mulligatawny soup, wet feet, uncomfortable beds, or no beds. Loneliness.

I’ve seen my great-grandfather’s battle box. He would collect it at the end of the day and it contained his things … extra socks, letters, a book or two perhaps. Maybe someone had sent your favourite cookies or some other treat from home. Some soldiers didn’t get anything from anyone. And of course there were the leftover battle boxes at the end of the day that no one came to collect.

I had an awful dream this summer that my nephew went off to war with a battle box that his dad had lovingly made for him. At the end of the day, a wagon came round and that battle box was still in there. I started screaming, “No! No! No!”

Honestly, my brain sometimes.

My great-grandfather did meet a warrior who confounded and defied him and that was his own daughter, my great-auntie Mary, who of course wasn’t anyone’s great auntie at the time but a little girl with auburn curls and a determined chin that recalled her father growing up in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in the 1930s. She refused to eat porridge for breakfast and went toe to toe with this warrior who had been wounded and decorated and survived the deadliest conflict in human history.

And she stood him right down. He told her she’d have porridge for breakfast or go hungry and this is just what the young lady did. Every day … for years. Even the most implacable soldier will inevitably meet his … or her … match.

I do eat porridge because it’s cheap and I rather like it this time of year. I made it today and giggled when I was thinking about this story.

Those are some roots and bones for today, and I hope you find it nourishing. History, said Thomas Moore, is food for the soul. And sometimes the local and homegrown history is best of all.

bison

I’m reading a book called Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life by Kingsley M. Bray right now.

In both Canada and the United States, the disappearance of the buffalo was the biggest humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that you’ve never heard of. Scientists are only beginning to recognize now that cattle also introduced diseases into wild herds that weakened them.

The American government wanted the bison gone — it had two transcontinental railroads to build and dealing with freedom fighters like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull was impossible as long as they had access to the food and shelter supplied by those big herds.

Here in Canada, the situation was slightly different. The government knew the bison would be gone eventually but their priority was not to be financially responsible for the First Nations people in western Canada. They thought they had time, and if you had ever seen one of those massive herds you would have understood why they believed that.

Let’s say you and I are standing on a rise in the prairie. We say to each other, “Do you hear that?” But that isn’t exactly what we mean. What we mean is do you FEEL that … the sound is coming out of the ground up through our feet. An hour later … look to the north as far as you can, look to the south as far as you can. That herd is a mile wide, and it passes us by for an hour. You would never, ever forget a sight like that.

Only two years after Treaty 7 was signed in 1877 (the agreement the Crown signed with the indigenous people and settlers in my area) the bison were gone from southern Alberta and the people here were starving. We talk about the bison on the tour of Chestermere that’s happening tonight — did we have bison herds in this area? Come to find out how glacier rocks and a natural prairie spring offer us some clues.

treaty six

23 and 28 August of 1876: the British Crown signed an agreement with Plains and Woods Cree, Assiniboine, and other band governments of First Nations at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt.

Significant agreements in Treaty Six that don`t appear in any other treaty? A famine clause. Three years later the bison were gone, and there’s your famine. There is also a Medicine Chest Clause that is still disputed today.

Another significant outcome of this treaty…… some Cree Chiefs such as Big Bear and Poundmaker refused to sign it, setting the stage for the terrible confrontation between the Canadian Government and the Metis and First Nations people during the North West Rebellion.

“This is our land! It isn’t a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given in little pieces back to us. It is ours and we will take what we want.”

Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) refuses to sign Treaty Six, August 1876.

“We want none of the Queen’s presents! When we set a fox trap we scatter pieces of meat all around but when the fox gets into the trap we knock him on the head. We want no baits. Let your chiefs come to us like men and talk to us.”

Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) refuses to sign Treaty Six, August 1876.

Read More:

  • Loyal Till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion by Bill Waiser and Blair Stonechild
  • Frontier Farewell by Garrett Wilson

cuthbert grant

On this date, 15 July 1854 – Cuthbert Grant died after being thrown from a horse.

Cuthbert Grant

Whilst Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont may be better known, many Metis in Canada and the United States trace their ancestry to Cuthbert Grant.

Grant was a farmer, the father of thirteen children, an employee of the North West Company and a commander in the Battle of Seven Oaks. You can read more about his life here.

This article describes a historic visit in 2012 by Sir James Grant of Scotland, also known as Lord Strathspey. The occasion formally acknowledged that Cuthbert Grant was a clan member, making his descendants an official sept (branch) of the Grant clan in Scotland.

21 great books

  1. High Rider by Bill Gallagher
  2. Frontier Farewell by Garrett Wilson
  3. We Are Coming Home by Gerald Conaty
  4. Clearing the Plains by James William Daschuk
  5. The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont
  6. A Terrible Glory by James Donovan
  7. Ranching Women by Rachel Herbert
  8. Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfoot by Hugh Dempsey
  9. Firewater by Hugh Dempsey
  10. Grant MacEwan’s Journals (edited by Max Foran )
  11. The Red Man’s Bones: George Catlin, Artist and Showman by Benita Eisler
  12. The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
  13. The Banker and the Blackfoot: A Memoir of My Grandfather in Chinook Country by J. Edward Chamberlin
  14. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  15. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
  16. Quietus: Last Flight Accident Proneness in WWII by Anne Gafiuk
  17. Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O`Brien
  18. The North-West Mounted Police: 1873-1885 by Jack F. Dunn
  19. The Great Blackfoot Treaties by Hugh Dempsey
  20. A Voice of Her Own (Legacies Shared) by Thelma Poirier
  21. Metis Pioneers by Doris Jeanne McKinnon

five things i love about canada:

1) Peace
2) Freedom
3) Emily Carr (I was so drawn to her wild, challenging paintings and defiant, independent spirit as a child).
4) W. O. Mitchell — I just saw “The Kite” performed. Hilarious, heartfelt, magical.
5) @cfl @calstampeders football!
Image

“i have loved my country with a passionate love”

“My sins of omission and commission I do not deny; but I trust that it may be said of me in the ultimate issue, ‘Much is forgiven because he loved much,’ for I have loved my country with a passionate love.”

— John A. MacDonald.

I created this piece of art a few years ago during a period of pain, anger and despair as I examined the historical roots of my country and wondered how something founded on murder, eugenics, deception and flawed beliefs could ever have a good future. Despite what the UN has to say about us, Canada still certainly isn’t a good or safe place for everyone.

Yet, the liberty afforded to me as a woman in this land is almost unheard of in other nations on this earth. I can choose who I want to vote for. Being the bold lassie I am, I’ve at times bluntly told a visiting politician that I didn’t vote for them! With no thought of reprisals to me and mine — for the person did what I expected them to do, put another stack of pancakes on my plate and told me to call their office or come to visit them any time to discuss my concerns.

So, today I want to celebrate, with a thankful heart. Tomorrow, I promise to get back to work to make sure that the next 152 years are a heck of a lot better than the first 152 were.

#johnamacdonald #canada #canadian #canadiangirl #quote #quotation #canadaday #love #passionate