Readers differ on labelling ethnic and national identities

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 24, 2014

A climbing rose on a garden trellis challenges its admirers to rise above the ugliness of stereotypical thinking and, like it, to become instruments of beauty and healing in a broken world. Photo by Warren Harbeck

Last week’s column generated quite differing opinions on labelling and describing Canada’s First Peoples. The debate centres on whether one’s ethnic identity should be upfront, or drawn on only as relevant to relationship-building. Here are some of your responses.

Morley reader MYRNA KOOTENAY says you can’t really know her if you don’t know her tribal roots. She writes:

My, my, my, what a conversation to have regarding politically correct identification of Canada’s First Peoples! Canada has yet to recognize that we are not “Indian” from India or “Aboriginal.” Specific to our location in the Alberta foothills, my people are Nakodabi and Îyethkabi, and ultimately wîchastabi (human beings).

We are the first peoples. We were here before Europeans “discovered” the Americas. The First Peoples in Canada are as vast and indigenous as the wildflowers and wildlife, each with a specific tribal origin and ethnicity based on land and language.

As a Nakoda Sioux Flathead Kootenay woman I live on the premise that, if you don't know my origin, why I am the way I am, then you don't know me at all. When I went to Olds College and Colorado State, I learnt the scientific name of every species of farm animals, legumes, weeds and grass specific to each region. One has to wonder why the same regard is not given to the human race.  

Cochrane reader JACK BLAIR has a different take. He celebrates the beauty of individuality within our common citizenship:

Dealing with people as individuals is always the best, whether they are Aboriginal, Chinese, Japanese, Brit, Scandinavian, Latino or Indian (from the east).

In trying to come to grips with our different ethnicities, I sometimes wonder why we keep making distinctions apart from us being common citizens of our great country. I know I feel very connected to my Scottish heritage, but I’m first a Canadian. I understand how the Stoney can think about this differently, because they were “Canadians” before any Europeans were.

I try to think of all folk living in Canada as first and foremost Canadians. So, I think of Roland Rollinmud, from Morley, as a Canadian artist whose art portrays his Stoney culture and history.

And then there’s this simple question posed by West Coast reader KARIN HENDERSON. She asks:

Why DO we have to “describe” anyone? Why is it important to label anyone?

Does anyone care that I am a German-born Canadian citizen? Does anyone care that I have a certain background?  I grew up in an environment that didn’t recognize differences such as colour, creed, etc. I have no idea what anyone’s background is until they choose to reveal it, and the situation will determine that. Why put “label” front and centre before any relationship is established?

I’ll leave that as a teaser for next week’s annual guest column by my information technologist son, Reg Harbeck. How does identity differ from label, and can he redeem “nerd” from put-down status to admiration? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’d like to close with a photo-reflection on that great quote from Dostoevsky: “The world will be saved by beauty.”

The accompanying image is of a climbing rose on the trellis in my wife’s garden. In a world marred by the ugliness of stereotypical thinking, labelling and finger-pointing, may this rose inspire all of us to contemplate its beauty, and ourselves to become instruments of beauty for the healing of our world.


© 2014 Warren Harbeck

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