A Colonial Inheritance
… we have only begun
to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision
how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.
there is too much broken
that must be mended,
too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud.
~ Denise Levertov ~
One of the current things people know about Kenya is that King Charles III visited there recently on his first state visit as Monarch to a Commonwealth Country. As a previous student of Canadian history, I had a fair idea of ‘commonwealth’ past but in the last few months I have learned even more about the colonial connections between Canada and Kenya, although I do not in any way pretend to know enough. I also recognise that I have benefitted from colonization and continued patterns of privilege that someone with my background, education and skin colour is offered. I am the descendant of 19th Century European and UK settlers to Canada Upper Canada. And I am also the daughter of parents who have instilled equity, justice and awareness in my thinking. This in no way means that I always get it ‘right’, but I am willing to learn and listen and even make mistakes.
In the midst of a difficult topic and a history full of what King Charles blandly referred to as ‘wrongdoings of the past’ - what Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation referred to as our joint ‘inheritance’ – I have learned that there are many similarities. Some of the Colonial history that our two countries share include a ‘reserve’ structure that was forced upon indigenous peoples; legally sanctioned systemic encroachment of settlers on the best land; the requirement of ‘passes’ that limited indigenous peoples to where and when they could travel; patriarchal laws about marriage, gender, status and ownership of property; and of course, the removal of any choice about education, including children being ‘rounded up’ and taken away from their families and communities, and then forced into uniforms, hair-cuts and punished for speaking their own mother tongues. The violence that black Kenyans and Indigenous Canadians have also had to endure based on ‘government policy’ has left entire communities dealing with multi-generational trauma, family and cultural losses and critical health-related problems.
What I have also experienced in the community where I live, and I imagine/hope in Kenya as well, is that there is strength, resilience and many gifts that the cultures have to offer to one another. At a recent Ribbon-Skirt making day at Mayfair United Church, Knowledge Keeper Audrey shared some of the teachings of the colours we would be using. She told us that in her Cree culture the red, yellow, blue and white medicine wheel is a reminder that all peoples are connected in this circle. The four colours, among many other things, represent all the peoples of this earth as inter-related. Experiencing this teaching in a more personal way this time I realized that the interconnectedness includes me and my ancestors. This was humbling.
Knowledge Keeper, Audrey Ben, embraced by Participants at our Ribbon Skirt Day.
On our United Church of Canada crest, we have incorporated the Haudenosuanee (Mohawk) phrase “Askew Nia’Tetewá:neren” that translates to something like ‘all my relations’ in English. This is more than a ‘phrase’, but a way of living that refers to the connection between all peoples, and all of creation. All parts of Mother earth and beyond – the ‘beasts and flowers’ to which poet Denise Levertov refers. The words were adopted as part of the crest only after the Church officially apologized to first nations peoples and has sought ways to recognize and honour Indigenous histories in the church.
One of the Kenyan stories I read recently is written by two Maasai men who recount their experiences of growing up in a traditional Maasai world and also attending Kenya school – the connection and the differences between these two worlds and the gifts that Maasai teachings have to offer the world. In the prologue we read:
“Taleenoi olngisoilechasher. There is a saying among Maasai that everything is connected and interconnected. We are all one. We call it taleenoi olngisoilechasur.”
The writers share their experiences and their hopes that they can help other Maasai to keep the best of their traditions and also be part of the wider Kenyan culture with many gifts to offer.
Both of the authors travelled to Canada as part of the ‘Me to We’ program and share this learning: ‘when we share our cultures, we enrich each other’s lives. It is not about one culture claiming dominance over another. But about being one with each other and yet separate’.
My prayer for my travels is that I can keep an open mind, experience the gifts that others have to offer and practice the ‘cultural humility’ that friend Ali Tote invited me to consider. How do we live knowing we are all one, we are all related, we are interconnected, and yet bring our unique gifts to the world? Re/establishing relationship, learning from each other, and honouring the gifts of difference are some of the ways that we might all change the trajectory of our colonial inheritance. Apology and humility are a part of this invitation and the recognition that, as the poet reminds us, ‘so much is in bud’. Perhaps these teachings will become part of wider ‘western’ culture so that the next visit of the Crown to its ‘colonies’ can include real expressions of remorse and a willingness to make reparations that are life-giving to all.
Histories of the hanged: Britain’s dirty war in Kenya and the end of empire.
Keynote address. Delorme, Chief Cadmus. Living Skies Regional Council Meeting, Prince Albert, SK. May, 2023.
Last Maasai warriors: an autobiography
Meikuaya, Wilson & Ntirkana, Jackson with Susan McClelland