Celebrating aboriginal heritage benefits all

For the past few years, every public event in Prince George begins with acknowledgement that we are on the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh people.

As I looked around me at a recent celebration, I realized that this was a powerful gesture. For many years in the history of our region, the aboriginal peoples and immigrants lived in a way that was beneficial to both.

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The fur trade thrived as a result.

Aboriginal peoples hunted and traded for resources that improved their lives like traps, blankets, pots and pans, guns, etc. The white people benefited because furs were valuable in Europe and they made significant profits.

It wasn't until the time of the gold rush that things fell apart, when Europeans wanted exclusive rights over vast tracks of land and control of waterways.

Then came the residential schools, and efforts to destroy the aboriginal way of life.

What is interesting about this is that humans benefit when we work together, and we destroy ourselves when we try to destroy each other. What is beautiful about the Lheidli T'enneh is that they do not want exclusive rights to their territory, they simply want it to be acknowledged that this is the ancestral land of their people. Doing so is a way of simply thanking them for their generosity in sharing this beautiful land. The rest of us have the homelands of our ancestors, but for many reasons we have chosen to benefit from living here. Some of us were forced to leave, others were poor and hungry and could see the advantage of living here, and still others came simply seeking adventure. Whatever the reason, we are here, with our own histories, our own foods, our own traditions, and it is good for us to be together.

We actually make each other better.

One of the things that makes Canada a great country is that we embrace and celebrate what makes us different, and this celebration brings us all together. I loved growing up in Toronto in the 1970s and '80s and experiencing the diversity of culture. The parents of almost all of my friends had come from different countries. All had different languages, foods and traditions. Every year there was a festival called Caravan where all of the different ethnic clubs set up pavilions around the city with dance, music, art, food and history lessons. It was a wonderful celebration which brought the city together.

In recent years, with growing awareness of the horrors of the residential school system in Canada, we have come to not only share regret for what happened, but to honour and celebrate the beautiful cultures that were oppressed and almost lost. Aboriginal dance, art, music, spirituality, government, language and justice are experiencing a renaissance, and all Canadians benefit.

Bands like A Tribe Called Red and Northern Cree are gaining unprecedented popularity combining traditional aboriginal music with modern musical styles. The Prince George school district has also initiated programs to teach about aboriginal history and culture in an effort to raise awareness and improve graduation rates.

As a non-aboriginal teacher, I feel honoured to be included in this process.

It is in the nature of human beings to want to share who we are and to greet others with a welcoming spirit. We do have a very dark chapter in Canadian history, but now is the time to step out of the shadows and celebrate the people who welcomed the world, as well as the diversity that brings us together.

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