July 24th, 2021

The Human Condition: The Tepee or the fireworks?

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on July 8, 2021.

On the front page of the Saturday, July 3 edition of this paper was a beautiful image of Canada Day fireworks at night, a reminder of 1867 when four British colonies were brought together to form the Dominion of Canada. Soon afterward the Medicine Hat News was founded, a paper only 18 years younger than our country.

A few decades later, my ancestors immigrated to this new country from Germany and Romania, seeking a new life carved out of the unforgiving frozen soil of Alberta, many years after the military and cultural clashes that “built” this country had ended.

But what had the British built? Why had they built it? After all is said and done about Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations, how did we arrive here in the 21st century the way we did?

All history is complex when humans are involved, but in another way it is very simple. We do what we do because we want to do it. This is the most inspiring or horrifying aspect of any human endeavour. All action is desired; we do the wrong thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason, the right or wrong thing while trying to keep to the centre, etc. Somewhere in our choices, no matter how difficult or complex, are desires.

Driving our desires are beliefs: things we want to believe, want to prove to the world, want to see provided for others, and so on. Beliefs are more psychologically complex expressions of various desires, desires within desires like Russian nesting dolls.

It is how a single image can be a nexus for multiple desires and beliefs, whether intentional or not. We see something that brings our desires and beliefs into focus and we direct our daily life according to how we process them, how the image of the Canada Day fireworks on the cover of last Saturday’s paper could be many things to many people: how the fireworks themselves were framed by the poles of the giant Saamis Tepee, how the adjacent icon used as the News’ logo is an Indigenous man, how our town is named after an Indigenous cultural practice, how a giant teepee that dominates the city’s skyline is decorative alone and made out of metal like no natural teepee would be, and how hundreds upon hundreds of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children have been discovered in recent weeks at residential schools, yet such a photo is printed.

That the fireworks are framed by a teepee is remarkably poignant, in ways I think the descendants of white colonists may need to be more aware of. As one whose ancestors were not involved with, but had the distinct racial privilege of building a life within such a legacy, such a photo makes me feel personally compelled to reflect in a more sober fashion on how it must make an Indigenous man, woman, or child feel to see Canada through that image, to feel like a fake teepee through which others celebrate themselves.

Dr. Daniel Schnee is an anthropologist who specializes in Japanese creative culture.

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