Complicating the Concept of the Canadian Wilderness and Land Ownership
I was very fortunate to grow up in the Big Muddy Badlands. Therefore the idea of wilderness and home were always fairly blurred. My family’s nearest neighbor is 4 miles away “as the crow flies” and 10 miles away if you follow a road. This means that the much of what I would consider my home I would also consider wild. Besides our yard, the land that is currently owned by my family shows very little human influence. In fact the only human influences you can see in this area is the rugged pasture trail, the fence lines and the remnants of indigenous people in the form of tepee rings. Yet I would consider this “neutral, natural and empty” pastureland my home as much as I would consider my yard as home (Newberry, 30). This wilderness is not just empty, neutral land. It is my home, the home to many animals and the old home of the indigenous people. This land is rich with culture- the left-overs of the indigenous culture through tepee rings and artifacts and the evidence of my own ranching culture in the form of fence lines, and ownership boundaries.
I love spending time in this “wilderness”. It is a very cool experience to be able to look at this area and clearly imagine how it looked hundreds of years ago. It is fun to reflect on the lives of the Indigenous people who have their remnants on this land. But just like Newberry suggests that there is an “absence of a critical pedagogy of colonialism” in education, there has been a lack of talk about colonialism during my family’s reflection (Newberry, 31). We have never reflected on how through the process of colonization this land that was once indigenous land has become our land nor what happened to the descendants of theses Indigenous people after they stopped following the buffalo through what is now my home.
However, we have discussed the idea of land owning. As ranchers, the land is very important to us and to our livelihood. Therefore the idea of being thankful for the land and the opportunity to own land is not a new concept to myself or my family. My Grandfather told my father who has told me that very few people have the opportunity to own land and therefore if you are lucky enough to be one of those people you need to be thankful for the opportunity and take the responsibility seriously. Newbery’s idea of identifying oneself as a “settler invader” actually parallels the many discussions that I have had with my father. He believes that ownership is a concept that can be easily disputed. He believes that as easily as our ancestors took away this land from the Indigenous people the same land could be taken away from us by the government. He believes that will this will happen in my area within the next couple generations for the purpose of conservation.
The second session I attended at Treaty Ed Camp had the same message about the privileges of land owning as my dad. Grant Urban recounted to his audience how his grandfather acquired farm land from his boss and had the opportunity to pass it down to his child who then had the opportunity to pass it down to Urban’s brother. He finds the process of inheriting land to be fulfilling and expresses regret that the Indigenous people that lost the ability to live on the land of their ancestors. It is through this family experience that Urban has developed gratitude for colonization while finding passion the messages of Treaty Education. He also brought up a very valid point about how we ranchers recognize past owners by naming the land after them but we do nothing to recognize the Indigenous people who occupied it first. His example is that his family named pastures after the families who sold them the land. My example is that my family home is called “the Noble Place” by my family and by our community. The Nobles were the family who sold the land to my grandfather who sold it to my parents. I can also tell you that the Nobles have lived there for several generations. The Nobles bought the land from a man who co-squatted on the land with the outlaw Sam Kelly before he became the first owner of this land. I can tell you about all the people who have lived here before my family and after colonization yet I cannot even tell you which tribes of Indigenous people occupied the same land not long before. I think this is an indication of where the priorities in my education have been thus far. The “settler-invaders” have held more significance than the people we invaded.
Newbery, Liz. “Canoe Pedagogy and Colonial History: Exploring Contested Space of Outdoor Environmental Education.” Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (CJEE) 17 (2012): 30-45.