It’s always a treat to meet someone who is really proud to be an Indian – make that “Indigenous person” if you’re politically correct.
One of those people is a regular visitor to the Union of Ontario Indians office here on the north side of Highway 17.
Walter Deering , who lives on nearby Nipissing First Nation but whose family roots are in the earth up the road in Temagami, is always producing items that indicate his enthusiasm about his heritage.
Last time in, it was a chunk of granite from the South Dakota mountain whose southern face is being slowly transformed into the image of the mounted Lakota leader Crazy Horse. He also brought me a snapshot he took of the monument while on vacation in the Black Hills. It shows the completed 87-foot-high head of Crazy Horse, which dwarfs the 60-foot faces of four U.S. presidents at Mount Rushmore, 17 miles nearby.
The 600-square-foot carving has been in progress since 1935, and if completed, will become the world's largest sculpture. Walter is never speechless, but he was obviously awe-struck by the landmark.
On a previous visit, he brought in a photo of a reproduction of a sign warning Canadian citizens that “any person selling or giving, directly or indirectly, any kind of INTOXICATING LIQUOR to Indians either on or off their Reserves, will be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law, being liable to a fine of $300.00 and to SIX Months imprisonment.”
What really agitated Walter – a fairly excitable man at the best of times – was that he took a photograph of this sign hanging on the wall in the Ottawa office of Indian and Northern Affairs – make that “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, if you’re politically correct.
The 5,000 Indian Affairs employees might have thought the antique notice was campy, but Walter took it as a personal insult. “Lest we forget”, he scribbled on a note paperclipped to the snapshot.
He also produced three reprints of historic photos he said a relative gave him. I felt kind of bad telling him they weren’t his ancestors, but pictures of the traditional Mohawk Longhouse Council examining wampum belts, an image of three Six Nations veterans of the War of 1812, and another photo of an aging warrior dressed in a British army coat decorated with six medals for some kind of service to the Crown.
Walter even brought me wedding photos, one of he and Suzanne Goulais cutting their cake on May 2nd, 1997, and one of his parents on their wedding day Sept. 8th, 1911.
Our friendly Purolator driver was previously also a proud Metis – president of the North Bay branch – until he was informed last year that he had achieved recognition as a Status Indian.
A longtime friend and colleague just discovered a couple of years ago that he had First Nation ancestry – his mother revealed this to him on her deathbed. He has decided that it is never too late to be proud of one’s heritage and has written several very readable books about First Nations historic figures and traditions.
For many reasons directly related to Canada’s policy of assimilation – “killing the Indian in the child” – too many of our parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents were reticent about encouraging their children to be proud of who they were.
What the world needs are more Walter Deerings.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.