COLUMN: Kevin Joseph — June 20, 2014

Kevin Joseph
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Kevin Joseph

I played a gig in the community of Pelican Narrows this past weekend.  As I pulled into the community I was greeted with exactly what I’ve come to expect from visiting northern reserves.  Almost everyone I passed waved at me. 

I notice this same greeting when I am driving through farming communities. 

We don’t know each other but we exchange friendly greetings nonetheless. 

One of the perks of travelling across the Canadian Prairies for the last 21 years as a freelance musician is that I get to see a lot of sunrises.  This is when I tend to pass a lot of farmers on the highway.  This is when I am greeted with enthusiastic good morning waves.

The only difference is the wave itself. 

You can see a farmer waving from a good distance.  It’s, as mentioned, very enthusiastic.  Hand raised in the air either moving side to side or just floating in the air until I wave and smile back. 

On the other hand, a rez “wave” is a little more understated.  The hand never leaves the steering wheel and only 2 fingers are raised along with the thumb and a slight head nod. 

I am not going to write an entire column of friendly greetings.  But it was noticing these friendly greetings from strangers that got me thinking about how similar farmers are to First Nations people. 

Both have a deep, generations old love for this land.  The kind of love that you have for family.  That land, and more importantly, how to care for and protect that land, is passed down through generations. 

Farmers know how to take care of their land so it can continue to grow food year after year.  You can’t take a university class on farming.  It is a lifetime learning process.  It is the understanding that if you want that land to provide for you, then you must nurture it and love it. 

When First Nations people say “our land” it isn’t in the sense of ownership.  There is no monetary value placed on it.  We say it is our land because we care for it.  We are raised to know that you only need to take what you need from it.  It will always provide for us as long as we respect it.  We care for it the way we care for our family. 

When there are First Nations protests regarding the land it is coming from a deep rooted place of love and respect for Mother Earth.  It comes from the understanding that we have become too comfortable taking without giving back. 

It is a love for all creation and humanity.  Much like the farmer who gives his life to growing food for all to eat. 

A more distressing similarity however is that we are losing our old people.  And with our old people we are losing libraries of knowledge. 

I read recently that there is a potential farming crisis looming in that over half of Canadian farmers are over the age of 60 and have not made arrangements to pass on the farm when they die.  Their kids have decided they don’t want the farming life.  Parcels of land are being sold off at bargain prices because they would rather sell the land cheap to someone they know will take care of it rather than making a big profit by selling to someone they don’t know. 

Every time an elder passes away we lose another library.  Many of our young people, me included, have not learned their language.  They have not spent the time with the old people to learn their history and culture.  And with each old person we lose, we lost another teacher. 

You cannot learn how to farm on Wikipedia. 

You cannot learn how to care for the land on Twitter.

You cannot learn it because you need to be raised in it.  You cannot be taught how to love it. 

We have reached a crossroads.  Due to technological “advancements” we now spend less and less time outside of our homes let alone in nature.  And then everything becomes dollars and cents.  If we don’t spend time with the land, how can we be expected to care for it?

Twenty-one years of driving across this amazing country we call Canada has given me a deep love for the land.

I’ll never forget the feeling of taking a deep breath of clean air upon arrival in Vancouver after spending two weeks lost in the smog of China.  It is not safe to drink the water there either.

I’ll never forget how much I began to miss trees when I spent a week in London, England.  I even missed insects.  There was no life other than humans in that city save for some of the wealthy people who could afford a few trees in their tiny yards.

It is always saddening to me to see farmers and First Nations people clash.  I have spent enough time with both groups to know how similar they are.  It is tiny surface details which divide them. 

It is tiny details that divide all of us. 

We can learn from them.  We can get of Facebook for a bit and spend more time talking to each other face to face and more time reading books rather than memes. 

At the very least, we can send a friendly good morning wave to a stranger. 


Kevin Joseph is a Prince Albert freelance writer. His column appears every fourth Friday in rotation with Jessica Iron Joseph, Sharon Thomas and Lori Q. McGavin.

Organizations: First Nations, Canadian Prairies, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Pelican Narrows, Canada, Vancouver China London England

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