Had this conversation today with someone – let’s call them S.
Me [talking about indigenous peoples and their rights and Canada and #idlenomore and all kinds of such things]
S [finding it all very interesting, then asking suddenly, in the end]: Have you ever been to Canada?
Me: No, I haven’t. Have you?
S: Yes! I’ve been to Nova Scotia, Halifax [starts explaining where it is and what it looks like on the map]
Me: I happen to know very well where Nova Scotia is. I’m kind of learning the language of Nova Scotia, and around.
S: Really? Oh wow. Yes, they speak a bit differently [starts imitating a strange English accent to illustrate]
Me: No, I’m learning the indigenous language of Nova Scotia.
S: ??? There’s an indigenous language in Nova Scotia?
Two worlds. Two semiospheres. Two completely different background systems.
A year ago, I didn’t know where Nova Scotia was. I did know where the Mi’kmaw people were located on the map, though – more or less. By now I seem to be more familiar with the Mi’kmaw names for places than the other ones. It was a natural choice for me – to learn from the people of the land.
Sometimes I come across a similar semiospheric confusion while talking with people who live in the world of French-speaking geography that I am not very familiar with. The confusions are easily solved by giving the English equivalent of the place name, and I learn, quickly.
In any area with indigenous peoples there’s a yet different reality layer, though – consisting of place names that often make sense, a language, a culture, a relationship with the environment around. It is all so very interesting, unique, rare, and often endangered.
The general public tends to know the layer of the prevalent culture(s), and very often they are not even aware that an alternative exists. Yet it does, and it’s in most cases not dead, decayed, deteriorated and forgotten, but alive, thriving, surviving, and carried by real people in the real world – as real as anybody else.
But the average occidental regards this as a dream world, long gone, dead, buried, and fairytale-ish. It’s so very romantical! To wear feathers on Halloween and remember the lovely natives with a good word on Thanksgiving, but living your whole life not knowing where your neighbours actually come from, or even that they exist, to say nothing of… knowing and understanding what they feel and think, or trying to learn some of their language in return of their having learnt yours. There are so many little things, being “the least” we could do! I suppose it hasn’t been made easy over the history, but it doesn’t excuse the ignorance.
It’s the diversity we all share and should attempt to keep and hold on to, until we still have it, in the present tense.