Two Canoes

Canada Day by the Sea


We were honoured to have a full complement of drummers this Canada Day. As every circle begins with a moment of thanks for all the gifts we have in our lives, we played songs of gratitude to the Seven Directions; to Mother Earth; to women, men, and the warrior in each of us – and to the warm appreciation from the locals and tourists who passed by, or sat and listened, on a beautiful day at the height of the season. 

Between songs we read passages from “The Wolf’s Head: Writing Lake Superior” by Peter Unwin (2003, Viking Press, pp 31-32) which pinpoints the time in Canadian history where the systemic racism toward Indigenous peoples first took hold:

“To be saved the natives first had to be doomed. To be enlightened, it was essential that they be ignorant. Logic such as this was essential to the Jesuits and has proved extremely useful to the people who came after them. It has influenced nearly four centuries of scholarship and until very recently has shaped the stories and the language that teach us who we are – and who we are not. [This narrative] describes the Native inhabitants … without exception [as] ‘poor, hopeless, blind, savage … uncouth … barbaric … [but describes missionaries as] ‘gentle, wonderful, cheerful, kindly, sympathetic …'”

“Language like this defines the “two solitudes” of North America. It is not English and French or United States and Canada, but Us and Them. These associations have penetrated so deep into language as to be invisible”. 

Or, to paraphrase Justice Murray Sinclair: ‘The systemic racism is so deep that you don’t need actual racists in the positions anymore’.  

This raises questions: “How do we operate; how do we go forward with this knowledge?” Surely there has to be a middle-ground somewhere between the two extremes – between those who try and weave silver linings around the residential school experience (often because their religious or social upbringing will not allow them to see it for what it truly was), and those who want to smash every colonial icon. Understandably, albeit from different ends but in both cases, people simply want it to ‘go away’. But despite all of this, the problem is not going away. The truth – the gaping historical wound – has merely been exposed. A national disgrace takes a long time to heal, especially when it was enacted and enabled by the dominant culture in all facets of life over three centuries. Our work has just begun.

Two Canoes takes the concept of reconciliation one step further by advocating for full restitution. Borrowed from the common law of tort (and other legal orders), restitution simply means returning the aggrieved party to the status they enjoyed before the breach. In Canada’s case regarding Indigenous people, this means many things. Legally, it means untangling the threads of systemic racism in every colonial administration and undertaking. It means continuing to reverse, amend or repeal policies, regulations, and statutes, including the Indian Act and similar apartheid legislation; instead of enacting more legislation with attractive-sounding titles that simply dilute the presumption of colonial sovereignty. It means taking the leap from land acknowledgements … to land repatriation. Whether or not this change comes this century or next, it means there has to be a better way than “two solitudes”.

Elder Fred John (himself a residential school survivor), said “keep negativity away”. It is very hard to do – to create a positive space as members of a society that was built on the apartheid of Indigenous people – especially in the age of the seven-second sound byte – the era of political polarization and social media – where being reactionary passes for communication. Thankfully, one great gift of the drum circle is slowing down those frequencies, and clearing away that noise; allowing everyone to gather as human beings first and foremost, free of division. 

So, this Canada Day, one small group took one small step. We took Elder Fred’s advice and sang “Oh, Canada” for the young country – to help Her on her journey to the eventual, inevitable conclusion of full restitution for Indigenous people.

The purpose of “Two Canoes”:

It became clear to us after years of working with First Peoples, and other communities and individuals, that in order to affect deep, positive change in the way mining is undertaken (if at all) upon the land, the Indigenous view has to be understood by the non-Indigenous, ‘settler’ population.

When we kept getting asked (sometimes by high level officials in government and industry) questions like “Why do we need to include elders?” or “Why can’t we just do what we want – it’s all Crown land anyway?” – the need for a cultural bridge-building exercise became abundantly clear.

Out of this need, FMC’s “Two Canoes” was born.

Embracing the spirit of the iconic Haudenosaunee treaty belt which envisions the two worlds (Indigenous and settler) living in peace and non-interference, we hope it is the beginning of a better understanding in the mining relationship as we move toward an era of reconciliation and restitution in Canada.

Thank you for being part of positive change.


The juxtaposition of two world-views.
The purpose of the four main medicines.
How Canadian jurisprudence keeps Indigenous people frozen in time.
What is Canada at its core?