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Friday, November 13, 2015

"Peace Pipe Dreams: The Truth About Lies About Indians" by Darrell Dennis

If you've ever wondered why "Native people just can't get over it" or what the fuss is about faux headdresses at folk festivals, well, allow Darrell Dennis to explain. Dennis is an original--and not just in the First Nations sense of the word. An actor, comedian, playwright, screenwriter, radio host, and member of the Shushwap Nation in British Columbia, Dennis is also the author of Peace Pipe Dreams: The Truth About Lies About Indians (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014).

In busting through the myths and misconceptions surrounding First Nations people, Dennis leaves no stone unturned. Sports mascots, substance abuse statistics, the Christopher Columbus narrative, movies featuring the noble savage ("Always-Helps-The-White-Man"); movies featuring the nasty savage (think eat-your-heart-out Magua from "The Last of the Mohicans") are all ripe for a rethink. Then there's Canada as the ultimate "deadbeat dad" when it comes to honouring treaties and land claims, band chief and council paycheques; what the heck's in those peace pipes anyway; and the "most annoying and derisive of all Native stereotypes… that Aboriginals don't pay taxes."

There is also the no-small-matter of residential schools, where children were "told that their parents were ignorant savages, their communities were irrelevant, and their culture, religion and language were the work of the devil. The children were to renounce everything Indian or burn in hell for all eternity…. Now I ask," writes Dennis, "if the residential school legacy had been inflicted on non-Native children instead of Aboriginal children, how many people would still insist that they should just 'get over it"? I'm guessing not too many."

Just when it all gets too heavy, Dennis spurs things along with his trademark irreverence and helpful hints for all of us in "regular-people Canada" trying to bridge the gulf created by a 400-year history of First Nations relations that's been more or less written, up until now, by the dominant culture. Case in point: "For best results, try to call Native individuals by their original name in their original language. There are over 350 of these names in Canada alone, so if you want to go this route, you should start cramming." Thank you, Mr. D.

Consider Peace Pipe Dreams a timely primer to the 2015 release of the 500-plus page Executive Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's 94 Calls to Action. The Actions are nobody's idea of a cake walk, but #10  (asking the "…federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples…" and "Developing culturally appropriate curricula.") would benefit from a major boost if Peace Pipe Dreams were introduced to secondary schools nation-wide.

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