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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Lest we forget

BY Xavier Kataquapit Nov 19, 2020

In the Cree language we have no word for “war.” Instead, we call it “Mah-shi-keh-win,” which translates to “fighting”. We use the same word to describe two people fighting or to talk about either of the world wars.

The Great War and the Second World War took the lives of millions of people as did subsequent conflicts and wars throughout the 20th century. Indigenous people participated in many of these conflicts. During World War I, my great-grandfather John Chookomolin and my grandfather James Kataquapit both left Attawapiskat and the shores of James Bay to cross the ocean to England in 1918. 

James returned but John lost his life in England as a result of the Spanish flu. That era ran deep in my emotions this Remembrance Day. It’s sad that there are still wars raging across the planet and we are dealing with a pandemic much like the one that killed my ancestor in 1918.

We have for the most part glamourized war and promoted it as a necessary means to fight evil. We have seen wars conducted for riches, lands, resources and between competing ideologies. They usually start from the seeds of inequality and injustice and end with the sacrificing of innocent lives. They have to do with greed and stupidity because in the end, the poor lose everything while the rich profit off the spoils. 

There is nothing just about war. All it does is take the lives of generations of young people. Too few, with too much wealth and too much power, rule this world and there is a continuous and organized push by these forces to create fascist and authoritarian governments. It is a cycle we constantly feed that continuously creates more inequality and plants the seeds of new conflicts for the future. 

Right now, I see the pandemic being used by fascist elements with protests that combine anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-democratic and anti-science movements that draw in vulnerable members of the public. These movements can be dangerous for democracy because they are disguised as being socially conscious but are based on conspiracies. Surprisingly a lot of good Christian people are swept up in these movements and that is sad. Most Christian people I know do not condone anti-democratic action, violence, lies and hateful ideals. However, some are swept up by the rhetoric and disguised intentions of these hateful groups. 

Right now, we see a huge struggle in the United States as Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden prepares to take power after winning the recent election. Biden won this election fair and square, yet he is being impeded in the transition of power. Fascist elements are using all the old tricks of telling big lies, claiming voter fraud and trying to use the courts and legal system to deny results of this democratic election. 

We are living in dangerous times with regressive forces all over the world doing their best to whittle away at democracy and, in many cases, using this terrible pandemic to further their cause. 

There was no good reason for either of my grandfathers to have been separated from their land and families to fight in a war of horrible destruction and enormous loss of life. To honour all those who were killed in wars, it is up to us to stand up for democracy and fairness. We must honour those who fought for our modern freedoms by protecting scientific and medical truths and ignoring dishonest conspiracies and outright lies. It is up to us to listen to the virologists, epidemiologists and medical experts so that we can work with each other by wearing masks in public places, staying two metres apart and washing hands often. We need to convince our governments that it is better to take all precautionary methods to defeat this virus and to support vaccine development so that we can get through this pandemic. 

The best way we can remember those who gave their lives for us is to stand for democracy, to follow the science and to refuse to be drawn into lies, conspiracies, hate, racism and bigotry. Lest we forget those who fought for democracy in the past. Lest we forget those who are still fighting for democracy right now. 

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.