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Episode 1: Why Genealogical work is important personally, socially, and maybe nationally?

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

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Welcome to the Maple Family Treehouse, I am your host Kael, broadcasting from the Great circle of lakes that fall under the “Dish with one Spoon” Wampum Treaty; created before settlers arrived to peacefully share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. The Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi and Huron/Wendat, make up the Three Fires Confederacy who shared and continue to share this land with us – keep the peace, sharing and caring going for as long as our rivers flow, the sun shines, and the grass grows, as promised. In this podcast, I am researching my family history, and in the process, learning a thing or two about Canada, the process of reconciliation, and my role as a white guy who needs to do anti-racist work. I would love for you to come along, as I climb my family tree. Episode #1 Why genealogical work is important personally, socially and maybe nationally? I do not know how, as a white person, I came to be here in Canada. I mean…I know…in a generic sense…I have some vague notion of the settler narrative, in its romantic form, in its horror story form, but I don’t know my family’s history, their specific story. And the more I talk with other white Canadians about not knowing my own story, I am finding out that I am not alone. And it is not just one or two people. In my vast experience (insert sarcasm here) I have not met anyone who is white, with a family that has lived in Canada for several generations, and they know their family’s specific story. And the more I talk with people the more astonished I am about how little people know about their own families. I do not know, how, NOT KNOWING affects the other people, but it doesn’t seem good. The responses I get from people I have talked to range from, “there is an Indigenous person in my family about seven generations ago, whose name I don’t know, so I am good” to “ some defensive version of a cowboys and Indians story – with a not so polite, deal with it ending. Maybe ignorance is the bliss some people need to keep their sanity intact, I get that, believe me, I get it. But if you are like me, and the time has come for you to find your story, maybe hearing me awkwardly piece together my own family story will help you get started. Maybe we can journey together. It will not be easy. But not knowing is not an option anymore. There is fear of what I might find. And there might be guilt associated with the story I eventually tell, And of course, shame. And before you say to yourself, “oh crap, not another appeal to “fragile white masculinity”, I get that too– but that is exactly why I want to speak up now. In an age in which a path to reconciliation has been created in Canada through 135 calls to action, we have direction for how to create systemic change. But there seems to be this great gaping void of silence about the role of white individuals in this process. As a white Canadian that hears the phrase “We are all Treaty people” I say, “yeah, that makes total sense”. On the other hand, I am signed up by default, yet here I am, a white guy who has not done the work. This podcast is about the work I must do personally and socially. And maybe sharing my story will inspire other white people who might be in the same position, to find the courage to be the storyteller in their family. It will not all be awkward, embarrassing, or bad, I promise! Join me on this journey into my family’s history. Each podcast will inch backward through my family tree weaving together personal, social, political, and national narratives. Like all good research projects, I begin with questions to frame and focus my work. Questions such as: What is my story and how do I fit into the larger story of this country, “Canada”? Can I keep myself in check as a broken white person; Is this excuse making? Is this defensive? Is this apologetic? Will making these connections be healing for me, my family, this country? How does knowing my own story, and taking responsibility for my own healing, contribute to reconciliation? This is my journey into finding my settler story? Why am I Canadian? Why did so many of my ancestors come here? How do I personally contribute to reconciliation? So the rule for starting any genealogical research is to start talking to the oldest people in your family. This is great advice. I would recommend this starting point to anyone who can take it. For the purposes of this podcast though, I need to tell you a little bit about me. I began doing genealogical research during several weeks of rest after a surgery. I am transgender. I was assigned female at birth. And began a gender transition to male that involved some drastic social, legal, and medical changes. More than a decade later, with 5 surgeries under my belt, and one left to go, I have spent some time thinking about identity. So not a surprise about the main question here in this podcast – Who am I? As I get more comfortable with my gender expression, consolidating my new creation with a past I have no control over has become my new interest. As a white person living in Canada in 2020 many events have transpired (haha) to bring me to a point where I am making this podcast. For one, no-one in my Family seems to know anything that resembles a family migration story. I know, from what my fraternal Grandmother told me, that my father’s side is mostly Scottish. And I know from my Mother that her side of the family is mostly French. When I questioned how our families came to Canada – no-one seemed to know. Secondly, As a parent, I can’t in good conscience pass this ignorance onto my child and be ok with that. Lastly, historic events have taken place that prompted me to consider the stake that Canada and its citizens have in our need to self-identify and recognize identities for the purpose of protecting vulnerable citizens. Some of these events included, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose final report was released in 2015. In late 2016, Author Joseph Boyden was called out about his shape shifting indigenous identity. That same year in 2016 the Supreme Court of Canada released the Daniels decision declaring Métis as “Indians” within section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, in 1867. Most recently, in 2019, the Metis Nation of Ontario and the Government of Canada signed a historic agreement acknowledging the rights of Metis communities to govern themselves. These monumental events that occurred in a short 4-year span, fascinated me as a transgender person in transition. The identity comparison has its limits, I know, but as all these events unfolded, I felt torn about the role of the government in personal identity. I would rather not bring up old debates that were settled by the Red Paper in 1969. I personally reap the rewards of my government recognizing my own identity. I am thankful for that everyday. I wish we could have the best of both worlds, get the recognition for protections and assistance when needed, with no strings attached. That is far from the reality though, especially when there is a history of racist trauma that continues to this day. The greater the need for protection, the more leverage or power the government has to dictate the terms and conditions of the quality of life that group has. The calls to action of the TRC are 135 ways to do things right and heal from past wrongs. As I read through the calls to action, I can’t help but feel that the best thing I can do personally is be healthy as I can be in my own identity as a Canadian. Telling my own family’s immigration story feels like a good place to start. Thanks for coming by the Maple Family Treehouse. Oh hey, Before you leave, I want you to meet my maternal Grandfather – Victor. He was born a twin in 1923. The birth was difficult for my Great Grandmother. The other twin did not survive, nor did my Great Grandfather. My Grandfather was named “Victor” was given because he survived his own birth. He was the funniest man I knew. He claims to have converted to Satanism as young child in retaliation for poor treatment at his Catholic school at the hands of Nuns. He served in WWII with the “Van Doos”. I did not know him as a soldier though. The Victor I knew was gentle with a quirky sense of humour. He was interior decorator who specialized in hanging silk. He was also a certified hypnotherapist. He was the first person I ever posed a family history questions to. I was about 7 years old. Innocently, I asked him, “Grandpa, where does our family come from?”, he replied with serious tone and stern look, “We come from a long line of Whores and Gypsies.” What I had neglected to tell him though, was that this information would be relayed back to my class the next day, and this question was part of a school assignment. I miss you Grandpa! Thank you for listening to the 1st episode of the maple family treehouse. I am so honoured to have you. You are welcome back to hear many more episodes to come. In this first season, I plan on introducing listeners to my queer and colourful immediate family and venturing onto some of the limbs of my family tree. See you soon! Cheers! MFTH S1 EP.1: Why genealogy is important. Kael Sharman

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