I was privileged as poet laureate to have an opportunity to contribute to the Canada Night Before Event as part of the Canada Day celebration. This poem is on the theme of the Costumes of Canada.
Threads – The costumes of Canada
I respectfully acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the K’ómoks Nation. I dedicate this poem to them and to the all the indigenous people of Canada, this beautiful country that we share.
We are Canada, we are one,
Though we may wear many costumes,
Representing ceremonies from distant times and distant places,
Though our minds may think in many different patterns,
We are one people, with one heart, that beats with one rhythm.
When I hear the drums of the people who first came to this land,
I am compelled to dance their dances in the costumes of the creature spirits,
From the prairie chicken of the prairies to the eagle and the raven of the West Coast.
And I embrace the spirits of the people:
The Huron, and Iroquois of the Woodlands,
The Cree and the Blackfeet of the Plains,
The Sushwap, Okanagan, and Kootenay of the Plateau,
And our own beloved peoples of the North Pacific Coast.
As they all bring their gifts of generosity, harmony, and peace,
The differences between us begin to disappear in the spirit of oneness,
Oneness with nature, with the sky and the Earth, and with each other.
They become a part of us and we become a part of them.
We are one people with one heart that beats with one rhythm.
When I visit Quebec, I remember the works of my ancestors, the French,
Who formed a partnership with the First Nations,
Bringing industry and the powers of the ambition of the individual,
And the relentless earnestness of hard work and turmoil,
To conquer the land and harvest the furs of the beaver and the mink,
But at a cost; the partnership with the land began to crumble.
Then came the British and the Scots as masters of the French and the land,
Claiming the vast territories of the western watersheds;
The great prairies were divided up for grain fields to feed the world;
The buffalo, the food and life blood of the peoples of the plains, were cleared away,
And the people of the land were conquered and confined
To just patches of this great expanse that used to be theirs.
And our hearts were no longer tied to the land,
And we were no longer one people with one heart that beat with one rhythm.
When I visit the great prairies, the land of my birth,
I remember my forefathers, first pioneers who came to till the soil;
Soon we were joined by the industrious Europeans
The Germans, then the Ukrainians,
The Russians, Norwegians, Danes,Finns, and Swedes,
Each bringing their own costume, singing their own songs,
And dancing their own dance.
And we celebrated our differences, but even in our differences
We were one, they become a part of us and we became a part of them.
We were one people with one heart that beat with one rhythm.
Then came the dream builders, the rich, all wearing top hats and waistcoats,
Building canals and railroads, industries, and towns that expanded into cities,
Powered by power stations fueled by the black rock of the mines.
The Italians and the Irish came to seek a livelihood in the factories.
They were joined by the Japanese who came to mine the mines.
And the Chinese who did the backbreaking work needed to lay down those tracks
Those mighty steel rails that stretched out across the land
Linking towns and cities, peoples, and provinces.
And we continued to weave our costumes, wearing coats of many colours.
But we were one people with one heart that beat with one rhythm,
While the first people of the land floundered on the reserves and were soon forgotten.
And in this great province in which we live,
We drew a political line in the sand and we claimed this as ours,
Filled with untold riches of fertile soils, mountains, forests, and seas.
We attracted men of industry and hard work, women of adventure and courage,
And we harvested the great monarchs of the great rain forest to build our cities,
And tore up the land to mine the yellow and black rocks,
And dipped our nets into the abundant harvest of the sea.
We continued to come from all corners of the world,
From the lands and cities of India, China, all parts of Asia and Oceania.
But we were still one people of many colours wearing many costumes.
We celebrated our differences in our dances, foods, customs, and costumes,
And we continued being one people with one heart that beats with one rhythm.
But somewhere we forgot our partnership with the people of the land;
And we destroyed the great coastal forests,
Setting aside what remained into tree museums,
A rarity, just a relic of the sacred, an oddity for tourists.
And we kept dipping our nets greedily into the abundant seas
Until the herring were almost gone,
And the salmon that fed on the herring began to disappear,
And the orcas that fed on the salmon threatened extinction.
The voices of the shamans were shunned and forgotten;
We ignored the sacred messages of harmony, generosity, and community.
We lost ourselves in the noise of jackhammers, saws, and machinery.
We became a part of the chaos and the chaos became a part of us.
But it is not too late. I believe in the power of “us”,
We are still one people; we can still mourn our loss with one heart.
Then we can still roll up the sleeves of our many costumes of many colors,
And learn once again to cherish the sound of the movement of the sacred waters,
And bow our heads when we hear the soft whispers of the wind through the evergreens.
We can learn to listen to the high-pitched song of the eagles;
We can learn to honour the forest, the ground, and the seas that gives us life;
And we can share our sorrows, our wealth and gifts with each other,
In one daily celebration of life,
One great dance of many costumes,
One grand feast of foods from different lands,
And we can celebrate the oneness of our community in one great Canadian potlatch
Of giving each other our special talents and gifts.
We can learn to speak again with one voice and feel the beat of one heart.
For we are Canada; we are one.