As I rang in the New Year in Canada over the holidays and observed the extra hoopla surrounding Canada’s 150th Birthday year, I have pondered how to situate the persistent problems of colonialism that exist in Canada, with Haiti’s history.
In 1492, when Christopher Columbus “discovered America”, he arrived on this beautiful island I have come to call home. The anchor of his ship, the Santa Maria, can be seen at the National Pantheon Museum in Port au Prince, which I visited with my mom when she was visiting in early January. Most startling about Columbus’ arrival on this island, is how quickly the island’s original Ayitians, the Taino peoples disappeared due to warfare, smallpox and other diseases. Terms such as wiped out, near extinction and disappearing peoples are used to describe these people. As I think back on the history courses I took, I realize how this fact was underemphasized when I was busy memorizing poems about the years that explorers arrived in the “new world”. An entire population was eliminated, and it disturbs me that prior to living on this island, I had given this fact very little thought. Our guide at the National Museum took a significant amount time to remember the Taino peoples, the first Ayitiens on this island.
This remembrance is important, as it includes the Taino peoples in Haiti’s historic origin story. Last year in Ottawa, I attended a roundtable discussion led by Dr. Kathleen Mahoney, whose research highlights the importance of origin stories. As Canada celebrates 150 years, the narrative of two founding nations, England and France, continues to be our origin story. The First Nation groups that not only contributed to the founding of the country, but also were the first to occupy this territory, have been largely ignored in traditional history.
Therefore Canada’s 150th Birthday is an opportunity to reconsider what being Canadian means to us by revisiting this origin story. Artist Kent Monkman’s exhibit, Shame and Prejudice, shakes up the perceptions we have of being Canadian by juxtaposing First Nation images with images of Canadian historic events. Canada has a “darker history” that must be re-learned moving forward. In the same vein, Haiti’s history should not be forgotten, not only of the disappeared Taino peoples, but of slavery, revolution, and liberty.
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On another note, there is exciting news in Terrier Rouge. A group of women have taken part in jam training sessions through ISCA, and have launched the company “Onz Manman” meaning 11 mothers. They sell delicious jams in mango, papaya, grapefruit and pineapple flavours, sometimes adding rum to the jam. Before Christmas, their sales surpassed 1000 USD, and we are working hard to create a product that can be sold at hotels in Cap Haitien nearby. Take a look at this beautiful line-up of jams!