Living in Place
Presented March 3rd, 2019
Growing up down the road in Clarkson, I had a sense that Mississauga was a young place. There were still vacant lots on Lakeshore, and acres of apple orchards west of Winston Churchill. Square One was built in the middle of empty roads.
In the seventies, Mississauga felt like Gertrude Stein comment about her hometown, “when you get there, there’s no there there.” Mississauga when I grew up had no urban centre, not much culture, and very little history.
Local history meant the Bradley House museum down on Orr Road, where I went on school field trips. Bradley House is an 1830 saltbox farmhouse built by early settlers.
For me, the history of Mississauga began with the arrival of Europeans. The story I grew up with was this was a largely empty land and that the indigenous people were long gone. It certainly looked empty driving to Square One!
And while I knew that Mississauga was an indigenous word – or an English adaptation of an indigenous word, I didn’t understand that I lived on land with a rich complicated history beginning thousands of years before Bradley House.
It’s one of the reasons I appreciate the territory acknowledgement we do at the beginning of every service is because it is a reminder of the history of this place. It reminds me that the roots of this land are deep.
This acknowledgement shifts my attitude to the land UCM lives upon. Instead of just thinking of this as a former apple orchard – as it was when we bought it from the farmer in the 1950s – the territory acknowledgement reminds me there is a greater story to be told.
This is Treaty 14 land. In September 1806, the Mississaugas of the Credit River agreed to the Head of Lake Treaty, in which the land between Toronto and what is now Hamilton was ceded to the Crown for one thousand pounds of trade goods and fishing rights in the local rivers. The Mississaugas also kept a one mile strip of land on either side of the Credit.
In 1820, the Mississaugas of the Credit gave up that last strip of river bank land and moved to a village on what is now the golf course across the river. Under the leadership of Peter Jones, a Mississauga Credit who was also a minister, the Credit people become farmers and Methodists. Jones helped the remaining Mississaugas survive for another 25 years beside the Credit, but the increasing pressure of white settlement led to them moving to Hagarsville in 1847.
This story isn’t remarkable – it’s pretty much the story of every place in Canada. Europeans came and “bought” the land for trinkets from the indigenous people. Promises were made and broken over and over again. And it’s a story of blindness and misunderstanding, of not seeing a complex culture because it didn’t look like a European one.
Last week Pamela and I drove an hour west of here to the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation for their historical gathering. As we listened to people tell what they know of their ancestors – fractured though that history is – I began to get a glimpse of the complex depths of indigenous culture.
The Missississaugas are part of the larger Anishinabe people. As well as families, people are affiliated with clans – identified with dodems – the images that Pamela spoke about in the story. As well as clans, there are nations.
The Credit River Mississaugas are one of five Mississauga nations, three nations have land north east of Toronto and the fifth lives up on the north shore of Lake Huron. The Mississaugas of the Credit arose out of the Three Fires Confederacy – three nations which banded together in the 16oos to deal with the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee who had moved north of Lake Ontario from their traditional lands, displacing the Huron nation which lived here.
After pushing back the Haudenosaunee, the Credit Mississaugas lived throughout this area, negotiating with the British as they arrived on the shores of Lake Ontario. Now that is a lot of facts, most of which you won’t remember, it’s taken me several years to get the history reasonably straight.
And in our culture, history doesn’t matter. It is irrelevant to our lives.
But knowing history is important. It affects how we understand the land we live on. It affects how we understand the indigenous people.
When I reflect on this complex history of first nations shifting back and forth over large swaths of land, this land come alive. I see a group of nations with complex relationships – constantly negotiating territory and land use – so that everyone had enough. And while there was certainly violence between different peoples when in conflict, the larger cultural attitude is that relationships were vital and resources were to be shared by all.
As Unitarian Universalists, who claim an allegiance with the interdependent web of life, we can learn from this emphasis on relationships. At lunch at the gathering last week, elders were invited to go first, a simple way to show respect.
It’s a way of living that shifts the focus from achievement and stuff. If you respect agreements made, if you help others who are in need, if you only take what you need and no more, then you are living well.
Given the current state of the world, using only what you need and sharing what you have is living well. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from the Mississaugas’ rich story and worldview. I know that I feel a deeper sense of respect for this land, a greater sense of responsibility to care this property, knowing its legacy.
Wendell Berry says “the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.”
We learn to be at home – we grow roots – in a place when we know its stories. After all this isn’t just history. There are real people living the legacy of decisions made hundreds of years ago.
They are reclaiming their way of life, reinterpreting it for today, in 2016 the five Mississauga nations have signed a historic accord, agreeing to once again work together and look after one another.
My hope is that we continue to build relationships with indigenous people – those of the Credit First Nation, and locally through the Peel Aboriginal Network. We can lift up their stories, refute stereotypes, and work to understand their way of being in the world.
May we continue to learn about the rich and complex history of this land. May we find ways to be allies to the Mississaugas of the Credit today and the days to come.
As a child of English immigrants, a first generation Canadian, I longed to be rooted without understanding that was what I was longing for. My family, my ancestors and my history were all far away in England, and only rarely spoken about. I didn’t know what I wanted was roots, although doing my master’s thesis on the concept of home might have been a clue.
In the end, I rooted myself in Waterloo for many years, raising my son there. And I planted roots in Unitarian Universalism.
Philosopher Simone Weil said “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of [their] real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.”
We have roots by our real, active and natural participation in the life of a community. I believe it is why this chalice community is so necessary – it gives people roots in both a place and a worldview.
This is a place to belong, where we can be rooted in a group of caring people. Where relationships are more important then achievements. We have roots by active participation in community life. The more engaged you are the more connected you feel.
Weil suggests that roots grow in a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past.
By this she means the community has to have an identity, one that arises from its shared history.
As Unitarian Universalists we can trace our religious roots back to the Reformation, although in North America we truly began to develop in the early 18oos, beginning in New England. We come from liberal protestant Christianity, and we have held onto the treasure of care and compassion for all. Our social justice work comes out of Christian tenet of “love thy neighbour”.
As well as Christianity, UU theology has been shaped by transcendentalism, humanism, religious naturalism and neo-paganism. Treasures from these influences include the recognition of our interdependence with all life, and our orientation to place.
This orientation to place means that instead of being focused on the heaven to come, we look to the here and now. Whereas Christianity tends to be time oriented – turning to the bible and the time of Jesus, or ahead to heaven, we turn to where we are.
We have a legacy of finding the sacred right here, right now, in our connections with others. Midcentury Universalist minister Kenneth Patton suggested that we are “geocentric” – we focus on life on earth.
As a UU community we attempt to preserve these treasures of the past – care and compassion for all, and a sense of connection with life on earth.
Simone Weil says that rootedness comes from active participation in a community which protects the treasures of the past and has particular expectations for the future. Roots hold us, but also direct us to grow in a certain way. As UUs, I suggest our expectations for the future are expressed in our national vision – that our interdependence calls us to love and justice.
As a community, we try to live into what that might look like. We work to improve life for all within Mississauga – supporting the food bank, working to end violence against women, building interfaith trust and cooperation. On a larger scale we support justice around the world, through supporting new Canadians, supporting Amnesty International issues and working on truth and reconciliation with indigenous people.
Learning the history of the Mississaugas of the Credit, developing relationships with them now, is part of that interdependence. Knowing where you are rooted provides greater meaning.
As individuals called to love and justice, we aim to treat all people with respect, aware of their inherent worth.
We try to build relationships instead of just achieving goals.
We live by covenant instead of contracts.
We seek to lighten our impact on the earth.
These are all challenges, it’s hard to shift our worldview from achievement and status to caring and interdependence. We fail as often as we succeed. Life gets in the way. Relationships take time and lots of talking.
It’s slow and steady work.
“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”
It is vital work for people of the chalice, oriented as we are to care and compassion, to the place where we live.
Putting down roots, all of us immigrants and newcomers, will help us, to have the spiritual strength to build a future of interdependence, love and justice.
And we seek a future that includes indigenous people, that recognizes the depth of history and culture that came before. We live on Treaty 14 land, territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit.
May this be a place that feeds your soul, rooting you in this rich and complex land.
So Say We All.