A Mohawk-Ojibway in an Australian Parliament
Many people would be astonished that a new member of the NSW parliament can deliver an inaugural speech recalling his upbringing on an Indian reservation in Canada in the 1970s and an ancestry including a father who is a full-blooded Mohawk-Ojibway Indian and a mother born in the Yukon Territory in Canada’s Arctic. Walter Secord, just appointed to a vacancy in the NSW Legislative Council, told the chamber, “I get my height from my Mohawk grandmother, my size from my Ojibway side, and my fair complexion from my Anglo-Canadian mother.”
“…When I was sworn into this chamber I held both the Bible and a stock of sweet grass – my ancestors’ religious sacrament – in recognition of my unique heritage.” Speaking, with his mother Brenda in the gallery, Secord recalled a life touched by poverty and race.
Secord said his much younger brother Dan is a native rights leader in Canada who has just conducted a second annual Ojibway language camp and conducts ceremonies for native prisoners inCanada’s toughest prisons. He said his father’s tribe has come a long way since 1826 when it was on the brink of extinction with only 226 members struggling to survive smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, violence and alcohol abuse that plagued their fellow tribesmen and women. Secord said he was the first member of his father’s family to complete high school and the first to fly in aeroplane. When in 1988 he told an aunt he was migrating to Australia she asked if he was coming home on weekends.
As I read this eloquent speech I was reminded of one aspect of global history and one that strikes me as fundamental. After 1492 there was a huge projection of energy from the West European peninsula. That energy resulted – in a very short space of time – in North America, South America and Australasia being annexed by Europeans and it resulted in the displacement of indigenous peoples who had held those lands for thousands of years (at least 40 000 years in the case of Australian indigenous people). This was perhaps the most important fact in the history of the human species, at least up there with use of fire and invention of the wheel. It’s a respect in which the Australian experience – the displacement of indigenous Australians – reflects a global experience.
Secord referred to his instinctive understanding of Australian indigenous culture from his Canadian tribal background. I was reminded again of these vast continental worlds, worlds millions of years in the making and explored and mapped by tribal cultures, suddenly seized and reinvented as parts of European empires. All in the last half millennium. Yes, hard to think of a more fundamental change apart from the sheer increase in human numbers.