As most Canadians know Stompin' Tom Connors (1936-2013) recently passed away into the spirit world. Although I was not familiar with his music, I was familiar with his name. As a younger person I remember moments when it was stated that my biological father had a friendship with Stompin' Tom. I assumed this relationship emerged through the bar rooms of Toronto and throughout Ontario, yet at other times I wondered what my father and Stompin' Tom held in common.
I have since listened to a few of his songs and I was struck by the lyrics of his life's song titled "The Ballad of Stompin' Tom." Through listening to this song I learned that he was a state created orphan, and through reading about him I learned that his father was part French and part Indigenous. It was here that I was able to make the connection. My father's ancestry is similar to this and my father was also a stated created orphan. Regardless of the fact that natural law rules over man made institutions, my father and Stompin' Tom were conceived and born during a time when a child born out of wedlock was a shameful event. While Stompin' Tom was torn from his mother’s side by the strong arm of the law, my father was abandoned by his mother who was struggling with the changes that colonization imposed on Indigenous women. While at one time children were considered gifts of Creation, settler religion and settler law changed this.
Unlike me, and from what I can remember my father too, Stompin' Tom was a proud Canadian. I found the contradiction of Stompin' Tom being a proud Canadian, yet it was the Canadian state that made him an orphan -- interesting. In my learning I have come to know that there are many potential responses to a stimulus and so while Tom was patriotic, I find the state practice of making orphans horrid. I can't tell you what my father thought. I don't know.
Today while listening to the news I heard yet another national apology by a nation state -- Australia -- for the forced adoption and harm that it imposed on young unwed mothers and as many as 250,000 babies through state law, policy and practices. When I think about state apologies I am always left in a state of amazement. By now I have heard and experienced a few.
In October 2012 I filed an Access to Information Request Form and sent it to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, as I wanted to know how much money the Canadian government has spent so far challenging my court case regarding my right to Indian status registration.
I am denied Indian status registration because I do not know who my father's father is. Indian status is important to me, and many mothers and their babies, as it is directly tied to First Nation membership, First Nation citizenship and our treaty rights.
Many Indigenous children are denied who they are as First Nations people and denied their treaty rights because of a lack of a father's signature on their birth certificates. Due to sexualized violence and incest many mothers do not know who the father is. Furthermore, often times fathers will not sign a birth certificate because they do not want to pay child support or because they need to preserve another relationship. I am, as are these mothers and their children, dependant on our treaty rights, and as such I continue with my 27-year court challenge.
While I am happy Stompin' Tom Connors was able to find meaning in his Canadian family and live what appears to be a prosperous life despite the fact that he was denied his mother's love, I am repulsed by the fact that in 2013 Canada is defending a racist and patriarchal policy that denies Indigenous children who they are so much so that they are willing to spend as much as $400,000 defending its law and policy of denying children who they are.
Dr. Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process, and recently published a book titled Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com