I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about this week. In my first column I suggested a topic that I would write about the following week and then found myself annoyed as the week went by feeling that I had to write about something that I didn’t want to address that week.
Because of that experience and feeling strangled, I no longer mention a potential ‘topic’ for the next week. Let’s both be equally surprised with what I’ll come up with, shall we?
Someone asked me a few days ago, “Tanya, where do you find the inspiration and material you write about? I laughed and said that “I usually don’t get inspired to write this column until Saturday or Sunday, which can be maddening to an editor who needs to do ‘editing things’”. (Meskeyi, Michelle.) Note: Today is October 7, 2023, and it’s a Saturday afternoon. 😊
The content that you get from me each week usually comes from a conversation, feeling, thought, comment, or a situation inspired from the week. My husband can attest that after one of our regular ‘wtf’ chats on ‘all things Indigenous’ that I throw my hands up and proclaim, “that’s what I want to talk about this week”.
I haven’t had as many of those awe-inspiring discussions for a few weeks, remember, I’ve been living in Cuba tied to my laptop finishing this book about missing and murdered Indigenous women.
So, in the spirit of what this column’s about, which is reconciliation, and my journey in Cuba, I’d like you to walk with me while I reflect on some of the observations, I’ve made mostly from my 2nd floor balcony. The observations I’ve witnessed between the Mi’kmaq people I come from and the Cuban community I’m presently living with on this thanksgiving weekend.
I will not focus on anything political here, so don’t expect me to go there. I’ll be focusing on the similarities between the L’nu and Cuban peoples.
Cubans came from the Indigenous Tainos people. They were hunters and gatherers, like us. The biggest difference is that the Tainos were essentially exterminated by the Spanish and black slaves who were brought here from Africa. Today’s Cubans are the result of these three peoples who came to live here together. Europeans tried to exterminate us too, but we Mi’kmaq were resilient. We L’nu and Cubans share a very colonized history. I think that’s why I feel such a connection to them.
First off, we L’nu, and Cubans are so damn similar it’s both amusing and comforting. It feels like I’m living on one of the reservations, except it’s concrete!
They speak Spanish, we speak Mi’kmaw. We have a slight difference when it comes to the number of fluent speakers. Millions. Cuba has millions of fluent speakers, and we Mi’kmaq are working to reach a goal of 10,000 fluent speakers. We will get there in time.
Maybe not in my time, but because of some of the provincial initiatives that have taken place that goal is no longer just a pipe dream. We have some amazing language warriors who are working to preserve and protect our language. They are my go-to language warrior word checkers, wela’lioq!
Did you know that the first official language of Nova Scotia is now Mi’kmaw? Shocking information to learn for some of you, but it’s true. Legislation was passed. And, in my community of Potlotek, on July 17, 2022, it was proclaimed (in writing) that the province of Nova Scotia officially recognizes Mi’kmaw as its first language.
I look forward to a time when I’ll drive through Unama’ki and see all of the road signs written in Mi’kmaq. Gaelic is nice and all, but let’s try using Mi’kmaw, or we could use both. We Mi’kmaq and the Scottish people have a long history. Lol!
That’s my short list. My ‘in my time dream list’, to have all our place names reclaimed and renamed to their original Mi’kmaw place names, green provincial road signs in Mi’kmaw everywhere baby! My long list goal “going to happen” is that our Mi’kmaq archaeology is protected through real laws and strong legislation, but I’d need a whole column to cover that topic! Yes, I have a list!
I’m squireling (digressing) again, sorry. The Mi’kmaq and the Cubans look the same. Well, not so much me, but there are very light complexioned Cubans here, Lol. We also laugh and tease each other the same!
How many times have friends returned from Cuba and the Dominican Republic and said that they were always being mistaken for locals? Those L’nuamuksit are also Cubanewamuksit! We are always being asked questions in Spanish. It makes me laugh because since being here, I have seen people who look exactly like my friends from Mi’kma’ki. So far, I have seen Sean Ryan; Peter J; and Zoe, just to name a few. My relatives are not that far away!
My people are joksters, if we ain’t joking with you and making you laugh, we probably don’t like you. It’s true. The Cuban people are the same, oh my goodness, they like to laugh and tease one another.
I’m not doing terribly well with the Spanish language. I think it’s because I have secluded myself in this Ivory tower, have limited language sessions, and write for hours in English. I do, however, understand and read Spanish a lot better now because of my translator and the conversations I have been listening to. I even ask if what I heard is right, and it is. They have many ‘r’s in their language; L’nu do not. We share lot of laughs at my expense when I try to roll my tongue around some of the really ‘r’ infused words.
Indian, sorry Indigenous, women are known for their boisterous laughs, we are also known to have the tendency to hit each other while laughing. Don Burnstick has a full-on stand-up routine where he speaks to this. If you haven’t heard or seen Donny boy, I total recommend checking him out, in person or on-line. He’s at a pow wow or Casino near you.
Anyway, the Cuban woman are very similar to our L’nu women. I have a few bruises and sore spots on my arms to prove it. The woman who lives below me, Norey, and I have developed a wonderful relationship despite our language barrier. We laugh, we tease each other, and we always end up swatting each other after a laughing session.
My last and most important observation is this. We Indigenous and Cuban people give, even when we don’t have anything left to give, we give.
I can’t say this enough, and I don’t know where this comes from but we Indigenous people will give you the shirts off our backs if we see that you need it more than we do.
The Cubans are the same way. You may not be aware of this but there is a food shortage here in Cuba, there is a shortage of many things here, food is just one of them. So, if you’re at a Cuban resort, which I’m not, remember that before you start complaining about the food.
I knew there was a food shortage so I prepared as best I could because you need food to survive. Well, you need water much more than you do food, but eating is important. Let me just say that I have not gone one day without eating. My new family has graciously shared meals with me every single day since I arrived. I have been blessed in ways that I cannot explain while here.
I have been introduced to the most delicious Cuban meals here. The food here has no chemicals or preservatives, unlike our food back home. It is light and filling, and if I am honest, it made me fart a lot for the first week. I’ll miss the food, but not as much as I’ll miss my family and the people. But I will miss my morning pudding, fried bananas, and barbeque chicken when I return to Canada.
Our L’nu are the same way back home, we don’t let others go without. We have big hearts, not always big pockets, but what we lack in monetary wealth we make up for in other ways. There is no way you will go to one of our homes while a meal is being served and not be invited to break bread with us. It’s just our way and I am abundantly blessed that it’s also the Cuban way.
I hope that if you learn anything from my columns, it’s that you learn how to give to one another. You’ll be reading this after another long weekend, this one being about thanks and giving. I hope you gave like the L’nu and Cubans give. I hope you shared your abundance of turkey and trimmings with those who are less fortunate than you. It’s my experience that it’s always the ones who have the least (non-indigenous and non-Cubans included) that give the most.
Meskeyi means sorry.
wela’lioq means thank you all, like if English had a plural.
L’nuamuksit means someone who looks Indigenous.
Cubanewamuksit a name Tanys made up (with help???) to describe someone who looks Cuban.
Editor’s Note: Tanya returns home to Unama’ki-Cape Breton at the end of the month. Soon after, she will begin organizing a drive for medical equipment, feminine hyenine products, and medication for Cubans.
If you want to help her, get in touch with us at email@example.com