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Columns : Robbin's Nest - Robbin Whachell Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Crossing Borders
By Robbin Whachell
Sep 9, 2011 - 4:10:31 PM

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Many times I've walked the beautiful beaches on Grand Bahama I would often think about the island’s first people. The Lucayan Indians must have certainly thrived in harmony and communion with nature, as it is such a wonderful place to live, with resources from the ocean and the varied eco-systems to sustain their lives adequately.

The coming of the explorers from Europe, namely Christopher Columbus, must have indeed been a shock to the Lucayans.  It is still unknown as to how they were greeted by Columbus, but today there are no Lucayan Indians to pass on such stories, and we can only assume that Columbus annihilated the Lucayan Indians, as he went on to do with so many other native tribes of North America.

Ironically, it was when I moved to The Bahamas that I opened a book I’d been longing to read for years. I’d first seen it when my sister, eleven years older than me, was reading it as a young adult. “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” retells the Indian history of the American west and was written by Dee Brown. How shocked I was when the opening words were about The Bahamas and that fateful time that Columbus reached her shores. It is said that Columbus wiped out most of the Indian population of every Bahamian island with which he came into contact, either by killing them, or selling them into slavery.

I’ve since learned that the planet Earth has many, many stories to tell about racism and wars due to religion, colour, race, or creed. Living in The Bahamas and being influenced so heavily by the United States the most common story I hear is the plight of African slaves, and the issues of racism in America. How easily forgotten it seems of the first peoples of America, the native Indians, whose story was quickly diluted or overshadowed by the more modern times of African slavery and the American way.

So who am I? I am a Canadian with a partial aboriginal bloodline (Metis) who lived in The Bahamas for 13 years, and I was proud to call it my home. I am also proud to promote it and have created a career based on just that.

I hear so much about what is “Bahamian”. Who is truly a “Bahamian”…. And I think many are still confused.  We know that a true Bahamians were those like the Arawak or Lucayan Indian, as they were the indigenous people of this land. The explorers moved in and brought the slaves, and then the islands became predominantly ‘black’ due to slavery, but one may even be able to say that the next true Bahamians were children of white explorers born on the land.

Today I think we can safely say, a Bahamian is any person born in The Bahamas, be them any colour, nationality, religion or creed.

My youngest child was 2 years old when we moved here. By two years of age, I would have to think that a person has no or little, if any, sense of a national identity.  She is now 15 years old, and has only begun learning of her “Canadian” identity, and that is only through what she sees on TV or via the internet. We've only been back in Canada about a week. She’s only visited Canada 3 times since living in The Bahamas all those years.  “I do not know how to be a Canadian” she said to me one day before she was ten.  I would have to agree that she knows more about being a “Bahamian” than being a “Canadian”, but she has little to no rights in this country. She’s had to take a back seat in sports, the arts, and other selections during her upbringing. I am proud of her despite the odds she and my other three children have faced. She’s an excellent student and a good human being.

When my eldest children moved to Canada some years ago, due to one of them graduating high school, and being forced to move on as an adult  (she could not work in The Bahamas as a Canadian), it was then that I learned that our status of being an aboriginal mix called, Metis in Canada was rather a big deal.  After a few months settled in the girls told me that Metis or Aboriginal or Eskimo Canadians had extra perks at school; like after-school homework help, counseling, and even meals if they needed them.

A lot of these perks came into mainstream after we’d move to The Bahamas thirteen years ago, and we later found out that their cousins were enjoying such support for years.  You see, Canada has been very forthright in apologizing to the first nation’s people about taking their land from them. Public and government apologies were given as well as the returning of land, if at least by giving power back to the respectful tribe to have governance over it. This was starting to happen when we were packing up for The Bahamas. I recall attending a town meeting and we were told that the governing body of our district in North Vancouver was now going to be governed by the local Indian band. One neighbor was quite fearful that they would just remove us from our homes… !? This of course was not the case, but she was in total fear.

So I was pleased to hear that my children, after having little rights in The Bahamas, had some good news to return to in Canada. The interesting thing is that over the 10 year period of the acknowledgement of the first nations etc, my children told me after they settled in Canada that often they were treated like freaks, or with jealousy by the other children due to their native status.  I could see that it doesn’t take long for prejudice of any sort to creep into our lives!

While I was assisting my eldest to register in college I picked up copy of a school publication lying on a table. The publication printed by the college was called ‘ Diversity – Celebrating our diversity in abilities, age, class, deaf culture, ethnicity, genders, sexuality…’ and it was written by foreign students at Douglas College. The booklet was filled with story after story of painful transitions from other countries to Canada.

One poetry entry was anonymous, and titled “Ethnic”. It reads: Stuck between two worlds, The ethnic life, the white life; Racial segregation, the only means to find a purpose; A white mind in a coloured shell; Stuck between two worlds; Skin the only ticket needed to join; Pressure to follow racial code of conduct; Hip Hop music, ethnic gangster attitude; Blonde streaks, baggy pants; The only source of identity; Stuck between two worlds; Think English, Speak Asian; Practice tradition; Get intoxicated; Stuck between two worlds.

I realized that the world I am returning my children to had changed, really changed...  The Canada I once knew is very different, and that it ok, and perhaps even better for its diversity. I know my children will do well, not only because they belong here, but more so that they had also felt a similar sting that those same students writing their stories or poems in that book did.  The longing to fit in and to belong, and the ability to create a home, a life, and make friends despite the newness and the odds is something they also came through in The Bahamas.

During that same college visit to Canada I picked up a national magazine and read that the current Miss Canada was Polish and had been living in Canada since she was 2 years old… I immediately reflected on my youngest daughter who came to The Bahamas at the same age. This simple little article made me proud to be a Canadian.  I admired the country’s openness and breadth of thinking, but mostly their breadth of rational and ‘nation’-all acceptance.

In the end it does not matter where we are from, or where we are going, we all want to fit in. ‘The world is my home and I am safe upon it’ is my latest prayer or affirmation.  I long for the day we take down our borders and treat each other as equals and truly be ‘as one’… Ethnic diversity is becoming the norm and it enriches nations that embrace it. Canada and the United States of America are both shining examples of this.

I understand we need national rights and national protection, but if people have good intentions and are giving back to the community they live in, and enhancing it by being there, why not embrace them?  Would we not want the same for ourselves or our children if they moved to a foreign country? We make exceptions for sports players, and people with money, however it is very unfortunate that those that are community service oriented, or bring new skills to a country are often used and then removed.

If we can break the barriers that segregate, and open up our minds and hearts;  be okay with sharing, maybe then, we will have a more caring world…

About the author: Robbin Whachell is a publicist, writer, photo-journalist; and co-founder/ editor of one of The Bahamas' leading news sites, TheBahamasWeekly.com. Ms. Whachell is a successful entrepreneur and pioneer in online marketing. Aside from being a recognized media personality and community builder, she is known for her networking and social media skills, and has a background in information management and film.She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Skype. Reach Robbin by email at Editor@thebahamasweekly.com

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