accents and totem poles

More and more, identity has been a concept (or a construct) that has been weighing heavy on my mind. Trying to make a home away from home has  been a very enjoyable and exciting experience. I’ve succeeded in finding a place to live, a job, and a bunch of fantastic friends. I’ve been warmly welcomed and I rarely feel alone. There’s not much more I could hope for really. However, I never, ever feel like I fit in – ‘my accent’ and sometimes even my appearance or attitude reveals my nationality and essentially my identity – I am typically referred to as ‘that Irish girl’ or ‘the one with the accent’. It’s not offensive in any way. It’s true. But most of all it’s a conversation starter.

Strangers are interested in why I moved and what I’m doing. More often than not they are of Irish, Scottish or English ancestry. They wonder if I know the meaning of their last name. They tell me stories of their parents or grandparents immigration. I’m not generalizing here, these stories are a regular occurrence. But it makes me wonder, at what point do you stop being one-tenth Irish and start being just plain, old Canadian? When do you forget about tracing your roots and focus on the ones your growing in the here-and-now?

Identity is personal but universal. We all have a need to belong somewhere and knowing where we came from helps to establish where we’re going to, I guess. Being completely ignorant of Canadian history gives me a very objective view of social constructs here. I don’t know anything about the struggles or histories of the Aboriginal peoples. All I know is that they are the true Canadians, in a sense, as they were here first. I am curious to learn more about Canadian or Native culture and customs. I see Native Art all over Victoria, I see it being sold to tourists everyday in the many native art galleries and shops. I see the influence of Native Culture in the landscape; Victoria is home to the World’s tallest totem pole. Although the Aboriginal peoples are the first settlers in Canada they only make up 4% (approximately) of the ‘Canadian’ Population. The Aboriginal peoples generally call themselves: Natives, Inuits, Métis or First Nations according to where their descendants came from. But I have not heard them call themselves Canadian.

So if the native population refer to themselves as Native or Aboriginal and the rest of the population identify themselves in accordance to their French or other European roots, who or what is Canadian?

And so begins my new photographic project. I will spend the rest of my time here trying to explore the concept of Canadian identity. It will be a documentary project, comprising of many parts. It will largely focus on landscape and the influence of man on the landscape. Next will come portraiture and hopefully a documentary on Native Reserves.

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