Looking For A Place To Happen references


"...I've got a job, I explore..."
"...To find a place, an ancient race
The kind you'd like to gamble with
Where they'd stamp on a burning bag of shit"

"Looking For A Place To Happen" opens from the perspective of an explorer, later revealed to be Jacques Cartier, who is looking, quite cynically, for a gullible people to exploit. The gambling reference is, of course, a reference to both the casinos found on the sovereign lands of many North American First Nations and the belief that the explorer's 'kind' of people can easily outsmart their 'kind' of people.

The song deals with the subject of encroachment and eventual annexation of Indigenous lands in North America. As this was achieved in different methods (war, treaty, disease) by different empires (France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, United States) over a period stretching from the 15th to 20th centuries, it could be argued that the annexation of North American land remains the greatest injustice in the history of the continent.

"...So I'll paint a scene from memory
So I'll know who murdered me"

Indigenous people across North America commonly painted their natural environment, often depicting historic events on cliff sides, rocks and cave interiors. As the song shifts to the Native point of view, the dark reality of the conquest of Indigenous lands becomes apparent. Even though Canada's economic situation prevented the organized extermination and land-wars that occurred in Latin America and the United States, the Canadian Indigenous population still dropped from over 2 million in the early 17th century to just over 300,000 by the early 20th.

A steady decline of Indigenous populations occurred due to government ignorance, public apathy, reduction of traditional hunting stocks, imported disease, forced expropriation of traditional lands and the expansion of the Reserve system. According to James Daschuk, author of "Clearing The Plains," the nadir of Indigenous health in Canada occured in 1886. After a series of pandemics including measles, whooping-cough, influenza and tuberculosis swept through malnourished western Indigenous populations (many of whom had been promised rations from the Canadian government which never materialized), men from eastern Canada working on the Canadian Pacific Railway brought with them a "fatal disease vector." Maureen Lux, author of "Medicine That Walks," found that Indigenous groups who had the least contact with non-Indigenous Canadians, and specifically little contact with the federal Department of Indian Affairs, were the healthiest. In one infamous 18th Century interaction (when French and British forces allied with different tribes during the colonial wars of the 1700's) a calculated plot against Indigenous peoples was documented. This shameful episode occurred when British troops knowingly gave small-pox infected Hudson's Bay Company blankets to a band of French allied Hurons.

Some argue that the helplessness, hopelessness, isolation and despair caused by Canadian government policies towards Indigenous peoples after 1867 constitutes a cultural genocide. The worst of these policies being the Residential Schools system of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Residential Schools were intended to 'civilize' First Nations children and sought to "kill the Indian in the child." They were populated by many kidnapped 'students,' and became sad prisons of abuse, neglect, suicide and death. The odds of dying in World War Two were 1 in 26 for Canadian soldiers. The odds of dying in Residential Schools were 1 in 25 for Canadian children. Let that sink in. We did that.

"...Jacques Cartier, right this way,
I'll put your coat up on the bed
Hey man you've got the real bum's eye for clothes
And come on in, sit right down,
no you're not the first to show
We've all been here since, God, who knows?"

Scholar Lorraine Land's "Living Room" theory explains the annexation in modern terms similar to The Hip's house party narrative: Natives invited Europeans into their living room. After a few hours, more and more Europeans showed up. As the night wore on, the Europeans became comfortable, and eventually outnumbered the Indigenous peoples. The Europeans then decided to claim, not only the living room, but the entire house as their own.

This verse also maintains the Indigenous perspective and greets Jacques Cartier, who in 1535 became the first European to find the St Lawrence River.

Cartier charted much of the area that Samuel De Champlain would colonize in 1608, and is considered the 'founder' of mainland Canada. Donnacona, the leader of a First Nation at Stadacona (modern Quebec City) befriended Cartier. Together they established the preliminary economic and military ties between the First Nations and the French. In 1536, Cartier abducted Donnacona and his two sons and brought them with him to France where they regaled the French court with stories of their homeland. They died within two years.

Cartier may be best remembered for overhearing two Amerindian boys speaking about their village. The word they used, "Kanata," became "Canada" when Cartier wrote it down in French.

From Mark Bourrie's excellent 2019 book Bush Runner, "Jacques Cartier probably carried lethal viruses to the St, Lawrence Valley in the 1530's. Whole nations, including the Iroquois living on the St. Lawrence River, "disappeared" in the 1500's, leaving farming and hunting territories that were fought over for almost two centuries." Across North America, "Indigenous people died by the hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, after the European invasion."

Seven decades after Cartier, Samuel de Champlain arrived in Canada with roughly 100 settlers. After failing to establish lasting colonies in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Champlain succeeded at Quebec in 1608 and became responsible for the stable relations that would come to exist between the French and Huron First Nations. The idea of Canada was born here. A new nation mixed of Indigenous peoples and immigrants from distant shores was established.

After nearly losing his own life, and watching most of his crew perish from frostbite and malnutrition during their first Canadian winter, Champlain was saved by the Natives. The local Hurons showed Champlain and his men how to preserve food and survive in the Canadian climate (Donnacona had done the same for Cartier 70 years earlier). The Huron also agreed to aid Champlain in the fur trade. They acted as guides, trappers and indispensable business partners. In exchange, Champlain agreed to supply weapons and soldiers to the Huron war effort against the Iroquois. This codependent relationship was viewed as a "partnership" by the Huron. It was called a "conquering" by the French.

Wicapi Omani

In 2016, Gord Downie committed himself to furthering the cause of Truth and Reconciliation among Canada's Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Gord released an album and graphic novel detailing the story of Chanie Wenjack. Both were titled "Secret Path" and told the story of Chanie's tragic and failed attempt to escape from a Residential School.

Gord toured to support his new solo project and often spoke in passionate terms about the need to better living conditions on Reserves, improve educational standards for all Indigenous people and raise general awareness for the plight of Native peoples among non-Indigenous Canadians.

On December 6th, 2016, with Prime Minister Trudeau and many Indigenous leaders gathered to acknowledge his work, the Assembly of First Nations honoured a tearful Gord during an emotional ceremony.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde gave Gord a Lakota spirit name. Wicapi Omani, which means "man who walks among the stars."

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