Affirmation Songs – Truth and Reconciliation

Today is Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day. It is a day to reflect on injustices perpetrated for hundreds of years against Indigenous Peoples by European colonizers and their descendants in what is now called Canada. It is a time for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to begin a journey of healing. One of many wrongs that need to be acknowledged and righted is the appropriation of large swathes of unceded First Nations’ territories.

Guyanese songwriter David Campbell’s songs speak to pride, affirmation, love and cultural identity. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, his music was popular in First Nations communities as well as the Canadian folk music circuit.

The Corn and Potato and Pretty Brown are two Campbell tunes that are as fresh today, as playful and poignant, as when his LPs first hit record store shelves decades ago. Both songs are easily accessible for children with warm, story-like lyrics and wistfully tinged vocals. Each in its own way buoys spirits and promotes Indigenous cultural awareness. I listen and sing along to them intermittently with great enjoyment. They are securely ensconced in my heart and head as among my favourite songs

Listening to these songs could be a good preliminary activity to open up discussions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids. Just as easily they could serve as points of reflection for non-Indigenous kids, an entry point into appreciating some of the challenges faced by their First Nations peers. Without doubt there is much more that needs to be acknowledged and atoned for, a very long list including disappeared children, residential schools, inadequate housing, health and education infrastructure and the unsubtle erosion of self-determination. Sadly the endemic societal ills these songs were penned to help comfort still need to be addressed.

I interviewed David and heard him play in Toronto way back in the day. It was a beautiful afternoon when we got together on a park bench under sunny skies. I remember an unhurriedness about him, patience in the face of my questions and a profound calm.

Click through here to read the 1981 interview in The Toronto Clarion. Photo source – David Campbell Facebook

I’m grateful still for the moments that David shared with me as I am for his music that continues to bring joy. Our short time together helped to fill in some gaps and add to a growing awareness that all was far from right in a world where First Nations people were relegated to a secondary status or worse.

I was fortunate and thankful to be befriended, sometimes humoured for my ingrained eurocentric perspective, by those I met from Indigenous communities. Without exception, each person was gracious and took time to share a small part of their worlds. I continue to feel gratitude for their kindnesses as well as their powerful life lessons gifts.

Please share David’s songs. They’re lovely for people from all ancestries and age groups….

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