By Jenn Watt
Published July 13 2017
Despite having Métis lineage on both sides of his family Minden Hills resident Larry O’Connor said he still knows much less than he’d like about his background and the culture of his ancestors.
In recent years he’s been researching his past – that of his own family and that of Métis First Nations and Inuit people – a past that has been suppressed and at times forgotten.
“I grew up in an era where people were ashamed of it [Indigenous heritage]. My grandfather whose mother was sent packing off a reserve because she married a European [said] we don’t talk about it” said O’Connor during an interview at his home.
“Now that I’m retired I have time to focus in on it. The more I focus in on it the more I see the injustices. You see the cause of the problems and the colonization. It’s crazy.”
O’Connor has been doing the research for his own interest but also to share on Canoe FM. In September he launched his monthly radio program Tales from the Big Canoe which airs the last Monday of each month from 10 to 11 p.m.
“It’s allowed me to pick up the phone and talk to people which is terrific and talk about issues and share music” he said.
The idea for the program was sparked when Canoe FM station manager Roxanne Casey noticed O’Connor’s online posts about Indigenous issues. She contacted him to see if he was interested in doing a show.
“Most community radio stations have an Indigenous show. We struggled with that” she said. “We were trying to find somebody who would do that.”
Casey said that O’Connor’s involvement with the Métis Nation of Ontario and his interest in other Indigenous issues made him the perfect fit.
“I wanted a good strong program that would reflect the Indigenous people and also help Canoe FM: have that as part of our programming” she said.
O’Connor has interviewed academics activists and elders collecting audio as he travels around the province.
He comes to his interviews with a fresh curiosity and openness which allows for frank but respectful conversations about topics that are fraught with emotion for many. He’s talked about residential schools restitution the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Gladue report which requires courts in Canada to consider the background of Indigenous offenders when sentencing.
Canada’s 150th birthday has triggered conversations across the country about what Confederation means not only to the descendants of settlers but to native people. O’Connor has been part of those conversations posting to his public Facebook page thoughts about the day.
“Happy 150th Canada from this Métis man and family” he wrote on Canada Day. “As a new country Manitoba and western Canada was led by the Métis leader Louis Riel as a founding Father of Confederation. Today is a good day to remember that the treaties signed by the governments many years ago [were] agreements for all Canadians on their behalf. All Canadians in Canada are treaty people (Indigenous non-Indigenous European or immigrants) everyone. Enjoy the day and stay safe.”
O’Connor said he’s been a participant in the national holiday in the past particularly when he was a member of provincial parliament 25 years ago. He has a medal on the wall of his office to prove it. “I’m a proud Indigenous Canadian” he said.
He said this year’s focus on Indigenous people comes partially from better understanding of the issues.
“I think what’s happened in the past 25 years is a maturing of the country the nation and a recognition of the fact that government hasn’t always done the right thing for the First Nations and a recognition that there were treaties signed and they need to be honoured” he said.
Local Indigenous people are encouraged to get in touch O’Connor said and tell their stories on his radio program. He is looking both for stories from Haliburton’s past as well as the stories and experiences of native people living in the region today.
He said he’s heard some stories of Indigenous people coming to Carnarvon to trade for example but that he hasn’t been able to verify that story yet.
“For me this is total exploration. I’m learning as I go” he said.
You’re invited to learn along with O’Connor by tuning in to his program on 100.9 Canoe FM. Tales from the Big Canoe airs the last Monday of the month at 10 a.m. You can also listen to archived episodes on their website canoefm.com.