between-our-steps-05-17-17-doubleSeveral times last week, I started to write a sentence describing the way things are only to realize I was only describing the way life is organized in a few places. I was making an assumption.

I started to say that farmers live on their farm. Then I remembered that in many places in the world, people live in town and go out to the farm to work. Agricultural land is too precious to waste on a house. The way this area was settled, people build their house on the land they farmed, but in other places, people choose to live in a community and separate their work from home. Whatever the reason, the way things are structured here works for us but is not normative.

This is also why the celebration of Mother's Day concerns me. Marking that day the way we did last weekend gives us a chance to celebrate the women who birth us and nurture us, the ones who care for us and guide us, the ones who model love and strength, the ones who build a house into a home.

But there are assumptions made around that day that can be painful. There is an assumption in the celebration that the model woman is a mother. I know some wonderful women who do not have children, by choice or necessity. I know people whose aunt was the powerful model for them rather than their mother. And in many families, the one who makes the house a home is not the birth mother. In some homes that role is taken on by a man.

A couple weeks ago I was part of a panel discussion about using third person pronouns in our writing. At first, the discussion was about gender, and the choice authors had made about using the words he, she, and they. The audience made it clear that "they" worked best for them as the singular third person, but many said they did not mind the invented "ze" for that job. There was also a good discussion of the conflation of gender and sex, and this helped push for a gender-neutral pronoun.

The discussion was shifted when someone pointed out that not every language uses pronouns the way English does. Some languages structure verbs and objects in a way that do not need pronouns to indicate who acts.

Then, the point was made that not every culture looks at gender first. In some cultures, the primary indicators for another person are about relationship: older sister and younger sister, mother's brother or cousin. In some languages and cultures, the most important characteristic is age and status. When an Ojibway person speaks of what an elder taught them, we know that person's status not their gender. In others, it is the work they are good at that is highlighted.

As I listened to the panel and even more to the audience, I was struck by how easy it is to assume our problems and our solutions are normative.

This week, Grey Bruce celebrates the diversity of our community with the One World Festival. On Thursday from 9:30 - 2:30, through performances and presentations, we can see and experience the variety of talent, ability and culture in our community.

This year, the festival takes place along First Avenue West in Owen Sound between 8th Street and 9th. Inside activities will take place at the Tom Thompson Art Gallery, the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library and St Andrew's church. Opportunities that day will speak to adults and children alike.

Our community has been diverse for a long time. When the first European settlers claimed parcels of land and cleared them for farming, there were already Ojibway and Metis settlements along with the memory of Huron inhabitants.

Our country is diverse. The nation was founded a hundred and fifty years ago with the recognition of two cultures. Before that founding, European exploration was accomplished with the help of diverse peoples. We are also remembering that before British explorers, Viking visited. And all through that time numerous and various Aboriginal peoples cared for this land.

Each time I trip over the assumptions I make, I am surprised by the blinders I wear, the tint of the glasses that colour the world. I am constantly reminded to learn from the way others live.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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