People have long been wandering, be it of a restless spirit or practicality, but not all movement is the same. There is a difference between the nomadic passage of Aboriginal people and cultures in North America prior to 1492 (when Christopher Columbus first arrived at the continent) or 1534 (when Jacques Cartier first claimed what is now Canada for France), and the importation of European people and cultures thereafter. The fact is both obvious and, to me, difficult to parse. With many of their own conquering histories, the Colonial-era colonization of North America was not the first time certain Aboriginal populations had been displaced or slaughtered. I am not exactly sure of this history, but to recognize this land of Toronto as belonging to the Mississaugas of New Credit is to pick a certain moment in time as a marker: there are histories that precede this claim. So what makes Colonial-era colonization different?

Robert Bringhurst, a noted typographer, linguist, translator and poet, articulates some patterns of movement in his The Tree of Meaning, which I think are helpful in trying to clarify the discrepancies between pre- and post-Columbian migrations of people in North America. However, Bringhurst is speaking specifically about the space between migration and colonization; the analogy is helpful but imperfect.

The difference is between “those who think they belong to the world and those who think the world belongs to them” (40). The difference is that “the first kind of movement [migration] encourages learning, alertness, adaptation, and it generally allows the king of time that this adaptation requires. The second kind of movement [colonization] is abrupt. It involves the imposition of remembered patterns, or idealized versions of remembered patterns, even where they will not fit” (20).


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