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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Mi'kmaq The Oka Song [Video]

From Lnu and Indians we’re called
Ragweed Press (1991)
© Rita Joe, 1991

The native of the land is still a stranger
The native of the land is in no man’s land
The fences of our feelings for the stranger
We tend to hold and not understand.
The soldier guns don’t look good today
Our country does not understand the way.
How do we men the sadness?
Listen just this time and pretend you care.

Why don’t you try to take the hurt away
Why don’t you take my hand and say
I was so wrong to cause pain that way
And Oka came as we tried to stop war that day.

Though my heart beats like a drum today
And my heart is in my throughts to vow
I will pave the way to make amends and say,
We started out wrong, just be friends for now.
And the children’s spirits must bend
When they see our shining eyes
The sadness of the eyes, we cannot hide
They show the world the hurt inside.

This selection comes from the film footage of Song of Eskasoni (1993, NFB/Morningtide Films). Directed by Brian Guns, the film celebrates the life, poetry and song of Rita Joe.

The Oka Song, 1992. Rita Joe/Brian Guns. Song of Eskasoni Collection. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

Rita Joe

Rita (Bernard) Joe was born in Whycocomagh, Cape Breton Island, on March 15, 1932. At the young age of ten she was orphaned and shortly after was sent to the Indian Residential School, located in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. She later moved to Eskasoni where she met her husband, Frank Joe; they married in 1954. They lived all of their lives in Eskasoni, raising a family of 10 children.

In the 1960s, Rita first began to write poetry, primarily as a mechanism in which to challenge existing negative stereotypes regarding aboriginal people. She wrote about the manner in which the Mi’kmaq viewed the world, about Mi’kmaw traditions, culture and especially about the beauty of the Mi’kmaw language. She believed that her poetry demonstrated a gentle persuasion in changing people’s negatives views of aboriginal people.

Rita’s poetry became celebrated nationally and through her lifetime she went on to publish seven books. She became known as the Poet Laureate of the Mi’kmaq people for her accomplished writings and also received many awards, including the Order of Canada in 1990 and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 1997. She also was known for her two song recordings, The Oka Song, and Drumbeat is the Heartbeat of the Nation.

Rita Joe died March 20, 2007 at the age of 75 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.