Elsie and I are sitting out on the patio of a Mexican restaurant, margarita tasting, she calls it, a recent, not convert, how’d she put it? Initiate? Noviciate?
“Yeah, I like it,” she says when I ask. “Gives a bit of religiosity to it, don’t you think?”
It is an unseasonably warm late-October evening. Disturbingly so. More records broken. Nothing to be proud of. Much to fear. Enjoy it in the moment.
We’ve talked the weather and climate to death already.
“What would we do, Barnaby,” Elsie begins, scooping up a pile of guacamole with a chip, a nacho chip, taco chip, not sure which being relatively new myself to the cuisine of Mexico. Oaxaca. Wa-haa-cuh! No reason. Just an unadventurous eater. “… if a certain segment of the Indigenous population…” she pops the guac (you can teach an old dog a new trick or two) & chip into her mouth, consumes it, appreciatively with an enthusiasm I just can’t comprehend with food, “… that is good, Barnaby, don’t you think?”
Elsie’s also been on something of a guacamole bender, sampling, comparing notes, deciphering subtle differences, collating recipes. I see and taste green and gooey. I am told I prefer it with coriander. No, wait. Cilantro. And is that in guacamole or salsa?
“… if a certain segment of the Indigenous population…” I attempt to move the conversation back off food or weather. “You were saying?”
“Oh, right,” Elsie wipes her mouth and takes a sip of her margarita.
“What would happen, do you think, if a certain segment of the Indigenous population, a tribe or confederacy or what have you, if they just had enough?”
“Enough of whatever. Undrinkable water. Unsanctioned deforestation. Mining displacement. Whatever. The indignities of always being on the short end of colonization. That’s it. They were done. Tired of waiting and decided to take matters into their own hands.”
“What do I think would happen?”
Elsie holds up a finger for me to pause while she has another dip of guacamole and sip of margarita.
I have a feeling where this is coming from. Elsie, like most of us, has been horrified by the recent events on the international stage. Fretted about it. Tried to get a handle, no matter how slippery, on the history, politics of it all. A daunting task not made easier by those depending on a lack of understanding.
“Yes,” she continues. “Took up arms. Armed resistance. Attacked, I don’t know, a golf course built on contested land like Oka years ago. Around Montreal. Remember that?”
I do, yes. Remember.
“Killed a bunch of the golfers. Employees in the clubhouse. Groundskeepers. Kidnapped a bunch of others. Took them back to their land. Holding them as hostage as a negotiating tactic and human shields.”
I have to resist my initial impulse to make light of Elsie’s scenario, Have at it! I say, to express my disdain for golf and all that it represents. Now is not the time for such levity. It could be misinterpreted, misconstrued into something it isn’t.
“What do you think would happen? What would our reaction be? Our response?”
Restraint is not the first thing that springs to mind. But that could be coloured by today’s headlines. Perhaps, with the leadership we have in place, there wouldn’t… I can’t even finish that thought. Reasonable, rational, considered are not the times we live in, are they. Retribution is the modern creed, regardless of how biblically Old Testament. Revenge. An eye for an eye.
I fear, but don’t doubt.
“Actually, that’s not the question I want to ask,” Elsie says, sitting back in her chair up against the restaurant wall, margarita in hand. “What I’m really wondering if you think such a deadly assault could be justified?”
“Justified?” I finally answer, more or less stalling to get my thoughts in order.”
“Historically,” Elsie replies. “Historically justified. Enough is enough.”
By Any Means Necessary springs immediately to mind. What are the alternatives when you’ve reached the point of nothing left to lose? It sounds like I’m writing a country & western song in my head.
“I mean, gracious me, Elsie,” I splutter. “Are these margaritas supposed to make you militant?”
“Margaritas?!” Elsie pushes back. “I’ve only had the one, Barnaby! And I don’t think I’m being militant simply asking the question. I didn’t say I would condone it. Just wondering if a case could be made for justifying it. Or at least, understanding it. That more moderate for you?”
Elsie nears the bottom of her margarita with something of a harumph bearing at me.
It would be cold-blooded murder, wouldn’t it. A calculated slaughter of people unprepared to defend themselves. There are laws and mores, rules of engagement, firmly in place sanctioning against such things. Strictly adhered to, there would be no justification for such actions.
On the other hand, we also are guided by principles of fairness, equality, and some sort of belief in the dignity of all. The dignity of a roof over your head. Food to eat. Clean water. Health care. All those things of, what? Enlightened humanity, yeah? We most certainly are more lax in adhering to those ideals than we are the tenets of law and order.
“Honestly, Barnaby,” Elsie continues, growing impatient with my interior monologue. Who could blame her? “I look around the world, see what’s happening, what we accept as perfectly… tolerable. Normal. Just the routine way of conducting business and I tell you it surprises me that a lot more of this stuff doesn’t happen. Daily. Hourly.”
“Stuff? You mean—”
“Yes, Barnaby. That ‘stuff’.” She then leans in and whispers. “Black and brown people everywhere fighting back. Bombs. Airplanes blown out of the air. Mass murder. That kind of stuff, Barnaby.” She sits back and swirls the remainder of her drink in the glass, staring down into it. “Who would blame them at this point?”
“The dead,” is the first answer that pops out from me. “The dead might have an issue with that stuff.”
I don’t know. My heart wasn’t really into that side of the argument, not these days, not with the outrageous inequities and willful tolerance of systemic imbalances that we contentedly live with. Still.
“I think it’s easy for us to sympathize with violent uprisings in the name of justice and equality when we haven’t been the target of them.”
“But if we were, Barnaby,” Elsie insists. “That’s what I’m saying. If we were—”
“But we’re not,” I say.
“Not yet, no. But until such time, it’s all just an academic exercise. Purely theoretical. To what end?”
“To try and understand where our sympathies should lie in those places where it isn’t theoretical. After all, we’re complicit. In all of it, aren’t we?”
All of it? Everybody? Everywhere? That’s a load too heavy to possibly bear.
“If we start peeling that onion back, Elsie,” I suggest, hands in the air, stranded. “A member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit knocks on your door one day and tells you their ancestors once lived on the very spot your house is built on. Time to pack up your belongings and go back to where you came from.”
Elsie wrinkles up her nose at me, obviously not liking the smell of my argument. Facile and specious? Very likely. But the point being,
“Yes but, where do we start, Elsie?” I ask.
“Start tallying up accounts,” I answer as if that’s any sort of answer.
What’s the cost of subjugation, exploitation, annihilation?
How do you put a price on any of that?
Only in blood, it seems. Units of blood.
“I think we’ll need one more margarita to try and get to the bottom of this, Barnaby,” Elsie says. “Don’t you?”
At least one more margarita.
“And maybe another order of guacamole.”