Today here in Canada, we are marking the 1st National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It’s a sombre day, remembering and honouring the children who died at former Canadian residential schools along with the survivors, families and communities. Over the past year, more than 1200 unmarked graves have been uncovered on the sites of several residential schools, and it’s estimated that there are likely many more still to be confirmed.
The discoveries shocked us as a nation and tore away our veil of complacency. No longer can we blind ourselves to the harsh truth of our deadly repression — genocide — of the Indigenous peoples who lived on the land we call ‘our’ home. Canadians — yes, say it, white Canadians — approved and promoted a strategy that killed innocent children in a misguided and immoral attempt to stamp out the vitality of Indigenous culture and autonomy.
Ugly as it is, this is part of Canada’s history, the acrid side of its heritage. As a Canadian settler, I am called to acknowledge it, without defensiveness.
Inadequate as these words are, I find myself saying, “I am so sorry that my race inflicted such terrible suffering on your peoples. I cannot presume to ask for your forgiveness. I am so sorry injustices continue to this day. I pledge to become aware of my own unconscious or veiled racism, in thought and deed. I pledge to open my heart to Indigenous perspectives.”
Lately I’ve been reading poetry by Indigenous artists, letting the poems reveal worlds that I am not familiar with, and at times, difficult to reckon with. Not easy reading, but a window onto the truth of Indigenous experience. Not easy, but reading that is necessary for me.
Is this my home?
Is it the fields of yellow where I was taught isolation and fear, where I imagined her dancing with coyotes, twisting and turning in the never-ending fields of flowers and grass?…Is it the place I ran away to with my indigenous sister I met in the system that failed us both? Is it the city where we roamed, running through fountains during storms when we had nowhere to be and no one to care?
~ from Is This My Home? by Arielle Twist
Ode to Northern Alberta
after joshua jennifer espinoza
here, no one is birthed
only pieced together.
i tire myself out
pretending to have a body.
everyone worships feelings
they don’t have names for
but no one is talking about it.
love is a burning house we built from scratch.
love keeps us busy while the smoke clears.
history lays itself bare
at the side of the road
but no one is looking.
history screams into the night
but it sounds too much like the wind.
cree girls gather in the bush
and wait for the future.
in the meantime
they fall in love with the trees
and hear everything.
in the 1950s
my not-yet mooshum ran away
from a residential school
in joussard, alberta.
as an adult
he kept coming back
heaven is nowhere near here.
~ Billy-Ray Belcourt
what we learn is that life is a circle
and the moment that we enter it
the first principle that comes into practice
for we are energy and we are spirit
and there is no hierarchy there
nor does there need to be
this is why our ceremonies and our rituals
are built on circles
because we are all teachers
because we are all mirrors
because we need each other
to find the truest possible expression
~ from To Displaced Sons by Richard Wagamese