Yesterday at this time, I wrote an outline for a piece I wanted to write today about my beautiful toddler grandson, and how through his naive innocence he finds, experiences and expresses joy in everything. Life, as he knows it is, “Oh, Wow!” and a clap: stab a grape with a fork, clap; get said grape to mouth, clap; see a tire on anything, clap; dog bark, clap; toy found, clap; stairs climbed, clap; etcetera, repeat. It’s a beautiful soundtrack to a heartwarming day, how a child’s life should be.
The story would have been great: I needed love and light, something to drown out the oft heavy and jaded outside world. The infectiousness of his loveliness, could have been yours.
But last night, before I’d planned to sleep, I snuggled into warm blankets with ear buds in place, cocooned myself and settled in to watch Gord Downie’s Secret Path, his certain magnum opus—the story of Chanie Wenjack and the Canadian Indian Residential School system. I knew about the Residential schools, have worked closely, even quasi counselled people who live its effects; Secret Path would not affect me.
By Seven Matches my top sheet was a mess of tears, globs of mascara and snot, and near the end, when Pearl Achneepineskum, Chanie’s sister and a woman of extraordinary strength, spoke of dancing with a 9 year-old Chanie in the moonlight while he proudly sang Ashes of Love, and his resistance to leave her when told he was on the list for the school and had to go away—it was over: Turns out I knew nothing.
150,000 little children, plucked from their families, homes, communities—their language, their culture, cut and washed and beaten out of them—a cultural genocide—many never to return home, murdered, sold, adopted out. Some died like Chanie, simply trying to get home. All were broken, damaged, the impetus for a multi-generational trauma and clusterfuck that is 2016. Truth and Reconcilliation—a political appeasement? I don’t know. But, where to begin?
Pearl Achneepineskum, you beautiful, selfless, kind and gracious soul, you can have anything you need, anything, I thought, it’s all yours, everything.
Schools? For 53 years of suffering daily—53 years, more than my lifetime—all she wants is schools. Schools on every reserve so that not one more child will ever have to leave their home until they’re old enough to care for themselves.
Then, she said, “If Charlie’s life can save other children then I’ve done my work. I’ve done what I’ve intended to do.”
Schools. Why isn’t this a given? Why hasn’t it always been, and why isn’t it today? Why are children from reserves still sent from the security of their homes and communities to attend schools hundreds of miles from home, when in my community people go to the media if their children can’t get in to the local school of their choice, or don’t meet the 4 km criteria to take the school bus to school, and usually get their way?
Hard question to answer.
The answer to schools would likely be the same as the answer to this: Why is it that when Colten Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, collapsed to the floor in anguish after being informed of his murder, one of the herd of RCMP who were trespassing and searching her home, effectively told her to stand up and get a grip and asked if she’d been drinking? Why is it that the RCMP had the heartless audacity to fact check her comment that she’d been worried because he was late getting home and had placed his dinner in the microwave to heat up when he did, by opening up the microwave to see that it was actually there? Why is it that the car he’d been shot in at point blank range was not held in evidence?
The answer to that would likely be the answer to this: Why is it that this morning, while I thought of Chanie and Pearl and Colten and Debbie during my five-hour road trip to visit my husband who is working away home, I thought of his landlord’s response when he, a Cree Indian, mentioned that I would be coming to stay from time to time—“You can’t be up all night fighting. No fighting. I won’t put up with it.”
The answer? Racism. Still.
And then something magical happened on my trip. A car passed me, and on the back window was the answer to the answer: Pieced together in yellow duct tape were the words “Unfuck The World.”
What a graphic, yet simplistic call to action—which is an actual, organized movement intent on achieving human rights equality. We need to tighten it up, however. We need narrow our focus on achieving human rights equality within our own country: Unfuck Canada.
Gord Downie is right: Canada’s first 150 years are nothing to celebrate, yet our next 150 could be. The Secret Path has vividly exposed the realities of our past, the truth—clearly and graphically—and provided the opportunity to once and for all effect change. Now it’s up to all Canadians to ‘Unfuck’ it, to step up, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder, to say not in my country. To take action.
However, it’s not my place, nor maybe yours, to offer solutions. It’s people like Pearl Achneepineskum—those who survive of the 150,000 Indigenous children who were sent by our government to residential schools, to ‘school the Indian out of them,’ their families and the generations since. They have the solutions: Our job is to listen.
Schools. Let’s begin with schools. I know a lovely toddler who would gleefully give an, “Oh Wow!” with an accompanying clap for that, and about 150,000 young children from years past who shouldn’t have understood what all the fuss is about.
Please click on these links:
Watch Secret Path
Gord Downie’s Secret Path Website
Unfuck the World
Colten Boushie: Hatefully Murdered, Desperately Loved
What If: Is it Madness or Wisdom?