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Truth and Reconciliation, One Human at a Time

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The TRC Bentwood Box, a tribute to all Indian Residential School Survivors, carved by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston.

Today is National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, formerly known as National Aboriginal Day, established to celebrate First Nations, Métis, and Inuit culture in Canada. I know that for many Indigenous people, this day seems like lip-service, since we have not yet established a day to focus on Truth and Reconciliation. I decided to use this day for that purpose.

On this year’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, today marks the official beginning of Canadian celebrations that culminate on Canada Day – the biggest national party we’ve ever had. But some Canadians cannot feel celebratory about a Confederation that served to marginalize our First Peoples. Some are acutely aware that the number 150 has nothing to do with true Indigenous history and everything to do with its erasure. Therefore, we as a nation must make this, right now, a season of commitment and burgeoning for Truth and Reconciliation.

In 2008, the Government of Canada finally apologized for its part in the damage done to Indigenous peoples through the Indian Residential School system. That apology was a landmark event for Canada, and one of Stephen Harper’s better moments, but it could have gone much deeper.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was also formed in 2008, and released its final report in 2015 to let Canadians know what Indigenous peoples needed for healing. There has been some progress since then, including a new and more inclusive government, but in truth, the work has barely begun.

I am white. I was born in Canada, to American immigrants with European roots. I acknowledge that my life, down to the very land I live on, has always been privileged. In this writing, I use the word “we” to refer to generations of us – since long before residential schools – who have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, privilege that exists at the expense of generations of Indigenous peoples. I use the word “you” to reach out to all Indigenous peoples of Canada, you who are alive today as well as your ancestors, who have been victims, and bear the burden, of that same privilege.

As a teacher, a parent, and a proud Canadian, I am trying to figure out how best to participate in Truth and Reconciliation in my country at this historical moment. Perhaps an apology is a good place to start, even as I wonder whether it’s my place or my right to offer one. I don’t know if these words are the right ones, but I hope that they may still be worth writing.

***

First: I’m sorry to be speaking to you as though you were one homogeneous group. I know that you are many different peoples, languages, traditions, stories, and histories, and that it’s partly the dominant white perspective that lumps you together. Sadly, your suffering has also given you much in common, and that is what I want to address.

I’m sorry that when we arrived in this beautiful land, one you had already known and loved and worked and understood for millennia, most of us utterly failed to recognize your civilization, your wisdom, even your humanity – and, of course, your prior claim.

I’m sorry that we so thoroughly abused any welcome or trust that you showed us.

I’m sorry that we lied to you, over and over, about everything, with such sweeping consequences.

I’m sorry that we were unspeakably arrogant, assuming you to be the savages, and ourselves to be the enlightened ones.

I’m sorry that so many of you died from the toxic gifts we brought: firearms, alcohol, and disease.

I’m sorry that we used every tactic possible to push and push and push you to the very margins of your own home, as if our sense of entitlement made any sense whatsoever.

I’m sorry that so many of us, including our governing representatives, saw you as a pest to be managed, and treated you accordingly.

I’m sorry that we thought it was in any way acceptable to wrench your families apart, the better to force your children to become what they were not.

I’m sorry that so many of those 150,000 children – your babies – and also your grandparents – were deprived of their languages, forcibly evangelized, neglected, overcrowded, underfed, beaten, raped, sterilized, experimented on, and otherwise abused, such that thousands died, and thousands more bore – and still bear – every level of scars.

I’m sorry that we outrageously pretended, until very recently, that this was all for your own good.

I’m sorry that, rather than offering necessary support – recompense, remedy, apology, or even sympathy – to your Survivors of residential schools, we spent so many years sweeping it under the rug.

I’m sorry that we deliberately attacked, suppressed, and endangered your languages.

I’m sorry that our actions have made it so hard for your families to re-grow the roots and branches of your tribal and family trees.

I’m sorry that so many of us have no understanding of land claims, seeing them only as traffic disruptions.

I’m sorry that after the centuries of physical, political, and spiritual marginalization we inflicted on you, we have – incredibly – not progressed enough to make restitution; that instead, we continue to desecrate the small bits of land remaining to you with pipelines, highways, and disrespect.

I’m sorry that we seem to expect you to suck it up and be fine, as though “we’re not the bad guys” and “it’s not our problem.”

I’m sorry that so many of us view the addictions, violence, and suffering in your communities as your fault, rather than as the inevitable aftermath of the mass torture of generations of your people.

I’m sorry that we have felt entitled to stereotype you, to use whichever archetypes we like, to mock some aspects of your culture and to co-opt others, with no real understanding of their origins, significance, or sacredness.

I’m sorry that despite being a country that prides itself on respecting, welcoming, celebrating, and being a refuge for a diversity of cultures, we have made you feel so unwelcome and disrespected in your own home.

I’m sorry that we congratulate ourselves on the high standard of living in our nation, even as so many of you live in deplorable conditions.

I’m sorry that we have a reputation for niceness and politeness that glosses over our ugly white supremacist history.

I’m sorry that you have lost so many of your beloved people, especially young ones, to hopelessness and suicide.

I’m sorry that so many of your women have been kidnapped, abused, and murdered – and gone so long uninvestigated by our police.

I’m sorry that such a disproportionate number of your babies have been – and are still being – taken away, even from safe families and communities, due to racism and lack of due process on the part of our child welfare authorities.

I’m sorry that despite overwhelming evidence that you are right, and have always been right, when it comes to the urgent necessity of respecting, protecting, and healing this intricately, wholly connected planet we share, many of us are still pretending that we can afford to trash it.

I’m sorry that instead of following your lead of respecting every being, acknowledging that all our futures are interdependent, we are becoming more and more a culture in which derision and cruelty are accepted and fomented – even though we (should) know better.

I’m sorry that there may well be people who read this and dismiss it as exaggeration and overly dramatic.

I’m sorry that there are still adult Canadians who are ignorant of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, its Calls to Action, and its profound importance to Canada.

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Image via mrbarlow.wordpress.com

***

I know that I am very fortunate to be the Canadian I am. I love that this country is beautiful, safe, diverse, peaceful, and generous in many ways. But we can always do better. I want to be even prouder of us.

Here is what I am starting with, in my journey to be part of an improved Canada that takes Truth and Reconciliation seriously:

I promise to speak frankly to my children and my students, as I did today, about residential schools and Indigenous history that has been misrepresented or left out of education for so long – and to impress upon them that we are all Treaty People.

I promise to continue to  make Indigenous history and teachings an embedded part of my job as a teacher, as authentically as possible. I know this means turning to real Indigenous voices as often as I can.

I promise to continue to educate myself as much and as often as possible, so that my teaching is accurate.

I promise to stand with you in protesting the violation of our water sources and the desecration of our planet.

I promise to challenge racism out loud when I have the chance.

I promise to make Truth and Reconciliation part of our charitable budget.

In keeping with my own Quaker upbringing, and in solidarity with you, I promise to sit in sacred circles, to listen to  nature, and to remind myself every day of the profound interconnectedness of life on Earth.

Having read the TRC’s report “Honouring the Truth and Reconciling for the Future”, including all ninety-four Calls to Action, I promise to ask my fellow Canadians to do the same.

And I promise to keep learning about the best ways to be part of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

To that end, I am grateful for the people whose work and wisdom I know to be making Truth and Reconciliation more accessible for Canadians: Jan Sherman, Colinda Clyne, Nancy Rowe, Sean Lessard, Rosanna Deerchild, Thomas King, Wab Kinew, Jeanette Armstrong, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Nicola Campbell, Michael Kusugak, Chelsea Vowel, Candy Palmater, Randall Charboneau, Bruce Beardy, Midnight Shine, Samian, Buffy St. Marie, A Tribe Called Red, Neil Monague, Norm Tabobondung, Joseph Boyden, Gord Downie, and others.

truth-and-reconciliation

***


 

 

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 5: Dance

I’ve saved Dance for last in my 5-Day Artist Challenge, because my relationship with dance is both of utmost importance to me, and hardest to describe. (So hard, in fact, that apparently I had to wait for ages, forget that I still had never finished the post, and pick it up with renewed fervour.) You may have forgotten, in all this time,  about the Café Bakery of the Artist Challenge, but it’s official. Writing is sourdough, Drama is French toast, Visual Art is sandwiches, and Music is cookies. Therefore: in thinking hard about what the Bread of Dance would be, I’ve decided that it’s flatbread.

Seems counter-intuitive, maybe, but this is how anciently foundational I know dance to be. Flatbread has existed for thousands of years. It is essential to cultures all over the world. It is as sacred as communion wafer, and as celebratory as focaccia pizza. Flatbread is important whether you have everything, or almost nothing. It can be crisp or soft or stretchy, or basically whatever you need it to be. It’s tortilla, it’s naan, it’s lavash, it’s chapati, it’s matzo, it’s pita, it’s roti, and so on. And any of those types can be consumed in simplicity, or filled with all kinds of delicious details.

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Communion bread via tvo.com
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Focaccia pizza via gratednutmeg.com

And another thing: flatbread is very often round, like the dances in so many cultures. A circular creation that underpins and supports many aspects of culture. I make this point because for me, dance is not just a joy, but a necessity. It is not just a practice, but a basis for community.

It always makes me sad to know there are those who believe they can’t or shouldn’t dance. I’m lucky to have been encouraged in dance ever since early childhood. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have that instinct squelched. The urge to manifest a rhythm or melody, to let yourself be literally moved by the music, especially for young kids, is a powerful one.

The Groove movement, made known to me by my amazing Dance co-facilitator at OELC iArts, insists that we can ALL dance. That if we think we can’t, all we need are few building blocks to help us find our own style. That, and a safe space to move. Dancing is for everyone. It counts whether you’re dancing with thousands at a rock concert, or by yourself in your bedroom. We all need that whole-body thrill of letting the music become part of us.

My dance journey has been through many phases:

  • Dancing as a preschooler, wearing whatever dancey costume I could get my hands on, in our living room with my sisters – mostly to dances by Brahms or Dvorák;
  • Taking my first ballet classes, realizing I would not wear an actual tutu or pointe shoes for many years, but still adoring how sublime I felt doing it;
  • Taking up figure skating as well and loving the transfer of dance onto ice;
  • Going through puberty and suddenly being less-good at both these forms of dance (where being petite – not to mention short-waisted – is a huge natural advantage);
  • Attending Wilfrid Laurier University and taking ALL the dance classes offered (i.e. ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern, swing, jive, and Latin);
  • Attending the University of Toronto and joining the Only Human Dance Collective, which gave me more experience in everything, plus Irish and African and – finally – bellydance.

The meet-cute between bellydance and me occurred while I was working on my Masters in Toronto. The hip-hop class I wanted to sign up for was full. I thought, Hm, I’ve never tried this! I was hooked the first time I saw my teacher do a maya. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do that.

Once I began learning, I fell straightaway in love. It was all so fascinatingly beautiful. And finally my body had found a home. Finally it could be itself – long waist, large ribcage, prominent butt, funny-shaped feet and everything. Finally I was teaching it to do things that felt natural.

Since then, I have discovered that bellydance, in Ontario at least, is not just a hobby but a community – one full of diversity, creativity, and caring.

This past November, the dance troupe I belong to presented its biennial professional show called Mosaic. In this show, bellydance techniques are fused with all kinds of other dance techniques to create wonderful, unique choreography. There are a dozen of us who form the main troupe, and we worked really hard to bring the visions of our choreographers to life.

There is no way to adequately describe the rush you feel when combining the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of movement, the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience, and the bond of a loving community working their tails off together. I am incredibly grateful to be part of it.

Here is a piece we did in November. It took the most work of any of our pieces, because it required the most intricate synergy. It is chock-full of empowerment symbolism. No performance is perfect, but we are proud of this one.

Here is another piece that we did at the previous Mosaic two years ago. This is a favourite piece of the troupe in general because it’s so much fun. I adore it because it makes me feel like a kid: whooping and hollering, being unabashedly noisy with an instrument, animating a big swishy skirt, and especially dancing the big circle at the end where we skip and gallop – just pure candid joy.

Now my daughter is taking creative dance classes, and she loves them. Her excitement when she emerges from the studio is a sign that she is getting the joy I wish for her. And both my kids, when we put on music at home and just boogie down, have fun and smile more afterwards. It’s a shot of happiness to the body and soul.

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The village that raises my children

sunset at neekaunis - photo by ravipjoshi

Family Camp 2013 at Camp NeeKauNis:

 

Where there was ALWAYS sand in my bed.

Where we scored the luxury of a cabin with a bathroom (thanks for being a baby, Baby AB!).

Where Sean was able to be with us for four happy days.

Where we ate three home-cooked meals a day – none of which was prepared by me!

Where I noticed that after all those years as a cook, followed by a few as a camper, my urge to use the staff side of the kitchen is finally waning.

Where almost all the days were bright sunshiny blue-and-green, perfect Camp weather.

Where I often didn’t know the location of my four-year-old son, and that was FINE. (He would be playing in the sandbox or at the “park”, making forts in the Meeting Centre, colouring in Nelson-Hall, doing crafts at kids’ program – usually with a whole troupe of other kids.) Sometimes, he even ate at tables with neither parent present. Plus: first bunk bed experience. TOP BUNK, BABY.

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That stroller covered a lot of ground in a week.

Where we warned E that there would be no iPad/screen time of any kind at Camp – and he never even asked for it. Not once.

Where being outside, usually in the dappled shade (my favourite kind), was, as always, the default. Fresh air all the time. It does a body good.

Where I realized that I like yoga after all – with the right teacher.

Where the conversation is reliably satisfying.

Where it’s a good idea to contrive to synchronize the kids’ bedtime with that period of evening where the mosquitoes are most relentless.

Where I got to be ukulele coach (!) and strum along with the sweetest musical family (not my own) to present “Blowin’ in the Wind” for Talent Night.

Where Baby AB charmed the sandals off most of the Camp community, with no apparent effort on her part.

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Buffet lunch outside – Baby AB approves.

Where young girls (and some older ones, and some boys too) made it their goal to entertain her.

Where I could give her to almost anyone, and they would treat each other like family. (Amazing, the number of things I was able to do kid-free.)

Where I could mention Sebastian, especially to those who were there two years ago, and not feel that I’m being offensively sad. Because the empathy is unconditional.

Where it dawned on me that Family Camp is the place I feel most safe, for myself and for my family.

Let me expand on that.

It’s partly the way the kids stick together, and the older ones take really good care of the younger ones. There are amazing role models all over the place. There are no roads and no strangers at Camp, and the beach is separate. I never worried about E.

It’s partly the fact that we are all there for the same reason: to be together. Even if we don’t know each other when we arrive, we consciously form a community. One of the moms, when Camp ended, posted this article about community-style parenting; it made me so grateful that we have a place where, once a year, our family can experience that.

And I’ve realized that the reason this works is trust. Magically, this is a zone of unpretentious, non-judgmental parenting. We all know we are just people who love our kids (and each other’s kids) and are doing our best. If my child is having a meltdown, everybody gets it. If my child is being adorable, we all get that too. All of our kids are awesome, as well as being occasional (or frequent, depending on the day) pains in the derrière. I admire and learn from the parenting I see, knowing it’s impossible for any family to sail smoothly all the time. I don’t feel judged by the other moms (and rare dads), even when I’m judging myself – like when my kid eats nothing but bread for dinner (MOTL).

My hope is that our kids are inheriting this attitude of acceptance, which will set the tone for Junior Camp and Intermediate Camp when they’re bigger, and that Camp becomes the place where they learn to be their best, realest selves. That’s what it has always been for me.

What a wonderful week. (I miss you all, Family Campers!)

***


 

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Wrapping up NaBloPoMo! (…I cheated a little.)

It’s November 30th, the last day of National Blog Posting Month, 2012!

Whew. What a relief. For real.

Like last year at this time, I am proud to say that I did it! But with slightly less integrity than in 2011.

30 blog posts

One per day

(though this was where I cheated. I tweaked the time of publishing a few nights when I couldn’t post by midnight because it would have necessitated actual bad parenting)

18,429 words written

An average of 614 words per day (rather less loquacious than last year’s 710)

(But if I’m honest, handfuls of those belonged to my three-year-old, the gang at MPAA, and Siri of the iPad)

Most commented post: The Ladies of Election Day

Shortest post: Some images from today + 1 BONUS (86 words) – lettin’ those images speak for themselves

Longest post: Why I Love Belly Dancing (1,341 words)

Runners-up for longest post: A Post About Beauty (1,008 words), Greyphobia: Why can’t I just love my wrinkles? (993 words) and BANG Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (991 words)

 

I had several of the same personal FAQ as last year:

Why am I doing this, again?

Because Sean and Skye said I should. And I’m a sucker for anyone who says I should do something because I’m so awesome. 😉

Aren’t my readers getting sick of me?

Yes, definitely. (Except for Sean and Skye, since they have to like it.) One subscriber even asked, with utmost courtesy, if I could please remove her from the notification list, because she enjoys my posts but she’s just too busy. I fully sympathized. But hey – at least I toned down the word count!

Would I do this again next November?

I could probably be sweet-talked into it… But then again, I’ll be back at work by that time, with TWO kids at home. Maybe not.

The Drawbacks:

  • I know I missed some baby smiles while blogging. A is getting smilier by the day, and, much as I love her, Serenity never smiles. (Yes, my MacBook has a name. Yes, it’s a Joss Whedon reference.)
  • My house got real, real messy sometimes.
  • My “To Do” list got real, real big all the time.
  • Nursing baby + NaBloPoMo = many hours of BAD POSTURE.
  • When trying to eke out enough minutes for blogging during baby’s nap time, I resorted too often to screen time for E. He was stoked about it, of course, but I felt like a bad mama.
  • When blogging makes you feel like a bad mama, it’s just not quite as fulfilling.

The Benefits:

  • Again, being “obliged” to use this time to exercise my brain was really good, something to look forward to. And I know it’s something a lot of moms with newborns end up having to neglect.
  • I was reminded of how lucky I am to have so much help from family around the house right now: this month, Daddy was home for two weeks, and Auntie Em and Uncle Ben both stepped in often. I might have given up otherwise, because E would have been pretty neglected. Siri would probably think she was his mom by now.
  • On the up-side of too much screen time for E… he’s getting really good at Tangrams.
  • I love connecting with you Di-hards. Getting to do it every day is a privilege.
  • This year, in the NaBloPoMo Soup on BlogHer, I stumbled upon Yeah Write… and it’s totally great, you guys. So great, in fact, that it’s getting its own paragraph AND list.

You see, it’s been nice to feel included by adding my posts to the Soup at BlogHer… but BlogHer is hunormous. Overwhelming. I like to click on a few random posts by other bloggers each time I post something, but with a couple hundred contributions posted every day, one ends up actually feeling anonymous. Yeah Write, on the other hand, is a much smaller community, where each week you can submit a post for possible inclusion in a competitive grid, to be judged by the editors and/or the community members themselves.

Why Yeah Write Is Cool:

  • Submitted posts have to be 1,000 words or less. Working on my powers of pithiness is always a good idea, and this was really good practice.
  • Everyone on Yeah Write is there to write. (Well, duh.) What I mean is, they are GOOD writers. The past two weeks there have been open grids, unmoderated by the editors and voted on by the community. Each of those two weeks, I read every single submission (35-40 of them) so I could vote properly… and let me tell you, even unmoderated, the standard of writing was amazing. Short snippets from the lives of people I’ve never met – stories beautifully rendered that gave me goosebumps, brought tears to my eyes, or made me laugh out loud. I loved it. (But it’s a good thing the grid isn’t open every week, because I can’t always read that many.)
  • This is the first time I’ve really been part of a blogging community. I’ve become friends with a few people through mutual blog-reading in the past, but suddenly I get why it’s worthwhile to join up with a blog-gang like this. The whole group is all over each other’s blogs (especially on submitted posts, of course) and they are full of lovely comments – encouragement and feedback on the writing and everything. Wicked-awesome.
  • My blogroll is going to be EPIC! I can hardly wait to update it.

My goals for tomorrow:

  1. Don’t blog.
  2. Do some other stuff. 🙂

I’ll be back soon, aiming for 2 posts a week (ish).

As always, a thousand thanks for your readership. You’re the best.

***


 

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Family Camp at NeeKauNis 2012

Here we are at Family Camp, at Camp NeeKauNis.

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It’s the only place I can think of where daily life truly does fall away and become a distant background. As soon as I get here, it’s hard to remember what my priorities were when I was at home… Not the fundamental ones, of course, but the to-do list – the little things that nag at us and seem so important in the home sphere.

In fact, it’s the fundamental priorities that suddenly become the only ones, here at Camp: children, family, friends. Meals, playing, running around, sitting quietly. Getting in the lake when it’s hot, making a fire when it’s cold. Getting jobs done cooperatively, community-style. Listening to crickets and cicadas, watching the sun go down, smelling the forest and the grasses.

One of my favourite things ever in the world is watching children of all different ages, sizes, and colours running around being crazy together. That’s one of the perks of being here.

Also, getting to watch kind and wonderful older children, especially the boys (age 9-12), being a protective, gentle influence on my son. Seeing my little guy go off playing with other kids, with no need for me, and knowing he’s safe. Continue reading “Family Camp at NeeKauNis 2012”

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Sleep

You know how sometimes, people suck? You know those days when you look at the world and go, “How did we even get this far? We’re shallow and violent and self-centred. We hurt each other and we waste and we destroy and WE SUCK.”

Then there are those other days: the days where you’re reminded that humanity is freakin’ amazing.

Today I did not go to school, because I didn’t really sleep last night. Rarely in my life have I had insomnia, but suddenly it was like my body forgot how to sleep. Even though I didn’t feel anxious in my mind, my physical self was in the grip of unplaceable jitters.

This happened on Saturday, too, but for only a couple hours (instead of five) and I chalked it up to “going back to school” syndrome. The first day back at school was fine, so I have no idea what last night was about. I guess I have to get accustomed to myself no longer always being quite the self I used to be.

Anyway, boring story. Today, I slept in but am still rather out-of-it. I felt I was up to the task of [beginning the work of] cleaning out my inbox. I found this fantastic TED Talk, originally sent to me last April by my musical father-in-law, about Eric Whitacre and his virtual choir – and I’d never watched it. I usually don’t think I have time to watch things when I receive them, but this one reminded me that sometimes it really is worth the fifteen minutes.

I cried watching it. Not that it’s so surprising – I am somewhat sleep-deprived… and there’s no question that in the last six months, tears are always closer to the surface for me.

But this is just plain awesome. I’ve written a lot about music and its power and importance. I know first-hand how incredible and transformative it can be to make music with other people. I believe strongly that it makes us better, both as a species and as our own selves.

This is a perfect example: take that power, and combine it with the potential uniting force of the internet, and you get this. An individually self-chosen community of people who love to sing beautiful music, and want to give it back to the world. Seemingly random souls, with their bedhead and their earphones and their baseball caps, coming together from countries all over the world, just singing.

I dare you not to be moved.

Here’s the full version of the second song, called Sleep:

It made me think of Ze Frank’s Chillout song, created in the same way but on a smaller scale. (I’ve linked to this one before in my Top 10 Pick-Me-Ups, but it bears re-linking.) The story of how he – and a whole crowd of strangers – just up and brewed this simple, beautiful thing when one of his fans wrote to tell him about what a rough time she was having… well, it’s worth many, many points in the “humankind rocks the casbah” column.

Makes me wish I had a whole lifetime to spend just on discovering all the ways that humans spread love and awesomeness through music – and joining in.

***


 

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