Jimwell on As we grow old Dheeraj on As we grow old harvestinglifeslesso… on As we grow old Dena Gershkovich on As we grow old strawberry0043 on To take a stand you have to st…
- March 2019
- December 2018
- April 2018
- February 2018
- January 2018
- December 2017
- April 2017
- February 2017
- January 2017
- November 2016
- October 2016
- November 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- December 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
The angry, hungry, thirsty being
staggered from the darkness
of the creature
which had been his life
for all these many years
He sought to find
those ones who had denied
his true existence
if just perhaps
they now believed
he could survive.
Many of you have asked for a reading list on the topic of residential schools. Ask and ye shall receive. Here’s part of a larger reading list I use.
There are several related topics of course which I recommend people take a look at such as Genocide, Colonization/Decolonization, Indigenous activism, child welfare and Indigenous children, Indigenous people and the Justice system etc. I also highly recommend all of Vine Deloria’s books, Thomas King’s Inconvenient Indian, Richard Wagamese’s book Indian Horse, all of the Research papers compiled by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation at http://www.ahf.ca, and the website of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation http://www.nctr.ca.
This is far more than what most people are expecting but, you can choose what you wish. Besides I had to read them all (and many others 🙂 ) and they are all helpful in one way or another. Good luck:
Barman, Jean and Jan Hare, Good Intentions Gone Awry: Emma Crosby and the Methodist Mission on the Northwest Coast. University of British Columbia Press, 2007.
Cariboo Tribal Council. Impact of the Residential School, Williams Lake, B.C.: 1991.
Chartrand, Larry N., Tricia E. Logan and Judy D. Daniels. Métis History and Experience and Residential Schools in Canada/Histoire et expériences des Métis et les pensionnats au Canada. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006. http://www.ahf.ca
Deiter, Constance. From Our Mothers’ Arms: The Intergenerational Impact of Residential Schools in Saskatchewan. United Church Publishing House, 1999.
Grant, Agnes. No End of Grief: Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Pemmican, 1996.
Huel, Raymond J.A. Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians and Métis. University of Alberta Press, 1996.
Jaine, Linda. Residential Schools: The Stolen Years. University of Saskatchewan, University Extension Press, 1993.
King, David. A Brief Report of the Federal Government of Canada’s Residential School System for Inuit/ Bref compte-rendu du Régime du pensionnats pour les Inuit du gouvernement fédéral du Canada. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006. http://www.ahf.ca
Lascelles, Thomas A. Roman Catholic Indian Residential Schools in British Columbia. Order of OMI in B.C., 1990.
Métis Nation of Alberta. Métis Memories of Residential Schools: A Testament to the Strength of the Metis. Métis Nation of Alberta, 2004.
Miller, J.R., Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native residential schools. University of Toronto, 1996.
Milloy, John S. A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986. University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council. Indian Residential Schools: The Nuu-chah-nulth Experience. Nuu-chah- nulth Tribal Council, 1996.
Young-Ing, Gregory, Jonathan Dewar and Mike De Gagne, eds., Response, Responsibility, and Renewal: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Journey/ Réponse, responsabilité et renouveau. Cheminement du Canada vers la vérité et la réconciliation. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2009. http://www.ahf.ca
Dyck, Noel. Differing Visions: Administering Indian Residential Schooling in Prince Albert, 1867-1967. Fernwood Publishing, 1997.
Furniss, Elizabeth. Victims of Benevolence: The Dark Legacy of the Williams Lake Residential School. Arsenal Pulp Press, 1995.
Glavin, Terry and former students of St. Mary’s. Amongst God’s Own: The Enduring Legacy of St. Mary’s Mission. Longhouse Publishing, 2002.
Graham Elizabeth, ed. The Mush Hole: Life at Two Indian Residential Schools. Heffle Publications, 1997.
Jack, Agnes. Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Theytus Books, 2006.
Haig-Brown. Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School. Arsenal Pulp Press, 1988.
Ahenakew, Edward. Voices of the Plains Cree. McClelland & Stewart, 1973.
Apakark Thrasher, Anthony. Skid Row Eskimo. Griffin House, 1976.
Blondine-Perrin, Alice. My Heart Shook Like a Drum. Borealis Press, 2009.
Brass, Eleanor. I Walk in Two Worlds. Glenbow Museum, 1987.
Dandurand, Joseph A. Looking into the Eyes of My Forgotten Dreams. Kegedonce Press, 1998.
Ennamorato, Judith. Sing the Brave Song. Raven Press, 1999.
Fontaine, Theodore. Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: A Memoir. Heritage House, 2010.
French, Alice. My Name is Masak. Peguis, 1976.
Goodwill, Jean and Norma Sluman, eds. John Tootoosis. Pemmican, 1990.
Grant, Agnes. Finding My Talk: How Fourteen Canadian Native Women Reclaimed their Lives after Residential School. Fifth House Books, 2004.
Alexie, Robert Arthur. Porcupines and China Dolls. Stoddart, 2009.
Armstong, Jeannette. Slash, Revised. Theytus Books, 2007.
Boyden, Joseph. Born With a Tooth. Cormorant Books, 2009.
Highway, Thomson. Kiss of the Fur Queen. Doubleday, 1998.
Lakevold Dale, and Racine, Darrell. Misty Lake: A Play. Loon Books, 2006.
Loring, Kevin. Where the Blood Mixes: A Play. Talon Books, 2009
Loyie, Larry and Manuel, Vera. Two Plays About Residential School. Living Traditions, 1998.
Mosionier, Beatrice. In Search of April Raintree. Pemmican, 1999.
Simon, Lorne Joseph. Stones and Switches. Theytus Books, 1994.
Adams, David Wallace, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience 1875-1928. University Press of Kansas, 1997.
Bartels, Dennis A. and Alice L. Bartles. When the North Was Red: Aboriginal Education in Soviet Siberia. McGill- Queen’s University Press, 1995.
Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families 1900-1940. University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
Ellis, Clyde. To Change Them Forever: Indian Education at the Rainy Mountain Boarding School, 1893-1920. University of Oklahoma, 1996.
Lomawaima, K. Tsianina. They Called it Prairie Light: The Story of the Chilocco Indian School. University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
For Younger Readers
Campbell, Nicola I., with illustrations by Kim LeFave. Shin-chi’s Canoe. Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008.
Loyie, Larry, with illustrations by Constance Brissenden. Goodbye Buffalo Bay. Theytus Books, 2009.
Olsen, Sylvia, Rita Morris, and Ann Sam. No Time to Say Goodbye: Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School, Sono Nis Press, 2001
Sterling, Shirley. My Name is Seepeetza. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1993.
Joe, Rita with Lynn Henry. Song of Rita Joe: Autobiography of a Mi’kmaq Poet. Ragweed Press, 1996.
Johnston, Basil H., Indian School Days. Key Porter Books, 1988.
Kennedy, Dan. Recollections of an Assiniboine Chief. McClelland & Stewart, 1972.
Knockwood, Isabelle. Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, N.S. Roseway Publishing, 1994.
Lawrence, Mary. My People, Myself. Caitlan Press, 1996.
Moran, Bridget. Stoney Creek Woman: The Story of Mary John. Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997.
Willis, Jane. Geniesh: An Indian Girlhood. New Press, 1973.
The Legacy and Reconciliation
Battiste, Marie and Jean Barman, eds. First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds. University of British Columbia Press, 1995.
Burnaby, Barbara. Languages and Their Role in Educating Native Children. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Press, 1980.
Crey, Ernie and Suzanne Fournier. Stolen From Our Embrace: Abduction of First Nation Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997.
Castellano, Marlene Brant, Linda Archibald, and Mike De Gagne, eds. From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools/De la vérité à la réconciliation – Transformer l’héritage des pensionnats. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2008. http://www.ahf.ca
Chrisjohn, Roland and Sherri Young. The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience. Theytus Books, 1997.
Regan, Paulette. Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. University of British Columbia Press, 2010.
Schissel, Bernard and Terry Wotherspoon, The Legacy of School for Aboriginal People: Education, Oppression, and Emancipation. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Wadden, Marie. Where the Pavement Ends: Canada’s Aboriginal Recovery Movement and the Urgent Need for Reconciliation. Douglas & McIntyre, 2008.
Following, is my speech on The Senate Bill on Aboriginal Languages.
Aboriginal Languages of Canada Bill
Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Joyal, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Eggleton, P.C., for the second reading of Bill S-212, An Act
for the advancement of the aboriginal languages of Canada and to recognize and respect aboriginal language rights.
Hon. Murray Sinclair: Honourable senators, I rise to add some comments with regard to Bill S-212, which calls upon the government to take steps to address the status and restoration of Indigenous languages in Canada.
I want to first of all congratulate our colleague Senator Joyal for reintroducing this bill, as he has in the past, and for his comments at the beginning.
I want to begin my remarks by asking you to think of the answer to this question: “Who are you?” It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question which asks you to contemplate the fundamental question of your identity and character. To be able to answer that, you need to know where you and your ancestors came from, what you stood for, your personal and collective history, what your influences have been, what your ambitions have been and are, and what your purpose in life is.
It’s not a tough call for most of us because we have been informed and educated about those things within our families and in our institutions since the day we were born. Our answers to those questions and the ambitions they have provided to us, combined with the opportunities and the choices we have faced and made, have led us to this very place.
Yet, while we are all senators, that is not who we are. It is what we do.
We are all unique from each other, but we are confident of one thing, though, that we each know who we are. We are strong in our sense of self. We have an identity we believe in and which we know will sustain us throughout all of our challenges. We are what and who we want to be.
Language and culture are keys to personal identity. Personal identity is key to a sense of self-worth, and spiritual and mental wellness hinge on one’s sense of self-worth.
Everyone wants to feel worthy and to belong to something valid. Education is the key by which we make our society and our membership within it seem valid.
Identity also gives one a sense of being valued and worthy if one’s language and culture are considered valuable and worthy. If the language you speak and the culture you follow are denigrated or otherwise portrayed as unworthy of respect from your neighbours, disrespect is reciprocated and tension between you is inevitable.
That has significant implications for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. From the time of Confederation until the end of the 20th century, a period of about 125 years, Canada did all that it could to eliminate Aboriginal cultures and Aboriginal languages. Through the use of law approved and passed by our senatorial ancestors, among others, cultural practices were outlawed and access to justice was denied to anyone who wanted to do anything about it.
Undoubtedly, residential schools were the single most significant attack on Indigenous languages and cultures. One hundred and fifty thousand children were forcibly removed from their families under threat of prosecution for those parents who resisted and were placed in institutions for the sole purpose of indoctrinating them into Canadian society.
Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald not only believed that Aboriginal people who practised their culture and languages were savages but that they needed to have their cultures and languages stripped away. In 1883, in Parliament, he stated:
“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simple a savage who can read and write.
It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”
He made this statement at a time when federal government representatives had already entered into treaties with First Nations leaders and would continue to enter into other treaties within which promises were made by the government, among other things, to build schools on reserves, such as the provision you find in Treaty 1. That treaty says:
“And further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain a school on each reserve hereby made whenever the Indians of the reserve should desire it.
It would be fair to say that the federal government representatives were less than forthright and even deceptive in their dealings with First Nation leaders on the issue of schools and education during those treaty negotiations.
In a study of the impact of residential schools, the Assembly of First Nations noted in 1994 that:
. . . language is necessary to define and maintain a world view. For this reason, some First Nation elders to this day will say that knowing or learning the native language is basic to any deep understanding of a First Nation way of life, to being a First Nation person. For them, a First Nation world is quite simply not possible without its own language. For them, the impact of residential school silencing their language is equivalent to a residential school silencing their world.
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in its report in 1996 similarly noted the connection between Aboriginal languages and what it called a “distinctive world view, rooted in the stories of ancestors and the environment.” The Royal Commission added that Aboriginal languages are a “tangible emblem of group identity” that can provide “the individual a sense of security and continuity with the past. . . . maintenance of the language and group identity has both a social—emotional and a spiritual purpose.”
Residential schools were a systematic, government—sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples. This included forcibly removing children from their families and placing them in residential schools designed primarily if not solely to eliminate their racial identity. Such an act can easily be called cultural genocide and likely also fell within the definition of genocide found in Article 2(e) of the United Nations Convention on Genocide.
English and, to a far lesser degree, French were the only languages permitted to be used in those schools. Students were physically punished, often severely, for speaking their own languages.
Rights to culture and language and the need for remedies for their loss have been recognized now in international law. They are specifically acknowledged in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which acknowledged the critical state of Aboriginal languages generally.
Article 8.1 of the Declaration recognizes that:
Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
Article 8.2 provides that:
States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of and redress for . . . Any form of forced assimilation or integration.
The Declaration also includes specific recognition of the right to revitalize and transmit Aboriginal languages in Article 13.1, which recognizes that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
We see further similar provisions in Articles 14.1, 14.3 and 16.
The attempt to assimilate students by denying them access to and respect for their languages and cultures often meant that the students became estranged from their families, from their communities and even from themselves. Some survivors refused to teach their own children their Aboriginal languages and cultures because of the negative stigma that had come to be associated with them during their school years.
My grandmother, for example, who raised me and my siblings from the time that I was an infant, could speak Ojibway and Cree, as well as French and English. She taught all of those languages to me as a young boy, but she insisted that we only speak English once I started school. I always wondered why she did that and came to some understanding when one survivor told us during our hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he had had a similar experience. When he asked his mother why she had never taught him the language, she told him simply, “Because I wanted to save your life.”
In the Catholic school where she had been raised, she was taught that if she continued to practise her culture and to speak her language, she would end up in Purgatory or in Hell, places of eternal damnation. She simply wanted her children to have a chance at eternal life in Heaven, so she refused to teach them their language.
This, I believe, was my deeply Catholic grandmother’s motivation as well.
But whatever the cause or motivation, the lack of transmission of language has contributed significantly to the fragile state of Aboriginal languages and culture in Canada today.
Many of the almost 90 surviving Aboriginal languages in Canada are under serious threat of extinction. In the 2011 Census, only 14.5 per cent of the Aboriginal population of Canada reported that their first language learned was an Aboriginal language.
In the previous 2006 Census, 18 per cent of those who identified as Aboriginal reported an Aboriginal language as their first language learned.
A decade earlier, in the 1996 Census, the figure was 26 per cent.
This indicates a drop in language use and transmission of nearly 50 per cent in the 15 years since the last residential schools were closed.
There are, however, variations among the Aboriginal populations: 63.7 per cent of Inuit speak their language compared to 22.4 per cent of First Nations people and only 2.5 per cent of Metis people.
Some languages are close to extinction because they have only a few remaining speakers at the great-grandparent generation. UNESCO says that 36 per cent of Canada’s Aboriginal languages are critically endangered in the sense that they are only used by the great-grandparent generation.
It says that an additional 18 per cent are severely endangered in the sense that they are used only by the grandparent generation, and 16 per cent are definitely endangered in the sense that they are used by the parental and the two previous generations combined. The remaining languages are all vulnerable.
If the preservation of Aboriginal languages does not become a priority both for governments and for Aboriginal communities, then what the residential schools failed to accomplish will come about through a process of systematic neglect.
In interpreting Aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, the Supreme Court of Canada has stressed the relation of those rights to the preservation of distinct Aboriginal cultures. The preservation of Aboriginal languages is essential to identity and, given its past treatment, it is clear that Aboriginal people’s right to speak their own languages must be recognized as a legal right in Canada.
In the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, various calls to action were put forward to establish that point.
Call to Action 13, for example, reads:
We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights.
At a time when government funding is most needed to protect Aboriginal languages and culture, Canada has not upheld commitments it previously made to fund such programs.
In 2002, the federal government under Prime Minister Chretien promised that $160 million would be set aside for the creation of a centre for Aboriginal languages and culture and a national Aboriginal language strategy. But in 2006, the Harper government retreated from that commitment, pledging instead to spend only the $5 million per year in permanent funding for the Aboriginal Languages Initiative (ALI), which had been started in 1998.
The ALI is a program of government—administered heritage subsidies. It is not based on the notion of a respectful nation—to—nation relationship between Canada and Aboriginal peoples. Nor does it provide Aboriginal people with the opportunity to make decisions for themselves about how to allocate scarce resources and how to administer programs.
Other than ALI, the only other significant programs for language preservation are the Canada Territorial Language Accords, with a $4.1 million budget, which support territorial government—directed Aboriginal language services, and which support as well community projects in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
In Yukon, language revitalization and preservation projects there are supported through transfer agreements, with 10 of the 11 self-governing Yukon First Nations becoming eligible.
The combined total annual federal budget for those Aboriginal languages programs in Canada, therefore, is $9.1 million when those are factored in.
Compare that to the official languages program for English and French in Canada which has in recent years been allotted funding as follows: in 2012-13, $353.3 million; in 2013-14, $348.2 million; in 2014-15, $348.2 million.
The commitment to French language retention and services is commendable, and I do not want to be taken as criticizing the amount or suggesting it be reduced. Rather I point out for comparison that the resources committed to Aboriginal language programs are far less than what has been committed to French, even in areas where French speakers number less than Aboriginal language speakers. For example, the federal government provides support to the small minority of francophones in Nunavut in the amount of approximately $4,000 per individual annually. In contrast, the funding to support Inuit language initiatives in Nunavut is estimated at $44 per Inuk per year.
In the report of the TRC, we put forward a call to action dealing with the need for legislation. We also saw the need for an official with authority to promote Aboriginal languages and to monitor and report upon federal government funding support.
In addition to promoting the use of Aboriginal languages, that official, we felt, would also educate non-Aboriginal Canadians about the richness and value of Aboriginal languages and how strengthening those languages can enhance Canada’s international reputation.
As I said at the outset, cultural and language revival are keys for Aboriginal youth in their search for identity, and it is a legitimate cause of complaint for survivors of residential schools and other forms of cultural suppression. Cultural and language revival are a binding force for the Aboriginal community. However, while there is a significant role for government to play in that revival, in the final analysis cultural and language revival are the responsibility of the communities that want them.
There is no getting away from the very simple fact that if you want your culture, you must live it; if you want your language, you must speak it.
I have some concerns about this bill, though I support it. In this respect I am not convinced it goes far enough. I don’t think it goes as far as it could or should.
I am nonetheless prepared to support the bill going on to committee in order to see if the committee members will support amendments to the bill, which I intend to propose, that I believe will make the bill stronger and consistent both with the TRC’s calls to action as well as the principles espoused in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I encourage all of you to show Canada, as well as the Indigenous peoples in Canada living with the legacy of residential schools, that the Senate of Canada as an institution is prepared to support this bill as an act of reconciliation.
(Originally written in March 2014).
This Sunday morning, I got up early in order to attend a morning funeral service at a local synagogue for a dear friend, Judge Robert Kopstein who passed away on Friday from lung cancer.
Bob was my assigned mentor when I was appointed a judge of the Provincial Court in 1988, and he had been retired for ten years or more. He and I became close friends and I often visited him and his wife Jean. Gazheek liked the fact that they had a swimming pool.
Bob liked to visit, and he could discuss any subject. He loved movies and he and Jean would regularly spend a week attending the Toronto International Film Festival, sometimes taking in three or four movies a day.
He also loved discussing what was going on in the news. While he always warned me against getting involved in political matters, he encouraged me to never stop participating in current events, because as judges, he would say, we have a responsibility to understand what’s going on around us and to educate the public in a non-partisan manner, about government, the law and the courts.
He was a fierce and independent thinker. He once asked me what my traditional name meant and we discussed how names influence us. Bob’s Hebrew name meant “Lion”, and he admitted that he always felt strongly about people trying to use the law or the courts for an unjust purpose. He once acquitted a woman charged with communicating for the purpose of prostitution, pointing out that prostitution itself was not illegal in Canada, and therefore it was unreasonable and illogical and unfair to charge and convict women for communicating about doing something that was not illegal. Higher, and differently thinking, courts, disagreed and overturned his decision. He still thought he was right.
He was the first colleague to admit to me that his education about the history of this country was lacking any proper information about Canada’s Indigenous people. He peppered me with questions for years about something he had read or heard about Indigenous people or issues, or about something he had seen in a movie, to see if it was historically accurate or fair.
He actually read the AJI Report in its entirety. I know, because he would come into my office with his well marked copy and ask me to explain what I meant on page 756 or why we didn’t recommend one thing or another. But he was never overbearing or rude. He was always kind and respectful and eager to learn. He remained that way until he became ill.
At a certain point in one’s life, you enter what I call the swamp years, when the water around you starts to deepen, and the ground beneath you begins to shift, and the earth becomes invisible and each step represents an unknown risk. You can become afraid to move, but you cannot stand still. Too much remains to be done. You cannot leave a life unfinished. Those who are wise, refocus on the things that are important and finish them.
In his latter years, Bob put everything else in his life aside and concentrated on his family and taking care of Jean. He became her eyes when she started to lose her sight, and the one she leaned on as she walked. He shared his thoughts and wisdom and love and time with his children and grandchildren. He knew what his legacy would be and he shaped it into the best he could. He loved to sing. He taught his children to love song too. I hope they will sing songs of him. He deserves it. He was a good human. God would be proud of him.
Following is the text of a statement I gave in the Senate about the shooting deaths of 49 people in a Bar in Orlando Florida on June 12, 2016:
Honourable Senators, shortly after midnight on Saturday night, our openly gay daughter sat and laughed with us, as my wife and I and her sisters sang her “Happy Birthday,” – badly I might add, as all families do, but with huge amounts of love. She turned 33 on Sunday, June 12.
At almost the same moment, an American filled with hate for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, queer and two-spirit people carried his legally purchased machine gun and pistol into a bar in Orlando, Florida, and started killing everyone he could.
Eventually, over a period of three hours, he hunted down all those he could find in the bar and killed 49 young men and women, whose only reason for being targeted was that they were celebrating Pride month and were openly gay.
Much has been made of the shooter’s connection to Islamic terrorism and his ability to purchase, own and carry guns, despite his history of mental disturbance and violence. American politicians and others will line up in one camp or the other to denounce those who they say caused this to happen, whether close at hand or remote. The number of political footballs this event presents for such use is significant. You need only look at the headlines today to get a flavour of that.
But yesterday and today, I thought only of the 49 mothers and fathers whose hearts are broken and whose lives have been torn asunder, and I think every day of the fact that I could have been, and could yet be, one of them. I think of the dozens of brothers and sisters born into the victims’ families, whose anger and tears may never end, and I think of the fact that my other children couldhave been, and could yet be, among them as well.
Society’s dislike and disrespect for those who are gay and transgendered has been a part of Western thinking for many generations. The recent and growing enhancement and recognition of their right to be who they are, and their right to public protection of those rights, does not sit well with far too many people, the shooter in this case being representative of that.
When my daughter spoke to us as a young teenager of her recognition of who she was, we stood beside her and gave her every assurance of our love and of her right to be open about what she was – a strong, free and gay woman.
What my wife and I could not bring ourselves to discuss with her, or between ourselves, at that moment, was that her openness about being gay enhanced her risk of danger. She was already living a life of enhanced danger just by being female. That danger was increased by the fact that she was at higher at-risk because she was an Indigenous woman. Yet we were immensely proud of her for her accomplishments and her honesty, and we loved her. Our love for her overcame every fear we had.
We told her our truth – that among Indigenous people, being a two-spirit was traditionally a position of respect and honour. Spiritual ceremonies we told her, are enhanced if done by or with two-spirit people present, for it is believed that they embody the strengths and spirits of both man and woman and bring a special healing power and medicine to such events.
She has brought great respect to our family. She grew to be a star athlete and competed on National Championship teams in Softball. She was invited to try out for Canada’s National Team, but because the try-out camp fell at a time that conflicted with our annual traditional Spring Ceremonies, she declined. She was offered a full scholarship to attend and play for an elite American Division 1 University softball team -in Florida, not far from the site of this tragedy – but declined that too when she concluded it was too far away from family. Family and traditional ceremonies were about who she was. Softball was what she did. She studied Infomatics – the science of computer coding – and has volunteered many hours teaching it to classes of young women to encourage them to get into the male dominated field, telling them that the first computer coders were, in fact, women. She has met and surpassed the primary test I set for all my children – make this a better world.
We are said to be blessed by having her as a daughter because she is two-spirit, and we believe that to be so. We adopted another two-spirit daughter into our family as well, whose partner just gave birth to our newest grandson. He will be raised by two-spirit parents.
As parents of two-spirits, we want to protect our children from the bullying, the offensive comments, the disparaging remarks and the physical and verbal abuses that every member of the LGBTQ2S experiences. We have learned to shield them and to heal them when our shields prove insufficient.
What we fear the most is that someone will murder them just for being gay. The belief that such an event could occur would be enough for many to discourage their children from coming out, and it would also discourage the children themselves. Yet, that would be wrong. You cause great damage to yourself, when you spend so much time and energy hiding part of yourself from the outside world. Such secrets have a way of feeding small fears and making them big ones.
So in our moment of silence today, I thought of the parents.
We as a society have all lost something as a civilized people in this act of mass murder, but they have lost more than we can ever know.
God’s head was not turned
when our people were created.
His eyes were not closed.
Nor his thoughts far away
on a task of more import.
His mind was not distracted,
Nor his heart locked away
in a dark, uncaring place,
unaware of our existence.
For God was our Creator too.
With gentle hands and loving heart,
from four parts of Creation,
he moulded our ancient ones.
He placed his loving words
inside their hearts and minds
He breathed his guiding spirit
into the center of their soul,
and in so doing,
made Anishinaabe whole.
He showed us his existence
and inspired us to voice and sing
our love and praise for him
and for all of Creation he had made,
as well as for the life he had bestowed.
A life and land which he had always clearly meant
to be forever ours
to use and to protect
for all of our time here on this earth
We loved our Gitche Manitou
and believed that he felt only love for us.
Deep within the center of our souls,
we lived and breathed that thought
Because our faith was strong.
We truly knew what we were meant to know.
For our right to be
was told in our Creation story
and all such teachings always held us true.
And then those others came
and with their twisted thoughts and words and tongues
declared that all his work with us was false
and that our sense of Him was wrong.
They made us deeply sick with growing doubt
as, slowly, harshly,
like a rising tide
they drowned or drove away our spirit
piece by piece,
child by child,
so that when we woke one dark and lonely day
our spirit and our faith had shrivelled
and were gone.
And when we cried in pain
They said it was a sign our god was weak
and that it was a sign their god was strong
and that we should fall down upon our knees
and pray with them
and somehow that would save us
from that evil place
where dwelt our Gitche Manitou
a place we once had deeply called our own.
They did not know
that it was in their doubt
where dwelt the source of illness
that infected all they touched
in this part
of our Manitou’s creation.
They took us off our spirit road
And tried to make us walk inside their shoes
but when we looked behind
We could not see
The point from which our journey had begun
And when we looked ahead,
we could not hear
the voices of our mothers calling out
Nor see the light of fires
Showing our way home
We were confused and felt like we were lost
Our spirits ran away and hid
in places dark and safe
So they would be protected
strong and pure
Ready to embrace and be embraced
When it was time.
Our minds and bodies,
sometimes filled the void
with other spirit teachings
And in those foreign words
some solace found
Yet many could not, would not,
And so, emptied of their love of life
they staggered through existence
falling, rising, falling,
sometimes lying still
waiting for it all to end
And when the law of man
at last declared this wrong
and asking for forgiveness
offered words and beads
designed to cure our broken lives,
they still did not believe
such things alone could not repair,
They still cannot believe
our healing starts from deep within the soul
Where the spirit placed there by Creator sits
They do not understand
That our spreading sickness
lies within the fact
we had and have no way
to fight the racist’s sin
and when we are inflicted
we can no longer sing our healing songs
for all our healing voices have been stilled
and some forever gone
But now that we are finally freed
Of heavy chains of aging pain
many go in hungry search
of spirits so long hidden, almost lost
And there is great rejoicing
in connections strongly made.
But sadly some have found
their spirits have been locked away,
so well and and for so long
that they can not be found.
I was not born to die.
Like everyone else, I will
But I was not born to die.
I was born…to live.
I was given life for a reason.
…..to do something with it.
I know I have a purpose.
And it is not just to die.
It is to do something with this life
Before I die.
Just like you.