by Gwynn Scheltema (reprinted with permission from Writescape.ca)
Today’s blog title is a small echo of the beautiful, sad poem written by Louise B. Halfe-Sky Dancer, our present Parliamentary Poet Laureate, on June 3, in the wake of the terrible findings in Kamloops BC in recent days, titled: Angels: 215 >, 1820 – 1979; “The Past is Always Our Present”
She ends her poem with these lines:
It is time to release
That consumes all this nation.
Awasis, this spirit-light, these angels
Dance in the flame.
Will share their stories.
These children are ours.
Her poem brings sorrow and reflection to all of us, but it is her call to “Listen.” and “Act.” that speak to me. How do we listen?
We seek out the stories that are being told, and no matter how difficult, we hear them in all their sad detail. It’s time to face the truth; to educate ourselves and to respond accordingly.
Honour and remember
If you are saddened by the unmarked graves of 215 children found at Kamloops, realize first that this horror is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A visit to the Memorial Register of thousands of actual names of lost children at the website of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation brings home the enormity of this tragedy. Sadly, this list is not yet complete. More children still need to be found. But as NCTR says, “This register represents a starting place on our collective journey of honouring and remembering the children lost to the Residential Schools.”
A good place to start listening is with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report. The Commission issued its final report on residential schools more than six years ago. Have you read it yet?
This report details the harsh mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children at residential schools. Perhaps start with the section “Survivors Speak”. The stories here are not fiction; the stories here are not creative non-fiction; the stories here are the true oral stories from the people who experienced things firsthand. Honour that. Read them.
And then read the “Calls to Action”
Treaties and Land Agreements
For my province, Ontario, more than 40 treaties and other land agreements exist. These legal agreements set out the rights and responsibilities of First Nations and the provincial and federal governments.
The Ontario Provincial Government website offers information about these treaties, including some images and transcripts and maps. It is interesting to note that it also gives this disclaimer “Please note that this map has some limitations and is one of many ways to learn about treaties. Indigenous communities may have different understandings of the treaties than is represented here.”
So, perhaps watch these videos for that different perspective: Indigenous voices on treaties where Indigenous speakers share their knowledge about the importance of treaties, treaty relationships and rights in Ontario.
Indigenous Canada – Free course
One way to better understand treaties and the Indigenous perspective, is to sign up for this free 12-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) course from University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies. “Indigenous Canada” explores key issues facing Indigenous peoples today from an historical and critical perspective.
The course is designed for those who know little about these issues and want to know more. Topics covered include: The fur trade and other exchange relationships, land claims and environmental impacts, legal systems and rights, political conflicts and alliances, Indigenous political activism, and contemporary Indigenous life, art and its expressions.
Read Indigenous Literature
As writers, we all recognize the power of story. Give voice to that power by reading Indigenous authors. I cannot begin to give you an exhaustive list of books and story and poetry collections, but I can help with these links:
- Indigenous Advisory Council Toronto Public Library recommendations
- 49th Shelf – Books by Indigenous Women
- BookNet’s Bestselling Indigenous Books in Canada lists for kids, teens and adults
- CBC – Books to read for National Indigenous History Month
- 49th Shelf – Indigenous Reads
- Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada – Indigenous Reads
- Strong Nations Publishing – books for kids, teens and adults
- 49th Shelf – Non-fiction – Indigenous Issues
If you prefer to listen rather than read, I’d recommend CBC Radio One’s weekly documentary program “Unreserved” that interviews and profiles prominent Indigenous people in Canada.
First Contact on TVO Season 1 is also an enlightening series. Six Canadians, all with stereotypical opinions about Indigenous Peoples, go on a 28-day journey exploring Indigenous Canada, challenging their perceptions and confronting their prejudices about a world they never imagined.
This great online exhibit through the National History Museum in Ottawa promotes oral stories, as well as the Creation Story:
And of course, what would our current lives be like without Zoom and Facebook seminars? Coming up Friday June 18 is a round table discussion on Indigenous Literature presented by Saskatchewan Ânskohk Writers’ Circle Inc. (SAWCI), in partnership with USask. They also have a great line-up for the fall.