Friday, October 11, 2013

Reflections on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, Vancouver

My husband asked me yesterday why I don't blog anymore. He said that he misses it, and he also brought me a giant bouquet of red roses, so I'm giving him about five thousand points.

I somehow thought that the pace of life would slow down with O in school all day and only T at home to care for. How come nobody told me that the pace is actually 3.4 times faster? In addition to the busyness, I feel like I'm just finding my bearings again emotionally. The truth is that even though I knew it was going to be difficult sending O off to school each day, that foreknowledge didn't pad my fall. A nurse friend (side-note: don't nurses make such wonderful friends? I have several friends who are nurses and they seem to all have the common traits of empathy, flexibility, calmness, and are not easily grossed-out by my grossest stories) recently told me that the times in life when a woman is most susceptible to depression are post-partum, and when the children leave the nest. I'm pretty sure she was referring to when they are young adults, but I can imagine that the third peak must be when all the kids are in school, especially for stay-at-home moms. I'm bracing myself for 2.5 years from now, unless I pop out a third child. The changes in my life have prompted me to retreat a bit away from writing and into compulsive crafting (to be exposed in a later post) and watching the entire series of Doc Martin on Netflix in a short length of time in the evenings while said crafting was happening.

Other than O's commencement of kindergarten, the most significant event for me recently was attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission National Event in Vancouver, which I previously wrote about here. Last month, I saw courage and it looked like this:

Imagine speaking about the darkest, most desperate moments of your life to a hall of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. Beyond those seated in the room, your words and your face are being viewed by tens of thousands of people across the world via the internet. 

There is a moment when survivors share their stories when they close their eyes and pause. In that moment, you can see that under the bandages of any healing, there is always going to be a fresh wound. In that pause, however unremarkable in length, you can see the survivor's struggle to stay present in the moment, resisting the mind's pull to experience anew events from the past.

As only a witness and observer to the sharing of their stories, I cannot assume to understand all of their reasons for having the courage to speak. Whether it was their intention of not, I hope that sharing brought the survivors some measure of healing, a sense of vindication, and a release from the feelings of shame that victims of abuse often have. Some of them spoke to honour the memory of siblings or dear friends who lost their lives at residential school, or due to the emotional effects of abuse later in life. Their willingness to embrace vulnerability helped me to learn more about Indian Residential Schools, and their devastating intergenerational effects.

In addition to the Indian Residential Schools, I learned for the first time about Indian Hospitals, including the Nanaimo Indian Hospital, from a woman who was kept there from age two to four, enduring unbearable treatment. I learned about the "day schools," which were much like the residential schools except that students returned home every night. The abuse they suffered was horrific too, but their experiences have not been addressed by any financial settlements from the government or churches. I learned about forced sterilizations, medical experiments, and children freezing to death after trying to run away from abuse at residential schools.

In hearing their recollections of their childhood traumas, I couldn't stop myself from imagining the horror of my own children experiencing what these once-children did. I imagined their pain through the eyes of my five year old, and the pain that their parents must have experienced, having their children wrenched out of their arms and taken to residential schools.

The timing of this experience for me was especially poignant given that I had been fretting in the past few preceding weeks about O beginning kindergarten. The juxtaposition of his experiences and the experiences of these former children was not lost of me that day. I worried about whether his home-haircut was dorky and nobody was telling me. The survivors all had identical bowl cuts on arrival at the school, with some careless ear snippage for good measure. I worried about if his lunch containers might have BPA, and whether kids would tease him about the food I packed. I was the kid with the "boring" lunches, but now I'm thankful for all the healthy food, Mom! Survivors were doused in DDT for twenty four hours on arrival to kill any imagined creepy crawlies, and they were fed grossly inadequate food for growing bodies. I wondered if O would be overwhelmed by French immersion; survivors were beaten for using the only language that they knew. I wondered if my heart would break a little every day when I said good-bye to my oldest baby for six hours; those kids and parents probably wondered if they would ever see each other again.

"Aboriginal children waving farewell, Fort Providence Indian Residential School."
Library and Archives Canada
On the last day of the commission, we skipped church and took the skytrain into Vancouver to participate in the Walk for Reconciliation. We were a little concerned that the characteristically ill-timed Vancouver rain would put a damper on attendance, but approximately seventy thousand people showed up. Dr. Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered a powerful address, which I encourage you to listen to here. The weekend of courage ended on a note of hope, listening to her powerful words and seeing so many people in our city coming to learn, listen, and support.

We need to update our cultural narrative to include awareness of these atrocities in our past, and their intergenerational effects. We would think it strange, would we not, if German schoolchildren didn't learn about the horrid history of Nazism, or if Americans didn't know about its history of slavery? We too must be culturally literate in our own failings if we are to experience healing as a nation, and to prevent injustices from continuing to happen. I don't recall learning much of this in school, or even at university. I am hopeful that my children will learn more in school about it than I did, but, if not, they will certainly learn about it from us. Not yet though, five years old and two years old are too young to bear the weight of this knowledge that we all must begin to share with those who have been bearing it alone these many years. For now, I want my kids to be as carefree and joyful as those children should have been with their families.

Two M├ętis Children with an Inuit Child at All Saints Residential School, Shingle Point, Yukon
Library and Archives Canada

1 comment:

  1. Steve and I both appreciated what you tenderly wrote here, Andrea. Putting ourselves into others pain is so important to understand their experience. I, too, relate to stories through a mother's lens now. With our girls, it's easy and strange to imagine what it'd be like to have them taken away, knowing that just a few generations back, this is likely the very story of what happened to their grandmothers. I'm humbled at times when I recognize how much more my mind needs to understand of this history and how much my heart must expand to embrace the pain and seek healing for First Nations people, my girls and for settler, me. I'm so glad you were able to attend the TRC. Thanks for sharing your experience.


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