This is becoming a habit. And not one I’m particularly enjoying. But confronting ones demons is never easy. This week I was going to migrate over to some less introspective subject matter. Stuff that didn’t poke around so much in my soul, but exercised another integral part of my competency set. You know, less weighty topics like critical thinking, problem solving, communications or collaboration. Nothing that would get my conscience too roughed up – again. After all, I felt comfortable that I had been appropriately forthright and contrite, with my last two blogs examining, respectively, my personal accountability one year out from the George Floyd tragedy, and my guilty conscience which became the catalyst for The Daily Undoing movement.
I felt ready to move to less emotional, but equally crucial competency landscapes. And then May 28 happened, and I tumbled back into the mental meat grinder, this time surrounding the horrifying discovery of the remains of 215 bodies buried on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, BC.
The news trickled around me after it broke, as I picked up dribs and drabs from random headlines coughed up from Twitter notifications, then newspaper headlines and CBC radio reports before I finally sat down and began reading the entire heart-crushing story in all of its deeply disturbing detail. But there’s another fallacy right there in that statement. The discovery of the indigenous children’s remains at the Kamloops location is by no means the entire story. Not even close. I'm learning that it is by no means the only unmarked burial ground of indigenous people in this country. And I have long realized it is by no means a singular stain on our reputation as a fair and just nation. And even when we are ready to confront and work through the pain of this, it is but another drop of blood in a bucket that smears our history from this day backward. However, if this isn’t the turning point to an entire mind shift on how we cohabitate with our First Nations people, then we deserve to bear the shame of it all forever.
I’m not going to re-report the discovery. There is enough written about it already. The direction this blog has somehow, naturally taken me, is toward a north star pull, tugged along by the principles of the 8 pillar competencies put forth in my book and podcast, The Daily Undoing. And so, I'm going to stick in my lane and talk about how this news should make us more aware of our character and citizenship competencies, and ways in which we jolt them to life with action.
How exactly to begin, I am unsure. The nation and individual communities in my country began, in their own way, reacting to news of this tragedy in ways which appear simultaneously contrite and comedic. In my city of Calgary, the public school board swiftly changed the name of Langevin Elementary School - Hector-Louis Langevin now widely considered to be the architect of the residential school system in Canada. This, by the way, had been tirelessly lobbied for by a group of STUDENTS for the last two years! Up the highway in Edmonton, the professional football club suddenly found its conscience, swapping out the nickname “Eskimos” for “Elks” in a move that one couldn’t help but think was simply the most economic means of salvaging the generational stacked "E" logo.
I'm overly cynical and emotionally raw right now, but dammit, we humans can be a bit pathetic. Keeping our evils neatly hidden, until they are jarred loose, at which time we react with these bizarre acts of remorse. And yet, I certainly don't have the playbook on how this should work. One thing I would argue, however, is that cosmetic change doesn’t begin to undo things.
In my own sort of knee-jerk reaction, I was compelled to say something. And I must admit I thought about it for days before doing so. Words are shallow, and yet that’s all I have at the moment. And in fact I didn’t even have many of those. So I looked for wisdom from the First Nations community, and found what I considered to be a deeply moving quote by an actual survivor of the Kamloops Residential School. “All meaningful change for every human being comes from within.” It was spoken in an interview with Global News by Saa Hill Thut. I copied it on to an orange background, and posted my own message of contrition on social media. An act of no more real consequence than a name change, a half-masting of flags or the placement of a teddy bear on a doorstep – additional symbolic gestures which have peppered our communities in the wake of the Kamloops discovery.
While composing this post, I was compelled to search up and view the video of the interview again. You can see it here. Soundbite after soundbite filled me with both hope and humility. Why do wait for the crimes to be exposed before we DO something about them? I grew up learning to hate Adolph Hitler and forever furious and confused as to how an entire country could look the other way as millions of Jews were murdered. Today I am now fully cognizant that this whole “residential school” program I’ve been reading about over the last several years, wasn’t just something that happened before I was born…it was operational until the mid 90’s. I was in my 30’s! Where the fuck was I?
That is a dance with the demon that I’ll return to on my own, as for now I want to get back to Mr. Thut’s interview. In it he utters some of the most articulate and healing words you’ll ever hear another human being speak in any circumstance, let alone one in which he or she has been at the epicentre of evil. He says, “The highest form of respect we give to other human beings is to listen to them...Let’s look at ourselves, and see what we can change...As a citizen of this country, what can I do?”.
I am grateful and fascinated by these types of healing words and messages witnessed from this Elder, and many others like him, as we confront our dark past. Fascinated by the forgiveness. With every reason to be vengeful, there is an air of dignity along a very high road, upon which we should all aspire to travel more often.
And so, as I left off a week ago, attempting to soul-search my true feelings around racial stereotypes harboured inside of me, today I am going back to a similar, but different hidden corner of my conscience and, in Mr. Thut’s words, “see what I can do.”
One more thing, the imagery and quote used for this week's post comes from a statement posted on the National Truth and Reconciliation Centre's website earlier this week, by its Executive Director, Stephanie Scott. I invite you to read it in its entirety here.