It would be another 100 years before the last residential school was closed in Canada — 1996. I graduated high school in 1996. I was preparing for my freshman year at college. I was under the impression that residential schools all looked like the picture above: black and white, old and grainy, things of the past, sad but irrevocable pieces of history.
Today I’m sitting in a cafe that’s live-streaming Edmonton’s Truth & Reconciliation Events. Due to the crazy traffic and parking fiasco I went through, I wasn’t able to make it physically to The Shaw Conference Centre today. Live-streaming is the next best thing, I guess.
What am I to think?
We were the haters, the oppressors, the mongerers, the rapers, the abusers, the greedy mouths that took away almost everything from you… dear First Peoples of Turtle Island.
No, I’m not trying to impress you with my terminology. I am trying in my small broken way to address you with the respect you deserve. As I sip on my tea, I’m pondering: “What now?” The TRC cannot be both the beginning and the end. Surely not! But still…
I will never know the parental horror of having my many children taken away, some never to be seen again.
I will never know the terror of being snatched my from family only to be taken to institutions or foster homes who (at best) would only keep children alive; at worst, molested, burned, beat, brain-washed, institutionalized, and demonized entire cultures, entire worlds.
I will never know the release alcohol brings after such trauma.
I will never know then the social stigma of being branded cultural alcoholics.
I will never know what it’s like to have my skin colour questioned during a job interview.
I will never know what it’s like to have to get a permit before even trying to get a job off-reserve.
I will never know the anguish of hearing ancient languages dying out.
I will never know the angst of trying to communicate in English or French when those languages are totally foreign. Government forms? Forget about them. Those were never written in Cree or Dene.
I will never know what it’s like to be followed around a store because I’m suspected of shoplifting… & of being aboriginal. Thus I MUST be a shoplifter
I will never know what it’s like to have social workers show up the day after I give birth, just to make sure I’m not abusing or neglecting my baby.
I will never know what it’s like for someone to continually ask me: “What’s it like to be white?” Never happens.
I will never know the cold reality of the Canadian government’s true purpose: trying to end the Indian for good forever.
I will never know what it’s like to be called a “half-breed”.
I will never know what it’s like to be an experiment of the government.
I will never know what it’s like to be brown.
I will never know what it’s like to try and fight for my people, only to have the court of public opinion burn me at the stake for “entitlement”, “money-grubbing”, “being too lazy”, “expecting something for nothing”.
This is all true.
I will never… know.
Pinching my skin, I know I cannot change the colour the Creator gave me.
Breathing deeply in prayer, I believe in Yeshua as the Son of the Creator & in my deeply personal relationship with Him. This too, while it grows and changes, will not cease.
In my desire to relate to your pain, I need to face the reality that: I can’t. I haven’t lived what you have been forced to live. I cannot fix it. I cannot know more or better about it. I cannot understand. I cannot truly empathize. I cannot undo what’s been done.
But there are other things I can never do again as well…
I will never, as best as I’m able, close myself off to the historical and current truths of Canada’s aboriginal people.
I will never claim that the TRC is the Healer of healers, and now we can all go home. Much truth is still being hidden by the Canadian government, and many stories are still being silenced.
I will never say that Canada is a champion for women’s equality as long as aboriginal women and children are still prime targets for abuse, kidnapping, trafficking and dehumanization.
I will never say that reconciliation must look the same way for everyone, and work on one timeline.
I will never say that I know everything there is to know about Canadian history and its tragic implications.
I will never say that the only trauma aboriginal peoples endured was the residential school system. Systemic racism was and is present on every level of Canadian society, whether people believe it or not. Physical violence, the Sixties Scoop, current public opinion — it’s all there.
I will never deny that Canada is genocide-free. The government might… but the government’s wrong. Canada tried to kill off all aboriginal people. It failed. The trauma now here is painful beyond words, but that you are here is a testament to your own power.
I will never, as best as I can, set myself up above others just because I ‘know’ now about aboriginal history and racism in Canada. Sometimes it makes white people feel better to choose truth and reconciliation and, while many of us are choosing so genuinely and truly, we use these things to show how inclusive and accepting we are. We have not grieved or asked for forgiveness yet. May we never set ourselves up using these steps of truth and wisdom and love. Ever.
I will never be perfect at all my “I will nevers” I’ve written. I’ll make mistakes, I’ll use my privilege without knowing it, I’ll stumble, and I’ll need grace and forgiveness as we move on together.
Most of all…
I will never…
Maybe the words end here for a time. It’s not my time to talk.
It’s my time to listen.
**UPDATE — In light of the miscarriage of justice for Cindy Gladue, I thought it appropriate to re-speak these thoughts a year after Edmonton’s Truth and Reconciliation events.