I am grateful and honoured to live, work, and play in the water, on the land, and through the forests that are the unceded traditional territory of the K’omks, Eiksan, and Pentlatch people.
Little shoes quietly appear on my government’s doorstep.
Little bare brown feet silently walk through foreign halls.
They haunt the House of Laws that devalued them
and callously confined and assigned them to a tragic death.
Long black hair that flowed in the wind as they ran,
lies condemned and chopped as dirty and infected,
abandoned on cold wooden floors.
Little hands stripped of their possessions,
the sacred symbols of their people,
hold on to empty promises.
Little brown bodies stripped and scrubbed,
sanitized by sincere harsh holy hands,
lose their otherness.
Little brown bodies in white shirts and blue pants
sit wordlessly in hard wooden desks
and feel naked.
Little brown minds that knew how to laugh and play,
learn meaningless facts in a foreign tongue,
and grow silent.
Little hearts stripped of their source of love,
scrutinized in distain by foreign hearts,
feel only hate.
Little brown souls racked by white disease
without the healing power of their traditions
lie quietly dying.
Little bodies lie buried in unmarked graves
a thousand miles from home
and cry out in silence.
So many little shoes sit on the steps of the house of my forefathers.
For a sacred moment I am able to feel the anguish of little souls
that once walked these sacred ocean shores and forest paths
of this blessed land we both have cherished and loved.
We have come to a point in our evolution as Canadians, as people of a world that needs our sense of fairness and being, to stop and take an honest look at the past so we can make changes for a more just and prosperous future. We have come to a moment where we have the opportunity to become a conscious society of people who strive to know and understand each other. This situation involving our indigenous brothers and sisters has gone on long enough. It is time for us to face the reality of our sordid past, understand it, embrace it, and do what we have to do to make it better. This is not about guilt and restitution, it is about becoming conscious as individuals and as a nation so that we can all share in the beauty and sacredness of this precious country of ours.
There are several levels of consciousness. The first level is knowledge. Thanks to new technology we are now able to see the facts, all the bones lying in unmarked graves. The indigenous people of this land have taken on the responsibility of helping us gather and face the fact that there are literally thousands of little bodies that have been buried outside the residential schools of our nation. This is a hard reality to face and digest, an injustice waged against the innocent. It should force us to finally sit up and take notice and ownership of the reality facing indigenous people.
The second level of consciousness is understanding. Through this journey into the facts, we see the horrors these children faced in the residential schools. Through the facts about residential schools we see the bigger picture of the cultural genocide carried out by our white race exercising its power against a people that we felt were inferior. This war left no room for compassion because treating people compassionately meant treating them as equals with equal rights. In the past equality meant we would not be able take away their land and we would have to help them share in the resources we were taking from them. In the present equality means we still have to fix the problem we created through more taxes and less money to spend on cruise ships, four thousand square foot houses, and fifty thousand dollar vehicles. When we choose to hang onto our possessions and our privileged position, we feel the need to justify our actions based on the faulty subconscious premises of racial superiority and that these people deserve what they get because they do not scheme and work hard for what they want like we do, even though we have systematically deprived them of the opportunity to do so.
The third level of consciousness is compassion. Compassion is based on empathy but also includes action. We see that mankind has a choice, either to destroy ourselves by continuing in an us versus them mentality or to put aside our differences and work together for a better world. We must move on from competition to cooperation. We need to see each other’s gifts and not our faults. There are so many things indigenous people can teach us about community, harmony with nature, and embracing values based on appreciating the aesthetic things of life instead of the material. But we have to be realistic. Patronizing does no good for anyone. So much of indigenous culture has been lost but it is not irretrievable. That is their role, not ours, but there are several things we can do to provide a supportive environment so they can make the changes they wish to make. Glamorizing or demonizing the past also does not help. There were things that both of us have to change so we can blend together into the reality of our multicultural society.
We have to accept the past but keep an eye on the present while making plans for the future. Those plans will have to provide indigenous people with opportunities to grow and expand their culture while providing opportunities to partake in our economy and social structures. We must make a conscious decision to pull together and save ourselves from ourselves.