This piece will be a work in progress long after it is written. Thank you for joining me here.
I don’t know about you, but I just can’t go back to what I was doing before the recent discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (and since then, hundreds in other locations). I can’t even remember what I was doing prior. It’s been on my mind constantly since news broke on May 28. And even though I’m completely speechless, I feel like I need to say something. So, I’ve been praying and hoping for something.
I was in the middle of writing a piece I had already titled, She Called Me Doll. I stopped that story to write this one, but after a few weeks, I hadn’t gotten very far. The thought to just pack up my laptop and get on with summer holidays came to mind—it’s not like anyone is waiting on the edge of their seat to hear from me—but I could’t. I was compelled to proceed.
While I pondered this situation and started educating myself more by reading a lot of articles and stories regarding residential schools (including the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada), the “Doll” piece kept calling to me. I went over it a few times again feeling like maybe I was already on to something. It eventually stuck out like a sore thumb—this sentence: “She would have cried a million tears while we were oblivious.”
That will mean nothing to you until you read it. So here is the little bit that I had written of She Called Me Doll, and this verse that has been so heavy on my heart: Mourn with those who mourn. (from Romans 12:15)
She Called Me Doll
She called me “Doll.” She called my sister that too. Before she hung up the phone, she’d say, “Love ya Doll.” What I’d give for one more phone call.
She is with her other dolls now, and we will see her again soon.
In a recent blog post, I wrote about waiting. You know, how difficult waiting for something can be. In one of my examples, I reflected on my mom’s waiting—I wrote about how I wondered what it was like for her to wait for me … after a miscarriage and a stillborn baby. I wondered if the waiting was hard or if she (and my dad) felt at ease.
I wrote a little about this loss in my latest book, High and Wide: When Grief and Love Collide. Here is a part of it:
I sometimes wonder about my mom’s grief; the devastation of losing a baby. Two really, but this one full-term. A lifeless little body, with a birthday that proceeded its date of death. This little one who’s Mommy and Daddy had a lifetime of dreams and ideas laid out for, and a big sister who could hardly wait to hold and count ten perfect little toes. As I write this paragraph, I’m encountering a grief I have never experienced before. I’m sorrowful for maybe the first time about the loss of this unnamed older sibling, but more so for my mom’s pain that I never really inquired about. I don’t remember ever saying I was sorry. I was just a kid and what did I know? But now I know. The grief would have run deeper than I could ever imagine. She would have cried a million tears while we were oblivious. What brings joy in the sorrow that I now know, is the thought of Mom’s arrival in heaven and meeting this beloved child for the first time—two children really.
I bet you now get where I’m going with the “sore thumb” sentence: She would have cried a million tears while we were oblivious. I was oblivious.
Up until May 28, I didn’t give a lot of thought to the countless tears that would have been cried, the grief, distraught, and generational trauma of the Indigenous People of Canada. I’m ashamed to say, I have been oblivious.
The cultural genocide is an extremely dark chapter in the history of Canada—the country I live in and love. And I have been oblivious to most of it.
I graduated high school in 1986. The last residential school closed in1996… I was oblivious. There were over 130 residential schools in Canada, dating back as early as 1831… I was oblivious. 150,000 Indigenous children were taken (often forcibly by RCMP) from their homes, their families, their communities, their culture, language, and traditions… I was oblivious. Most of them suffered physical, mental, and sexual abuse, and over 6,000 died… and again, I was oblivious.
I knew very little, if anything, about residential schools until a short time ago. I’ve slowly learned more over the last few years but embarrassingly, it’s hardly a drop in the bucket.
I work at a school as an education assistant and on September 30, students, and staff alike wear orange. Many orange shirts worn on Orange Shirt Day say, Every Child Matters. I find it bazar, and I bet you do too, that we must remind ourselves of that truth. Doesn’t it go without saying? Shockingly, I guess not.
When I heard about the 215 children, my first thought was this: There were 215 mothers and 215 fathers and potentially 860 grandparents who never received their child back? What? How does that happen? While these folks mourned, cried, screamed, grieved, most of the rest of the country was doing their own thing. We were oblivious.
Pick one of those moms… just one out of all of them. She would have cried a million tears while the rest of us were oblivious.
On the flip side, is the unbearable reality that however these children died, they didn’t have their mom or dad there to hold and comfort them. Whether they passed away from illness, fire, suicide, drowning or freezing to death by trying to escape, like 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, they were separated from their parents and grandparents, their families, their loved-ones. Each of them would have been so afraid and all alone.
So how do we respond? How do I respond? I’ve wrestled with this question and searched for answers on the internet and in my Bible, and I’ve prayed. For now, this is what the still voice inside me says, Mourn with those who mourn.
Grieving comes naturally when you listen to and read the stories. As I have been listening and reading and learning and trying to wrap my mind around it, I am so sorrowful. And I am so sorry! I just want to get up on my rooftop and scream it, I AM SO SORRY! Maybe if you join me, and we gather a few more friends, and they bring friends, the Indigenous community will hear us.
Eddy Robinson, Indigenous speaker, author, educator, says, “Before you ask. ‘How can I help?’ you first have to understand what has happened… The best way to help is just to listen.” He says, “Read a book, watch a documentary by an Indigenous film maker. Do the research and look further into it. Understanding why is so powerful.”
The truth is exceedingly painful, but the truth is what we need for healing and reconciliation. For those of us who have been oblivious, it’s time to listen and learn and gain understanding. For fellow believers (Christians), I’ve had the instructions God gave to the Israelites in 2 Chronicles 7:14 on my mind: Humble yourselves, pray, seek My face, turn from your sinful ways.
In the passage where the words “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12) are found, these instructions are found there as well:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Live in harmony with one another.
While the cultural genocide is an extremely dark chapter in the history of Canada, there is always hope for the future. As God reveals the truth, we must listen, we must humbly receive it, we must heed His instructions. May God bless and heal our home on Native land.
Let’s not go back to what we were doing. Let’s keep listening and learning and praying for truth and reconciliation.
“… reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.” Truth and Reconciliation Commission