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Why I Write

A few years back, I sat at the feet of my oldest surviving Aunt. It was a family gathering and nearly everyone had gone home, only a few stragglers remained. My aunt sipped a beer and I waited for the reticence to fall away before posing my question. “Aunty, can you tell us about the residential schools?” I asked in a low steady voice. She sipped on her beer and glanced down at me, “they were okay.” 

“...but Aunty, I worked at the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. I heard all the stories...” my voice tapered off. 

Her voice changed, it was low and brooding, “...and they were all true, but we don’t talk about those things Toots. We focus on what is good, or we don’t survive.” 

My own mother and her siblings were taken from their home in McLeod Lake to Lejac Indian Residential School in Fraser Lake, British Columbia. Once there, the older children were put on the bandwagon and taken to Kamloops Indian Residential School where the initial 215 graves were found. This included my Mom and my Aunt Virgie, whose feet I sat at that night.

I came crashing to my knees.

Three years later the news of discovered graves of lost Indigenous children jumped off the television screen. Suddenly the elder’s stories sprang to life in historical visions… my Dutch friends stood before me holding bloody bayonets over dead Indian babies, while my French friends grew rich from alcohol they gave to my ancestors in return for bison robes. The English rubbed their fat bellies from the food that was taken from my grandparents and great-grand-parents, and they were all living on stolen land. 

These were my Christian friends. Friends that had invited me into their homes, whom I had shared meals with, studied the Bible with...yet, here they were, in my mind they stood before me with the blood of my people spattered on their faces. The room spun, my lunch threatened to spew forward. I came crashing to my knees. How could this God I serve be so complacent to stand by and let children die at the hands of those who proclaim to be Christian?

The evidence lay front and centre, the stories told at the Truth and Reconciliation hearings held across Canada are undeniably true. The graves of children of my people and other Indigenous nations across the land are now being revealed, and the numbers are far more than what had been reported. Attending the traditional Burning Ceremonies that are said to release the spirits of our lost children  regaled attendees with survivor’s stories of children stealing away to eat caragana pods and rosehips to satisfy nutritional needs. These are stories of survival and resilience.

However, as I mourned and wept, my Saviour’s words came to me...

I wanted to judge, I wanted to turn away from all of my Christian friends, and for a time I did just that. However, as I mourned and wept, my Saviour’s words came to me... “Who are you? What are your roots? Where do you come from? Who are you to judge?” 

Because, the truth is I am of mixed blood. My Mom was full blood Tse’khene Indian, while my Dad was of Irish-Scottish descent. More than a decade ago, I dug up my family tree to find my American roots. My great paternal grandfather worked as a cabin boy on a slave ship, while his father was a slave trader. I hung my head in shame. My own grandfather had taken one-hundred-sixty acre grants of stolen Canadian land for each member of his family, which included my father and his siblings. My family ate well while my mom’s relatives  went hungry.

Jesus’s words rung in my ears, “No one is without fault, not even one. You must forgive, as I forgave you. If you hate others, then you have no love in your heart.”

“Lord, how can I face my people? I am Christian and half white. I have benefitted from the shedding of blood, from the hunger of my people. How can I make this right?” 

His voice came back, “My child, the pen is mightier than the sword, and I have given you the gift of the written word. Tell them about me. Tell them the things that were done in my name had nothing to do with me. Tell your white brothers and sisters to let your Indigenous brothers and sisters walk with me in their own way. Never stop writing.”

“Mussi Tsi’ze” (Thank you Jesus).

Photo of aunt provided by the author.

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