The Lake

Somewhere

in this great big country,

 

there’s a place

where a peace of mind lies waiting for each of us.

 

For me, it’s under a blanket of constellations

reflected back to the cosmos

 

on the tranquil surface of a gently sleeping lake.

The lake, where the lungs of a cabin breathe

 

the living memory of my family: a privilege

made sacred by the dust

 

that has fallen

from the bodies of three generations

 

and into the folds of yellowing paperbacks

and hand-me-down quilts.

 

And now that my sister has brought my nephews here

to add their tiny clothes to dresser drawers,

 

they’ve begun the next chapter in the story of the land

as told by my family.

 

This story is what sustains us

as people struggling

 

with chronic pain and occupational stress

who survive by booking time off

 

to refill our prescriptions

and commune with a sense of what it is

 

to have whiskeyjacks pluck breadcrumbs

from the palm of your hand

 

or to sip coffee on the porch

while the rain softly blesses the morning

 

and to somehow feel welcome

in this Canadian dream

 

that my parents have spent their lives

working to earn for us.

 

Someday my sister and I will pass

this legacy on to our children,

 

but if you are like me

and have ever had the feeling

 

like no matter what

you might earn or inherit,

 

you will always be trespassing,

then you will know that even though

 

they are only twelve inches apart,

the longest and hardest journey

 

that you will ever make is from your head

to your heart.

 

You will know that the first steps

will take you far away from dreaming…

 

to that other place, across the lake

where abandoned buildings slouch to the ground

 

like post apocalyptic ruins

smashed open and fouled…

 

It was a place we’d go

to kill time on hikes and to have picnics by the water,

 

to idly wonder what they stood for

and why they’d been left to rot

 

until reality surfaced one summer

when I found something new,

 

as in, recently constructed;

as in, government funded;

 

a roadside monument with plaques that read:

In honour of all the children

 

Mcintosh Indian Residential School Site

1925-1969.

 

Suddenly, reality shifted

as the here that was then

 

collided with the here that was now.

I couldn’t help feeling like I wasn’t alone,

 

that I stood among innocent ghosts

that I haunted with my presence.

 

After that weekend, I drove home to the city,

carrying a dark weight that would always be there now,

 

like a tell-tale drum

sounding truth to the rumours and questions

 

I wasn’t ready to hear the answers to,

even though I read them every day

 

like Maclean’s cover headlines

across Indigenous faces: the truth,

 

that our nation was built upon a systematic oppression

that continues to this day…

 

That for more than a century,

our government sanctioned a genocide

 

by forcing children into residential schools

to “kill the Indian and save the child”

 

with shame

and abuse

 

so they were sent back

to their families, unable to recognize their own names,

 

and the marrow of their identities were scoured

with a trauma so deep

 

that their descendents would inherit their nightmares

through their genes.

 

I read all of this on page one of the introduction

to the The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,

 

because how can I reconcile what I don’t understand?

I went to readings and lectures, attended workshops and sharing circles.

 

I sat in the dark, primordial womb of a sweat lodge, and I listened

to the mending heart beating within.

 

I was gifted the seven sacred teachings, all in an attempt

to help me understand my place in all of this:

 

that being a settler means accepting

that I’ll always feel uncomfortable.

 

It means being held accountable to unsettle

this ignorance and guilt that no one knows what to do with.

 

It isn’t our fault that “history happened,”

but we can act now so that it doesn’t keep happening.

 

Redemption will only begin

when we acknowledge the truth. When we listen.

 

Then, we can find the courage to overcome ourselves

and lift the vulnerable and suffering above us.

 

Compassion and empathy will replace a false sense

that we were ever better than them.

 

Those who were once myths of poor savages

become people, surviving in this society

 

that has taken so much, for us to thrive.

What good is a bed without the dignity of rest?

 

What is this Canadian dream,

if it has come at such a cost to so many generations?

 

Now, I try to give meaning to my privilege

by making pilgrimages to the monument on every cottage trip,

 

offering thanks and tobacco as I educate my nephews

with my best answers to their questions.

 

So that someday, they will walk the path

from the head to the heart.

 

So they will always remember

what the lake and forest and sky will never forget:

 

We all live here.

Together.