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
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”
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.