The wind danced with us, the sky offered a stern and vigilant grey face.
I walked downtown along 97th (Namao/LaMeiYu as it may yet be renamed), buckled tight into coat and boots, and braced for this grim event.
Today, i joined the nationwide protests against the egregious acquittal of the man who murdered Cindy Gladue.
As we gathered in our hundreds in front of the Edmonton Law Courts, the word went round that there will be an appeal. So, we stepped more proudly. So, we grew more fierce, even as many of us wept, many of us muttered that an appeal, on legal grounds, may not go far enough in addressing the fundamental problems this case exemplies, and to bring the Justice we crave.
It was magnificent, to see that fierce craving for justice and healing on the faces all around, faces of every colour and age. There was my neighbour, of blonde Mennonite stock, bringing her under-ten sons and neighbour’s boy, too. As we hugged and i commented on her bringing her men, she just replied: This is how they learn to be Allies.
I scanned the crowd, hoping to recognise Fawn Lamouche, the young woman who spearheaded this event, she and some of her fellow students, with many community Elders supporting; among them, Janice Williamson, one of the fiercest advocates for justice we have. Chiefs donned ceremonial head dresses. I overheard two young women talking:
– Did you hear what he did? He’d just got his headdress on, and that ___ media guy sticks his camera in, and he says “I’m not doing this for the media.
They were, we all were, terse with pent-up fury and indignation, tense with the will to hold together under the banner of love. This was not for show. This was about showing up. And we did. And we talked in little groups, and hugged friends as we met them in the crowd. And an Elder gave a prayer before we began to move, but many didn’t hear, didn’t know.
For a moment, the theatre director in me wanted to organise this, wanted someone to speak up and shush the crowd so the Elder could pray and be heard. But in the next beat i realised that this is better, is appropriate and natural. This is what democracy looks like, a crowd united, each of our own volition, we spoke heart to heart in a tidal, ungoverned mass, and that was the real prayer, and the formality of the Elder’s prayer was one element in a symphonic whole.
We walked together and came at last to the steps of City Hall, looking out over Wicihitowin Square (as it will become known), where we gathered to hear from Cindy’s family, and from local indigenous dignitaries.
And the drums boomed for us all. And the crowd continued, singing, talking together, listening. Less tears now, more buoyancy. The formal part of the event began, as Cindy’s family began reading out prepared statements.
And the loudspeaker failed. As we stood listening, the wind was just enough to snatch at words, to disrupt sentences. We leaned in. The organisers tried repeatedly to get the loudspeaker going. Almost. Almost. Almost. That’s why i waited – because the thing seemed like next time, it would work.
But then i found myself thinking there was something weirdly appropriate about how the voices of indigenous people could not rely on technology; and i gave my head a shake, and hustled through the crowd and into City Hall.
This is a bit of the story that only a few of us know, and it needs to be added to this day.
I did not know the clerk at the Information desk. She did not know me. The Manager who had known and befriended me when i worked at City Hall has since found other work, i did not know the new manager to ask for her by name. Anyway, she wasn’t in. The one person who was in, was with someone else, couldn’t be disturbed, and the clerk didn’t see how anyone could help, given there is a protocol for booking City Hall’s sound system. She wasn’t, i realised, in any position to step past protocol. Again, i shook my head; i know better than to pressure front end staff.
I spied my friend Doris, and asked her to come with me. Where? To see if the Mayor can help. He’s in China, said his receptionist, but the Councillors might be able to help. The moment we posed our dilemma to the staff in the Councillors’ Office, they sprang into action, and put out the call for the Hall’s chief of sound. He and his assistant arrived in full stride, and we all sprang down the stairs as fast as we could, to see what could be done.
Ironically, we burst out the doors onto the steps just as the last speaker finished. Deflating, because i wish i’d come to my senses sooner. But we thanked the staff for trying, and exchanged wry but heartfelt smiles amongst us. Never even got to tell the organisers what we were doing. That didn’t matter, really.
But the important thing is, City Hall wanted to help. They hadn’t known we were coming, the event was set for the Law Courts, so they said. But they were entirely willing to recognise that this was an exceptional and important circumstance.
It hasn’t always been this way, that indigenous Canadians could expect officialdom to support our voice. We still have a long way to go. The horror of the Cindy Gladue case shows that clearly. But something is changing. Today, for the first time, i clearly felt my city belongs to me. Today, i believed that Edmontonians of all backgrounds want something better for all of us, and that Truth and Reconciliation will bear good fruit.
As Doris and i chatted for a few minutes with her brother and a friend – the amazing Darlene Auger, who can get people genuinely laughing even in the most serious situations – a young dark-skinned woman in hijab approached Doris. Doris, with her gorgeous silver black hair and bright gaze, looks like she knows what’s up. The young woman asked, could D point out Cindy’s family? She’d been standing in the back, and wanted the chance to offer her personal condolences. She felt it was important. She’s right.
Today, a rainbow of people walked, with the big drum booming occasional ornament to the thunder of our committed hearts, unified in our statement that all women’s lives matter, and Cindy Gladue cannot be dismissed. Her life was much more than her horrible death. The death needs restitution. And we are resolute that Restitution, the Justice, comes from things like this – a bunch of people, taking it personally, breaking down false barriers of status, work (yes, she was in the sex trade), ethnicity and gender, and reclaiming Cindy as one of our own.
As the ceremony drew to a close, the sun broke through – not a movie-of-the-week style sun, but the real, simple, moody Edmonton in April sun. We took our leave of each other in ordinary light, because there is so much more work for us all to do.
May we grow more and more able to reclaim each other without need for more martyrdom; just reclaim each other, day by ordinary day, because we are human.
All My Relations