When They Ask, I’ll Say

It’s Canada Day, and churches are burning. And the magnitude of numbers of graves of children who died in schools run by our government and those churches keeps adding up, numbers rolling into the smoky sky.

When it first broke, with 215 graves at Tk’emlúps/Kamloops, I happened to be in my yard when my neighbour walked by, so I joined her on her dog walk. She expressed what I imagine many non-Indigenous Canadians were feeling. How horrible is this news! And I replied with what I imagine many Indigenous Canadians might have said: this is not news to us, and there are so many more graves.

What should I do? my good neighbour asked me.

I haven’t the slightest, I replied.

I hope someone like you (I took it she meant Indigenous) will figure out what to do, she said sadly.

Listen, I said, if you figure it out first, tell me!

I couldn’t presume, she said.

Please do, I replied. God knows how we’ll work this out if we don’t all try, it’s too big for any one of us.

Since then, the numbers keep rolling in. And I find myself watching for my good neighbour to walk my way again, because I know exactly what I want to say we can both do:

Lobby our elected representatives on behalf of the children living now. While we’re counting the dead, grieving, raging and wondering how to redress generations of human rights crimes, tend to the living.

Tell our government we don’t want them to fight Indigenous families in court, spending tens of thousands of tax money to beat down impoverished families who want access to health services. Honour the treaties by which we as a nation have prospered, and give those families their fair due – equitable access to health care with dignity. Uphold Jordan’s Principle. (Notice how the government site discussing Jordan’s Principle neglects to mention that he died waiting for the government to stop quibbling about which department should pay for his medical crisis, rather than treat him and sort out the money afterward.)

Tell our government to enact the 94 Calls to Action that arose out of the long work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and do it now. Tell them to protect the water, protect the land.

Find out which of those Calls to Action you yourself can enact, and then do it.

If you find yourself thinking, ‘but I didn’t do anything to Indians, why should I feel bad?’ remind yourself, the Indigenous folks around you didn’t do anything to you, it’s not our fault you feel bad. You should. We should. It’s dead children, killed by murder, abuse, neglect, accident, illness… their deaths hidden and denied.

We could have built Canada without thousands of children being buried in unmarked graves, and their families silenced and abused. We didn’t. It happened. There’s no taking that back. But for the love of all that’s holy, we can all do better NOW.

And one thing we can all do is point that rage, that sadness, that grinding frustration and simmering resentment, not at each other across lines of ‘race,’ but rather, point it at the officials whose job it is to govern the society we all want, where our children are known, valued, cared for, where our adult lives have meaningful ways to contribute, where our elderhood is a prospect of desire rather than fear of abandonment and neglect.

Point, not in bitterness, but in firm resolve to hold our elected servant leaders to the standard we all want for our loved ones. This is what we elected you to do, we can tell them, to treat the living with dignity, and ensure that we can all live well in this land we share.

When I see my good neighbour next, when they ask me, or even before they get the chance, I will thank them for asking the question that’s been on my heart and mind, too.

And I will tell them.

While orange flags wave from houses in our neighbourhood, while teddy bears sit in inanimate witness on our porches, while the numbers roll onward past bearing, I will take the opening, and I will tell them.

These are the days when we can heal the world.

All My Relations.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for answering this question. It is up to us now to be proactive. If we really care as much as we say we do, if we are as horrified and ashamed as we say we are, it is important for us to add our voices to yours. Let us not fail.


    1. prairiepomes says:

      And thanks so much for reading and responding.


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