Summer Solstice 2021: Waking Up

Posted on Jun 19, 2021 in Art, Books, Reflections, Seasonal Messages, Travel

The 14th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that spirituality is waking up.

On the brink of this Summer Solstice and National Indigenous Peoples Day, the longest day, this day of light, I want to acknowledge the sorrow of the families of the 215 children whose graves were found in Kelowna in May, and the generations of Indigenous families whose relatives were forced to go to residential school and never came home emotionally, spiritually or bodily.

In 2006 when I worked with Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC), I travelled with an Indigenous colleague to visit some of our community partners in northern Alberta. I remember driving by the site of one of the residential schools and my co-worker telling me that during the demolition of the building, they had found the skeletons of infants. That was when I first knew there were skeletons in those schools.

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) came to Edmonton in March 2014, I wasn’t sure at first if it was open to everyone, but I had a Cree friend who said, Yes, of course it was; she was going and I could go with her if I wanted. We spent the days sitting in packed rooms with the lights turned low. Those who spoke were seated in the centre circle, held by the wider circle, taking turns at the microphone. Always opening with prayer and smudging, then the stories, and the tears. We all cried. At the end of each session attendants gathered our used tissues at the doors in big paper bags to be burned outside in the sacred fire that was lit through the whole weekend. There were many revelations for me, but the biggest came at the end of the last day, with my friend’s family as we ate supper. I said how powerful the gathering had been for me, how glad I was that I had come, probably feeling a little pleased with myself too. One of the people at the table, agreed. It had been powerful. But in a quiet voice, she said she wished that there had been more non-Indigenous people there too. I looked around the room and felt ashamed. Reconciliation between parties can only happen if both sides are present and the truth is heard. That is when I realized that what Indigenous people want most from non-Indigenous people is to be listened to.

In the past couple of years one of my writing projects has brought me into contact with more Indigenous writers, artists and community activists. In many ways the project has become secondary during this process, set aside. The most important thing to Indigenous people I am learning is the relationship: how to go forward “in a good way.” That and the need to listen also to the joy, the humour and the gifts Indigenous people hold for all of us. Or as one Cree artist challenged me to consider, “What about some cultural appreciation?”

And so in these pandemic times I have been trying to seek out and follow Indigenous voices on social media, taking in Indigenous-non-Indigenous public dialogues, watching Indigenous documentaries and cooking shows! meeting regularly with a new Indigenous friend and collaborator on Zoom, reading and rereading Indigenous history and literature (some old, with new eyes; some new, from contemporary voices). I am still waking up, still learning.

I see there are virtual celebrations over the next week in Treaty 6 territory. How will we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day?

 

9 Comments

  1. Anita Jenkins
    June 20, 2021

    I am interested in that fact that people are needing to be “woke” at this stage of our history. I have read the Indigenous story extensively for decades, beginning with (I think) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in 1970 and most recently the remarkable and heart-rending Clearing the Plains from the University of Regina Press. Clearly, the agenda ever since the colonists/settlers arrived has been to get the First Nations pushed aside or worse. Why don’t we know that? As many of the victims are saying, “thoughts and prayers,” knocking down statues etc. are not enough. What is needed is positive action.

    Reply
    • Audrey
      June 20, 2021

      “I am interested in that fact that people are needing to be ‘woke’ at this stage of our history.” I am too; I think it’s complicated. At least three reasons come to mind.
      Legal advice. The government and the Church are afraid of the financial consequences if they admit fault, if they open the records to the light of day. They are probably afraid of other consequences too, like losing credibility, though much of that has already been lost.
      Denial. The perpetual “Canada is not as bad as (Pick your country).” “No slavery here.” (There was.) No massacres here. (There were.) “No treaty breeches here.” We know the answer to that too.
      Empathy or the importance of relationship and the power of story. I remember being home for a family visit in the early 1980s and having a heated argument around the dinner table one night about the rights of refugees coming to Canada at the time from different parts of South and Central America. One of the family asked me, “Why do you care so much about these people?” I didn’t hesitate, I practically shouted: “Because these people are my friends!” And some of them were my friends through my community development work in Calgary at the time, especially the Chileans. I had heard their stories of the coup d’état, of torture, of exile and they made an activist of me.
      One more reason: racism. Belief is very powerful.
      “What is needed is positive action.” I agree and I think there’s a major shift underway at this very moment. Indigenous voices have reached a critical mass and other voices are joining them from all corners of society. Here’s one article on the Catholic health care workers in Ontario demanding action from the Archbishop. I think it’s the voices of the children reaching forward in time to haunt all of us; people can’t let that go.
      As always, thanks for reading my blog.

      Reply
  2. Kate Henderson
    June 20, 2021

    I salut your example of appreciating Indigenous culture, Audrey. I often feel I’m doing my part by purchasing Indigenous art and reading Indigenous books, but there is special effort required for coming to the table and listening to so many stories.

    Reply
  3. Agnes Mitchell
    June 20, 2021

    Audrey, thank you for your blog. In May of 2013, at a nursing conference I heard an indigenous nursing student say “We are always at the back of the chapter!”. I was confused & tears started to fall. I checked the nursing textbook I was using … only then did I barely begin to recognize, see & read the imbedded racism. The latest edition of this same nursing textbook has a chapter on indigenous health written by indigenous nurses. As a healthcare profession we have much to do to continue to decolonize curriculums & textbooks & ourselves. In March 2014, I attended only the Sunday morning of the TRC conference… I was overwhelmed with the stories of pain & trauma. Today, I continue to aim to peel back my layers of translucent racism to grow & recognize the many indigenous joys of living & respecting the land & each other.

    Reply
  4. m.j.thibodeau
    June 20, 2021

    Thank you Audrey, your sharing carved in my heart / mind recalling verbal abuses aimed at them “Indiens sont des Sauvages”. R.C. Religion, Priests and Nuns conditioned / taught Parents and their children to think and see by judging these people. Yes I was there and yes I am a witness of how my Ancestors denied these Humans their rights.

    Reply
  5. Pearl Gregor
    June 20, 2021

    Audrey, thank you. Woke. The Emerging Feminine in Turbulent Times. Awake!! There are various stages in Woke. Awakening to dreams has taken me through many places including a journey with Indigenous folk in the Four Winds Project at the University of Lethbridge in the early 90s, the lives of a very few residential school survivors I have known and of course journeys through Broken Knee, the horrors of the Oka Crisis and now the denial that is the UCP draft curriculum and attempts to yet again cover truth with denials. I greatly appreciate the comment from your friend about the lack of non-indigenous folk at the TRC. It is strange now that you mention it, but I for one never for one moment considered my place was there! I should have known. There are many many things we have yet to learn! Personal responsibility for each of us. And so, when I join my Indigenous friends again at various events, I will endeavor to ask more questions and listen to more of their answers. I am reminded of the great Lakota Cree Mystic, Black Elk. His books stand tall in my home. Now, to be sure the grandkids know about his dreams and visions! And to work to ensure the Blankets are never again pulled to cover this tragedy. Reconciliation indeed requires everyone.

    Reply
  6. Rev. Audrey Brooks
    June 20, 2021

    Dear Audrey,
    I was at the TRC with the other Interfaith Chaplains from the U of A. We were asked to be present with the people who were looking at the photo books of the residential schools. Many of them had never seen the pictures taken at the schools, nor had they seen pictures taken of themselves. It was a traumatic situation for many of them, especially the elders. There were tears, and amazement, as they saw their classmates, many now dead, and themselves. it was hard to be with them as white people, because we didn’t know if we should hug them and hold them as they cried. I tried to sit with them, and listen as they showed me pictures and told their stories.

    I was also an accompanier for one woman who told her story. One cannot imagine how I felt my heart ripped open, as I heard her story and the story of others. Though time passed since their lives at residential schools, it was as if they were reliving present abuses. I cannot imagine any church or government sanctioning starvation, neglect and abuse of little children. I am disgusted that
    the perpetrators go free, with no accountability required of the persons who did this.
    Some things have not changed. The people are still in concentration camps called reserves, where they lack even the basics for living in health and safety. Until all of us, of all races, rise up and demand that Indigenous sisters and brothers have their worth and dignity recognized, we are still bystanders who let this abomination continue.
    On Sunday, July 11, at 10:30 a.m. on zoom, the 13th annual Genocide Memorial Service, will acknowledge the 215 children buried in the Kamloops residential school grounds, and a stone will be placed in the Genocide Memorial garden in their name and the names of all the lost Indigenous children.

    Reply
  7. Henny Flinterman Vroege
    June 21, 2021

    Thank you, Audrey. And Thank you to those who have already commented (above).

    Much, much needs to be done by us, the white people, the colonists/settlers. We have finally woken up to the horror.

    Reply
  8. Audrey
    June 21, 2021

    I echo that thanks: thanks to each of you for sharing your experiences. Let’s continue on this journey with Indigenous people, fumbling our way through sometimes, but committed to doing our part for positive action. The children deserve no less.

    Reply

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