Gary Martin spent 50 days riding his bike back and forth between the Pemberton and Mount Currie, contemplating the distance between our communities. At the Wellness Gathering on Saturday, an event conceived to help bridge that gap, he said to me,
“It seems like the things that really lie between us are mostly invisible.”
A few years ago, I went up Whistler Mountain to watch the Awakening Ceremony of the totem carved by Squamish Nation carver, Rick Harry (Xwalacktun) out of a tree felled on Blackcomb Mountain.
Amongst the speeches and singing and dancing, various elders were called forth by name, and invited to be a witness to the Ceremony. They were handed a token, embraced, and thanked for accepting the role.
It struck me that there was a sophisticated psychology behind nominating individuals to serve as the community’s memory, given there are no written records to defer that to. Asking several unrelated people to bear witness makes it harder for any one person to manipulate the story to serve their own ends. It forces each witness to really serve the truth of what they experienced.
I thought how different our cultures are. My culture sends a reporter, (or maybe not, if it’s not deemed “newsworthy” enough), to tell the official story. And that single account becomes the record.
The culture I was experiencing invites senior folk to be custodians, living memories. No wonder, when an elder dies, the entire community stops.
On Thursday, 27 November, at 7pm, the Pemberton library and the Winds of Change is hosting a screening of the film We Were Children.
It’s not going to be a lighthearted evening.
In fact, it’s something you have to steel yourself for.
A feature length film, (it runs for 82 minutes), We Were Children recounts the stories of two residential school survivors, Lyna and Glen, who were taken from their homes and placed in church-run boarding schools as young children.
Tanya Richman will be facilitating the screening and discussion.
The screening comes with an advisory: Don’t bring the kids. (It’s not recommended viewing for those under the age of 16.) Do bring your water bottle. “Water is replenishing and necessary when we experience shock, stress or sadness,” says Richman.
“This film will grab you by the hair and make you turn your head and see that the pain and anger and despair that Aboriginal people live with has a reason,” said the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Murray Sinclair.
The TRC spent the past seven years travelling the country, visiting more than 500 communities, receiving the stories of more than 6000 survivors. The last hearings were held this spring. The TRC also invited Honoured Witnesses to support the Commission’s work, explaining the tradition: “Witnesses are called to be the keepers of history when an event of historic significance occurs. The work could not take place without honoured and respected guests to witness it.”
It’s an honourary role – given to dignitaries and elders and respected folk – but it’s built on a beautiful insight, in my opinion, that important history must be carried forth by many voices, not just the victor or the victim.
Maybe we can put our own spin on this tradition, even if we’re not Honourary Anybodys, and watch this film, discomfiting as it will be, to bear witness – by which I mean, with a commitment to opening our eyes to someone else’s suffering, and not to turn away.
The Winds of Change invites you to a screening of We Were Children at the Pemberton and District Public Library on Thursday, November 27, at 7pm.
More than anything else, this film will make people believe what they have only heard second hand. It grabs you by the hair and makes you turn your head and look at this country’s history and see that the pain and anger and despair that Aboriginal people live with everyday, has a reason, and the blame does not rest with the victims.
The theft of the spirit marks the loss of something important. Shed your tears for those who have suffered. Feel your anger at the injustice of what was done. Forgive those who have affected your lives in a sad way because of their trauma. But never forget that we have to do something about the damage this has caused. You and I.
You may not have the magic wand that will fix this, but you have a voice. Use it. You have a responsibility, accept it. You have children in your lives, think of them. Do not let them inherit all of this mess. Help them understand. Ensure they are better educated. Denounce the ignorance of today that stems from the racism of the past. Make things better. ~ Statement by Murray Sinclair, Chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission