We (are all Treaty people) Day

I first heard about We Day in 2012, when my daughter came home from high school 5 years ago and enthusiastically wanted to support the cause by buying a $10 bracelet that someone in a developing country had made. We looked online at the program together, and when I found a better way to support them through “betterworldbooks.com” by buying $400 in previously loved books. She was less impressed with this idea than the bracelet, so we ended up doing both. The bracelet still sits in it’s original box, never having been worn by my daughter, nor her younger sister. Shouldn’t we

When I read the We Day article, I was not surprised, but neither was I stirred up by the hype. In the years since it’s inception, it has grown into a glitzy, star-filled show, attracting the likes of singers, politicians, and celebrities. The big We Days are by “invitation only”, and offer an exclusive, snob-appeal approach to garnering both attention and interest. Indeed, it has become trendy to help the impoverished.

On October 14th, I had the opportunity to attend the We Day at Campbell Collegiate. This did nothing but exacerbate my feelings. The organizers stood at the front, played loud music and showed inspirational slide shows of their work overseas, with image after image of a huge, goofy, happier-than-happy grin on his face, surrounded by the local people. It was almost laughable how over the top it seemed.

The new target country that Campbell Collegiate had selected for this year is India. They proceeded to present videos on the three pillars of assistance that they could select to raise money for; Education, Food Security, or Water Sanitation.

As I watched the three videos, I could only think of Canada’s aboriginal peoples – the First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Compared to the These groups have dealt with proven education gaps, astronomical food prices and supply issues limiting their food security, and Boil Water Advisories, in some cases for over 20 years. Can We Day not inspire our youth to make the same kind of impact on our own people? There are those that desperately need our help within Canada, so why don’t we see this help?

It might be that it makes us feel good to help those in need around the other side of the world, in a different climate than our own. We are not as aware of WHY they are in that situation, so we can do something good that they themselves could not do. We can blame harsh climates, lack of tools and education to explain their need.

I wonder if we don’t want to help our own aboriginal people because we know the history that colonialists created, have lived and listened to the justification of their “problems” and this affects our empathy for their current plight.

Perhaps helping our own people would tarnish our “image” of Canada, bringing our National imperfections to light.

I do not know the answer. But although We Day supports both Local and Global initiatives, and even has a #WeStandTogether angle to help FNMI people in Canada, I am curious how often this is selected by our Canadian schools, teachers and students. I wonder if homelessness or hunger are issues that are more visible to the majority of Canadians. Shouldn’t we look first to help our Aboriginal people, who have the highest affliction rates of all these social issues? Isn’t this what “We are all Treaty People” means?

So I will leave you with these questions: What do you think is the reason we prefer to look beyond our borders to help in big ways? What will you do to change this?

A Story Untold – Responding to the Witness Blanket

I was recently asked to create a personal response to the Witness Blanket project, created by Carey Newman. I am sharing my poem below. I must apologize in advance, as I tried to find online the appropriate Cree and Inuktitut words for the word “dearest”, as in a term of endearment. I included my references linked below. I encourage you to please feel free to comment and correct me if there is a better word choice for either of these. I will gladly change them.

Bear Witness: To bear witness, or to show by your existence that something is true, is to pay tribute to all who have been directly or indirectly affected by Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. (From the Witness Blanket website)

 

A Story Untold

Âmî1, kuluk2, my dearest;

Come join the blanket and bear witness

To the stories that were not yours,

Yet were planted in your mind.

Please show me, tell me –

Unclench the silence from your heart.

I know you’ve heard sounds

That cannot be drowned out.

I know you’ve seen things

That cannot be erased.

Long ignored, these old stories sprung new roots

Intertwining with other tales, other whispers,

The secrets that no one cared to say aloud.

I am so sorry that you felt alone.

I am so sorry that I ignored the signs.

I am so sorry that I did not hear your words.

You do not have to carry this burden privately.

Please, do not bear witness to these atrocities alone.

Âmî, kuluk, my dearest;

Come join the blanket and bear witness,

That your stories can be ours.

The seeds have been planted to create a new life.

It is time for a new story.

Artist’s Statement:

Researching the Witness Blanket evoked a very personal response in me. The trigger was not so much a specific item on the blanket, but the Witness Blanket in its entirety.

The name itself, and the definition of “Bear Witness” that appear on the website make me re-examine my own use of that phrase. I felt that although the project had involved many artifacts and stories from survivors of the Residential Schools, it was the bystanders that were perhaps hidden in the tree rings of the wood used to mount the objects. Bystanders – those who didn’t necessarily experience Residential Schools first hand, but rather they heard, suspected, saw things that deeply impacted them in other ways. Guilt, helplessness, anxiety are among the emotions that can cause serious trauma to an individual, even when that individual themselves hasn’t experienced the same horrors.

The second reason the “Witnesses” to these stories are so tangible to me is because of my husband’s recent experiences in Nunavut. While living there, he befriended many Inuit peoples, earned their respect, was invited into their homes and he asked some difficult questions which were met with honesty and openness. Some stories had occurred in the past, but many were recent and some still happen to this day. Although there are some small joys in the North, there are many social issues that I believe are now at crisis levels.

The horrors that my husband witnessed, heard about, and lived through, continue to occur since his departure. They are etched in his mind forever. They affected him, they affected me, they have affected our children.

But the ripples of these feelings of guilt, helplessness and anxiety can be counter-balanced and even overpowered with love, forgiveness, gratitude, humility, and compassion. The blanket stands for the honest acceptance of these events as a very real part of Canada’s history. It offers to take the burden of these events and share them across the backs of all Canadian people. It calls on us to begin a new, better chapter of Canadian history together.