Personal Best: A time for reconciliation

The beauty of the Elder Project is a marked contrast to the horror suffered by seven generations of indigenous children in Canada

Last week a book launch took place at Fulton secondary school and a beautiful little poetry book called Through the Eyes of the Elders was introduced with some gorgeous art work by David Wilson.

This form of poetry, called an historical collage poem, was the result of the Elder Project, pulled together by poet Wendy Morton  and Sandra Lynxleg, District 22’s Aboriginal Education principal. First Nations studies 12 students learn from the elders using an interview format and then compose a short poem. Some of the elders also wrote poems about their student partners as well.

Lori Phillip, BC First Nations Studies 12 teacher says, “Students expressed that they liked learning through one-on-one discussions with elders as opposed to a teacher giving a lecture. They liked learning through deeper personalized conversations tailored to their interests.”

Indeed, being part of this group, I can tell you that the rapport that is quickly developed between an elder and student is almost tangible and a beautiful thing to see. Classes seldom close early.

This is School District 22’s third chapbook but the first offered in this course that is open to all students, about the history of First Nations people in British Columbia. For some students it is the first social studies course about First Nations people they have experienced. For others, it was the first time sitting with some of the elders and hearing first-hand about their residential school experiences. Hearing and reading some of the stories in this little book is heartbreaking. Much like the hundreds of pages in the Truth and Reconciliation Report.

On Tuesday, when the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings were released after six years of investigation led by respected commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair, I found it truly shocking and astounding, as I am sure so many others did as well. Sure we had all heard stories and the poetry book I mentioned above told some of them. But the numbers and the frequency of this abuse that went on for seven generations was almost beyond belief.

This great country of ours that we are so proud of, was as bad as some of the countries we so roundly condemn for genocidal atrocities, if not physically as bad then certainly emotionally, culturally and spiritually on par with the worst. How can this be?

As untenable as the facts are, we must face the truth that our nation participated in country-wide government-approved child abuse for generations. This problem is not just an aboriginal problem, it is a problem for all Canadians and we must take the responsibility for resolving it.

I am having a hard time with this as I hear the many interviews on radio and TV of the documented horrors. I can wrap my head around government policies being so wrong, unjust and barbaric, but the thing I am having a hard time with is the fact that any person, especially one who was given the task of care, could hurt, beat, humiliate and turn their hearts against a little child, all the while professing that this was their Christian duty. It goes against all human and moral principles, all compassion to be able to treat a little kid so cruelly and pretend it is the right thing to do.

The one and only positive thing that has emerged from the report is the commission’s “Calls to Action.” It talks about some strategies and plans, with 94 recommendations that they hope will be implemented to finally achieve the reconciliation that we, all Canadians, need to move forward. We at least can support the politicians who will carry these recommendations forward.

There will be an Elder Education Awareness Fair taking June 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Schubert Centre. The event, sponsored by Vernon Community Policing, NEXUSBC – Seniors Services and North Okanagan Community Response Network, will feature presentations, “Planning for Incapacity and Beyond & Estate Planning Basics” by Vernon lawyer Tom Christensen and “Medications Review” by pharmacist Tom Nolan. Register at the Community Policing office, by phoning 250-550-7840. All seniors and loved ones are welcome.