Canadians have been aware of the horror of the residential school program for decades. And just when I thought we had (or were beginning to) truly acknowledge the reality of the tragedy we discover that it was even worse than we thought.
There are times when words of encouragement aren't what is needed. The Psalms give us a model that helps us simply express unrestrained grief at times. I believe the very act of expressing our grief in cries to God is an act of hope that will bear fruit, but let us not rush past the grief. In my grief, I've struggled to come up with much helpful to say regarding the discovery of children's remains in Kamloops, so I offer these words of grief from scripture. Following the scripture, I have included some words that Glenn Robitaille shared with the Waypoint community about this tragedy. I pray this expression of grief and words from Glenn will offer you something as you process the news.
A prayer of one overwhelmed with trouble, pouring out problems before the Lord.
1 Lord, hear my prayer!
Listen to my plea!
2 Don’t turn away from me
in my time of distress.
Bend down to listen,
and answer me quickly when I call to you.
3 For my days disappear like smoke,
and my bones burn like red-hot coals.
4 My heart is sick, withered like grass,
and I have lost my appetite.
5 Because of my groaning,
I am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like an owl in the desert,
like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.
7 I lie awake,
lonely as a solitary bird on the roof.
8 My enemies taunt me day after day.
They mock and curse me.
9 I eat ashes for food.
My tears run down into my drink
10 because of your anger and wrath.
For you have picked me up and thrown me out.
11 My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows.
I am withering away like grass.
From Glenn Robitaille:
I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain wishes or plans, in my heart he put other and different desires. Each man is good in his sight. It is not necessary for Eagles to be Crows. -Sitting Bull
This past week the remains of 215 indigenous children were discovered on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School in Kamloops, BC. Historical records reported 50 students died between 1890 and 1969 before being taken over by the federal government and officially closed in 1978. It is believed similar findings will emerge if other residential schools across Canada are examined. Transparency was not a priority in the early days of confederation and it remains a challenge in understanding the genocide that occurred at the time of Canada’s founding.
John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, saw two primary objectives in creating residential schools: To “remove and isolate children from the influence of their home, families, traditions and cultures,” and to “assimilate (indigenous children) into the dominant (white European) culture.” It does not take much imagination to discern how he and his white contemporaries viewed the “wishes, plans and desires” of the “red man.” They saw the world how their colonial eyes were conditioned to see it and acted consistent with their belief in cultural supremacy. In many ways the Macdonald doctrine was predictable given the perspectives of the time; but that does not make it any less wrong.
We are still struggling to learn that different is not less and power is not better. We still struggle to look at things in a different way. For instance, sin is not a concept in Indigenous spiritual traditions. Balance is maintained by recognizing the sweep of normal human impulses ranging between altruistic and self-serving motives. Community and the wisdom of elders are accessed to weigh the value of a response and to maintain peace and harmony. Shame is not a concept when normal human emotions are validated and understood. I would have benefitted from knowing that when my own human conflicts were emerging.
I wonder if Canada is more open to Sitting Bull today than when he died in 1890? Are we closer to believing “eagle or crow” are equally okay knowing even that is an artificial dichotomy? Race is an invalid genetic or biological designation based on shared physical or social qualities. Science has proven once and for all, regardless of race, we are one human family diverse in expression and presentation, but cut from the same human cloth. We are one, and that is all there is to it. Life can only improve when we embrace that and determine to learn from the wisdom of others. We can only know what it means to be human when we see and celebrate us in our many and varied facets.
Glenn A. Robitaille, DMin, MDiv, RP, MPCC
Director, Ethics and Spiritual Care [Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care]
Director, Ontario Structured Psychotherapy Program—North Simcoe/Muskoka (A)