I watch a flock of geese huddling around their children at the edge of the river. Four adults. Many goslings.
The river flows fast. Swollen with spring run-off from the mountains and the rains of the past few days.
It is not safe for the babies. The adults keep them on shore.
And I am reminded, as so many things do these days, of the remains of 215 children found beneath the lands of a former residential school sanctioned by the Canadian government and operated for decades by the Catholic Church on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
Those goslings do not need to be taken away from their parents, or even kept away from the river. The parents are seeing to their safety. It is their nature.
And as I walk slowly home along the swollen river, its roar drowning out the traffic travelling across the bridge above, as I listen to the birds chirping in the trees and the geese hissing as Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I pass by, I think of the women who would come to the homeless shelter where I worked, their eyes swollen, their bodies battered as they struggled to find a way back to who they were… before.
Before… the settlers and his assertions their ways were better came…
Before…. their schools and assimilation and attempts to ‘kill the Indian in the child’…
Before… the church and its doctrine arrived…
Before… the government took away…
...their lands, their way of life, their history, their traditions, their culture, their language, their homes…. Their children.
In a tweet on May 27th, Prime Minister Trudeau called it, “a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.”
In the House of Commons on June 3rd, Nunavut member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq stated. “Colonization is not a dark chapter in Canadian history. It is a book that the federal institution continues to write,”
“Foster care,” she said, “is the new residential school system.”
Is is also a gateway to homelessness for far too many.
According to Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey, 20% of the homeless population in Canada is comprised of youth between the ages of 13-24. In a given year, there are at least 35,000-40,000 youth experiencing homelessness. Of that number, over 30% are Indigenous. Research also highlights that over 40 percent of youth experiencing homelessness in Canada have been involved with child welfare services, including foster care and group homes. Over 52% of children involved with child welfare services are Indigenous.
In her comments in the House of Commons, Qaqqaq also said, “We are tired of living in someone else’s story and refuse to continue to have it written for us.”
She’s right. This book we’ve been writing… It’s not a story I want to keep reading. Keep hearing. Keep living.
It’s time we stop writing it so that Indigenous peoples can write their own book.
I wrote the poem below for all the women who were never heard when they called out for their missing children and were never heard.
And No One Listens by Louise Gallagher She cries out for help Again and again Where are my children Where have they gone No one listens No one hears She walks the trails where once they gathered berries. Together She trudges through the fields where once they played. Together She keeps searching. Searching. Calling. Calling. Their names become a symphony of anguish Their memory an unending refrain of pain Their missing a cut too deep to be washed away by her tears she searches for a way to drown them beneath the burden of the grief that flows as deep as the river upon which she once paddled with her children. Together. She talks to the priest who has promised her soul salvation She talks to the man the government has sent to help her and her people assimilate into the ways of the settlers, ways that are foreign to her ways that do not ease her suffering. Their words do not bring her salvation Their words do not ease her pain It is God’s will It is His way It is the law It is our way. And she keeps calling out for her children She keeps calling out for help until one day she too is lost Lost To God’s will and His Way to our way the way that has taken her children the way that has catapulted her life into an unending liturgy of sorrow, pain and suffering She cannot escape the missing of her children of her way her People’s way the way of the land and falls She lies on the sidewalk now of a city she does not know in a way that has erased all memory of who she was before before they took her children. She is broken apart separated from her people the ways of her ancestors her children, missing her voice, lost She no longer calls out through the pain she cannot heal the stories she cannot tell the memories she can no longer remember. She no longer cries out her children’s names She no longer calls out for help And no one listens. No one hears.