National Indigenous History Month

In Canada, National Indigenous History Month reminds each of us of our responsibility, individually and collectively, to create change, to build better, to open our hearts and minds so that Indigenous Peoples know their stories are heard, their history not forgotten and their cries for justice, equality and belonging are heeded.

Last year, the news of 215 remains found at the former Kamloops Residential School on the lands of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, rocked the nation. 

Like so many, I grappled with how to make sense of it all. I struggled to find ways to not only understand, but to figure out my role in reconciliation.

We all have a role to play in reconciliation. For me, it’s about learning more without letting the burden of all that was done to destroy the lives, culture, beliefs and rights of Indigenous Peoples, and all that is wrong today, draw me back into denial. It’s about creating space in my heart and mind for truth to illuminate my desire to ‘not know’ so that I can fearlessly see into the darkness of what was done to Indigenous peoples that created my privilege today. And in that seeing, take action to break down stigma, speak out against discrimination and racism and create better for everyone.

As part of my journey, I wrote this poem after hearing the news of 215 remains found at Tk’emlups te Secwepemc. I share it again this year to remind me there is still much to be done and much I can do.

Did They Search For The Children?
by Louise Gallagher

When they discovered
they were gone,
when they realized
their bed was empty
did they search
for the children?

Did they send out a call
for volunteers
to come
band together
with the police and school administrators
and community members
and the parents whose tears 
could not stop falling
as they searched 
the long tall grasses
that surrounded the school
in a frantic attempt
to find their child
gone missing in the night.

Did they search
or did they already know
it was too late
the child was gone
beneath the black
earth covering
their tiny, fragile body
forever more.

And when the mother came
knocking, knocking, knocking
at the door
her body awash in a river of pain
did they bring her inside
and wrap their arms around her
and tell her how,
how this had happened
what had gone wrong
how sorry and ashamed and horrified
they were that her child
was lost
and that they too
would never stop
for answers
never stop searching 
for her child
forever more.

Or did they slam the door
laughing at her dirty Indian face
leaving her to wander
in the rain and the sleet and the snow
under a hot burning sun 
along the long dusty road
leading away from the last known place
where she had seen her child
that dark day
the police and the Indian Agent
had come
to steal her child away.

Did they slam the door in her face?
Did they turn their backs on the mother
and whisper amongst themselves
how they would never tell
what had happened
to the child.

These questions
these remains
these stories
of two hundred and fifteen children
beneath the black soil
surrounding a school
where children were taken
from their loving families
so the ‘Indian’ could be beaten out of them,
these questions
these remains
these stories
they haunt me.

And I imagine a mother
grasping for her child
as the police tear the wee one out of her arms
and I see Auschwitz and Buchenwald
but I do not see
my Canada

Oh my Canada
we have lived with these stories
buried beneath
the dark soils
of this land
eating away at our nationhood
and still 
we do little.

And I imagine it happening to me
while my daughters were young
or my daughter’s children 
and the children of her friends
right now
being forcibly taken
so the Canadian can be beaten out of them
and I wonder
would we ever recover?
Would we ever 
as so many suggest
those who lost their children
and their culture
and their language
and their land
must do

And I wonder
can we ever recover
from our past?
Can we ever wash away
our shame
when we know now,
as they knew then,
we cannot bring
these children back.
They are gone

2 thoughts on “National Indigenous History Month

  1. powerful poem, powerful message – but we cannot rewind the history clock or fix anything with a single solution. I found it interesting the other day, Trudeau smiling for the cameras about a $1.3 billion settlement deal with SikSika. What was more interesting was that they weren’t presenting a cheque. This problem started with the parliaments of England and Canada, and the history will continue to show they’ve taken a country/land away from people and they are, only in paltry terms, compensating for what they’ve ripped from a people. This goes far beyond restitution for children whose deaths remain mysteries and for lands that were taken. For now, moving forward is the only direction things can go. And they can go better, but nothing will be enough. We need to stand up for those who stand up and speak out and relentlessly pursue rights, restitution and reconciliation.


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