The 215: not the beginning and won't be the end.

Updated: Jun 8, 2021



There is a dark cloud over Saskatoon, and I'm not just talking about the early Summer thunderstorms.



^^^ Along the river bank in Saskatoon SK this week, Indigenous children marked the stones with orange handprints as a memorial to the mass grave of children found from a residential school in Kamloops. I feel the grief and the pain all around me in the city that I live in.



 


I am surrounded by a city triggered by the emotion of remembering trauma. I see it in the faces of the people I talk to, I see it along the avenues I drive, with the posters and the faces and the names of missing children tagged to trees along the streets. I see it in the orange handprints placed along the rocks in the river.



But we're not the only place in Canada with a dark sky overhead.



This history is more than I have ever grappled with before, it's a huge collective trauma brought about as recently as 1996. Within our lifetime, within my lifetime. Today, it's all around me.



Perhaps it was happenstance then, that I had a zoom meeting with the FSIN (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) earlier this week. The meeting was about gathering research to pave the way for a series of healing centres for First Nations Veterans in Saskatchewan.



At some point, our 2-hour discussion led into the news from Kamloops on May 27th.



What they gave me in that meeting was insight, they answered the questions I found difficult to ask and they challenged me with new questions that I hadn't thought of asking myself before. More importantly, resources were shared: the most valuable stepping stone in the road to reconciliation and understanding.



I am learning to become an ally.




 


I was born in England - I am a new and white Canadian. Like many, I had preconceived notions of what it was to be Canadian. I am not proud of the history I'm learning about, I struggle with it, especially when I see the pain firsthand in my own community.



I live in the heart of the beautiful Meewasin (Cree, for beautiful) Valley in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This is Treaty Six Territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis people.



I acknowledge that I share their land. I vow to continue to honour and remember. I will continue to do my part in reconciling with the Indigenous caretakers in my community because I respect and admire them.






"I don’t want to compare the suffering of our indigenous population to the suffering of many other people because frankly the suffering of our indigenous people is unimaginable and unique."
- Hassan Masri, Saskatoon


Each one of us needs to be a part of the resolution -



- because in 60 years from today, as Hassan Masri pointed out earlier this week, we don't want someone to write a post about us and how we allowed Indigenous women to be kidnapped and killed and did nothing.



We don't want someone to write a post about us and how we allowed Indigenous children to be forced into labour camps under the thin veil of schooling and did nothing.






"Indigenous people are the majority of minorities, but we're widely ignored. Nobody wants to get educated! And we're talking about generations and generations constantly being told to get over it."
- Paulete Poitras, Saskatoon


Paulete Poitras joined Mark Meincke's Trauma recovery podcast earlier this week in an episode of Operation Tango Romeo - and her words, her experience, struck me.



I'm familiar with the organization Paulete works for, Prairie Harm Reduction. I volunteered last year at the CHEP Good Food Bank, and then worked this year at the Jacoby Centre for teens - in both roles, I saw how much the community relies on Prairie Harm's team and resources.



Just last month, Prairie Harm was denied help from the provincial government after they applied for more support. It has been a devastating blow to the organization. They provide needed support, and they are often overstretched and overworked.



Paulete echoes so much of what was said in my zoom call with the FSIN. They've all experienced residential schooling, they list a number of family members who were forced into residential schools, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles - her sharing of her language, her prayers, and the insight she provides, at some points the conversation left me breathless.



"The 215 children found missing in Kamloops is not news to us" she says. "We weren't shocked to hear this, we've carried this news with us for generations and generations."



At the meeting, the FSIN mention that the veterans they're working with are not the only ones who have carried this trauma, and it's something that makes this Healing Center project particularly unique.



Paulete says, "Indigenous people are the majority of minorities, but we're widely ignored. Nobody wants to get educated! And we're talking about generations and generations constantly being told to get over it."



When Paulete went to Israel, she said she visited their Holocaust Museum, and she mentions a few times that it was a triggering experience for her and her wife - they explained to their tour guide, "The same thing, what they did here, ...they did the same thing to us in Canada." In the pictures of the labour camps, they recognized too many parallels.



It made me think - and I honestly wish I knew more, but where's Canada's exhibit about this topic? And is it as large as say, the Holocaust museums across Europe? The missing records and paperwork, long since destroyed, infuriates many.



Paulete gives her tour guide a t-shirt from her reserve: Muscowpetung First Nation Band #80.



Her guide asks "Why is there a number on there? That's not okay, numbers are a trigger for our Holocaust survivors"



"Reserves are numbered," Paulete explains, she says "You want to see something else?" She takes out her treaty card, showing her as registered Indigenous, recorded, and numbered.



"Same thing" she says, "Same concept".



 


We need to start making these important connections, lets have these important conversations - there's a long road ahead, but so it begins:



#1) Some wonderful people and organizations to follow and learn from - wow I cannot stress enough how much I love all of these people and organizations:

https://www.instagram.com/indigenous_baddie/

https://www.instagram.com/notoriouscree/

https://www.instagram.com/marikasila/

https://www.fsin.ca/



#2) Ways to be an indigenous ally:

https://www.amnesty.org.au/10-ways-to-be-an-ally-to.../



#3) Confronting a Dark History - Residential Schools:

https://www.thestar.com/.../canada-confronts-dark-history...