It was the way she weaved herself around those who remained standing, whispering lies and slurs, as I struggled to balance on a blanket folded so often there was but little space for one foot and I had to press one on top of the other.
“Drunk, lazy Indian – you always want more. Haven’t we given you enough already?” I hadn’t been killed off by disease or malnutrition but a little yellow paper softening into my knuckles indicated I was one of the few Survivors, alive but left without my cultural gifts and language. I was muted in every way possible. When I was returned to my community, they no longer knew me, and I them.
It’s called the Blanket Exercise and if you haven’t experienced it, be warned, it is visceral. Hunched at the shoulders, it was everything I could do not to break down in sorrow.
You’ve probably seen my stirred writings about the Canadian government’s infliction of more than 100 years of cultural genocide of our First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people here and here. Not only were our first peoples aggressively and intentionally dehumanized and displaced, but most Canadians were never told about it. That’s double deficit history wronging right there.
It is because Survivors, stripped of so much, carried still their courage and told their stories that we know about Residential Schools and their lasting legacy of trauma over the last seven generations. They say it will take another seven to repair. Thankfully, “For the child taken, for the parent left behind” has prefaced the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada reports, resources, and other essential reconciliation documents. And concluding with this:
“We have described for you a mountain.
We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.”
– Justice Murray Sinclair
America is currently experimenting with mass racial removals and we must share our global lessons – now that we know what ovens for Jews, institutions for Aboriginals, bullets for Blacks, or walls for Mexicans will do, we cannot let it happen again.
I don’t know the path up the mountain, but I started at the bottom by joining my local Indigenous Family Centre and getting schooled in traditional beading. I started conversations that weren’t easy and did the only thing I could think of – use my own cultural craft to speak the depth of my emotion, which is too difficult to pen.
Dyed with natural tea, perhaps this organic cotton muslin, with my own hook and threaded hole heirlooms can speak what I can’t. By giving my time and heart, I am making my way up this reconciliation range, I think. The tea stain doesn’t appear so marked until it is compared to the white label, a piece of the original, undyed fabric. This is on purpose – Like so many of us, we’ve become so accustomed to the status quo, we no longer see the stains of our early sins until we are faced with the original condition. This is my chance to reclaim and reconstruct our conversations about our cities and countries.
In two sizes, more than half of the proceeds of every blanket will be donated to the After School program at the Indigenous Family Centre, a place I have experienced and been challenged in. Michelle and Janessa and their amazing volunteers have created a safe and beautiful sanctuary right where it’s needed.
I only had enough material for 6 blankets, though 7 would have been more meaningful, somehow. I will take this as a sign of the way of real and relevant living. Where we can hug babies and help kids. Every. Single. One.