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On December 6, 1989, I was a newlywed, taking a couple of classes, on my way out of organizing on campus for the U of R Women’s Centre and moving into organizing provincially as a Board member for the Sask Action Committee Status of Women. I had attended a few national students’ and women’s conferences and remember feeling energized by the good work we were doing.
What I remember from that day in 1989 is standing on the ugly brown carpet in the living room of our beautiful suite in the Modern Apartment building, holding the handle of our beige rotary dial phone to my head, talking to someone at the campus Women’s Centre on the other end, and inviting the Collective over to talk. Some did, though I’m sorry I don’t remember who. Maybe Angela? Nancy? Heather?
Two years later, my infant daughter had been in my arms for a few months. She’d nursed during Cabinet and Opposition lobby sessions and more than a couple of meetings of feminists. She’d been in my arms as I spoke on behalf of SACSW at news conferences and various events. That year I remember an ache of mother-fear, something I’d never experienced in quite the same way before that day. It crept through me as I wondered what she might face when she attended university.
By 2014 that baby was a young woman studying at uOttawa. Mother-fear again arose in in horrific way during the crisis on Parliament Hill. A lone gunman ran through security. Media reports were sketchy. All I heard was that a gunman was on the loose in Ottawa. Never was I ever so happy to receive her text message informing me that the university was also locked down and she was safe in the library. But we worried about the safety of our friends who worked on the Hill, where she had worked during her first year at university.
This spring, as I mentioned in a previous post, we visited our daughter in Japan. With her and our son, my husband and I travelled to Hiroshima, the city the US bombed on August 6, 1945. When we stood before the A-Bomb Dome, a shell of the building that had once stood there, I literally shook with the horror of what had been done. Later, inside the Peace Memorial Museum I wept quietly as I looked at the many items on exhibit. A child’s partially burnt-out garment ended my time there. I collapsed onto a bench, shaking but trying not to, until I got myself together enough to leave that room for something, anything, else.
Last month the world witnessed the brutality of a militarized police force against a large peaceful gathering of Indigenous people at Standing Rock in North Dakota. That gathering took place because the women of the Sioux Nation, following in the spiritual paths of their ancestors, heard the call to protect the Sacred, to stop the pipeline that risked doing great harm to the water supply for their reservation and millions of others downstream. And, they took a stand. They would protect the water, as they had been taught. Others heard their call, hundreds and thousands more around the globe heard. And responded. Eventually, the Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit the Dakota Access PipeLine required to dig under the river.
I don’t think I have felt the pain of remembering December 6, 1989 so deeply as I did when my daughter was an infant. Until this year, that is. It’s been a shaking, weepy day. It must be a core wounding, I’ve decided, one that will need nurturing for a long time to come. It’s a wounding to the psyche of women in this country, to Canada.
Still, in this moment, feeling as forlorn and grief-stricken as I do, I cannot fathom the great pain and intergenerational trauma experienced by the people of Japan and of Indigenous people of Canada. How can North America live with itself? How can I, knowing what I know, feeling what I feel, live with this?
Thus far, I’ve been able to mourn and cry, write and organize, heal and love. And remember. And tonight I will gather with friends and we will together mourn and remember
I appreciate your contribution to the CanLit narrative that’s developed as a result of events at UBC. Your open letter to Joseph Boyden moved me to tears. I didn’t really want to follow the debacle. I’ve been busy with my own life, purposefully removing myself from everything I could to focus on my creative work this year. But I couldn’t escape it. I’m grateful my daughter posted your letter on Facebook.
To be honest, I usually pay little attention to universities. I think I’ve written them off as ivory towers divorced from the grassroots, where I live and work. That said, there are some I know who have done and are doing important things within the oppressive place. Women, for example, have ensured that collective agreements and institutional policies are in place to address issues, such as this one, when they arise. Still, universities are imperfect institutions. How could they not be? They’re operated by imperfect humans working in stress-filled environments on too little money. It doesn’t surprise me that situations are handled inappropriately even when policies and procedures are in place.
I’m also of the #ibelieveher variety, tending to believe women’s stories of abuse. That letter just didn’t fit, for all the reasons you suggest. Now, it’s possible that the high-profile case of a former CBC employee left me more wounded than I’d thought. And yes, I’ll readily admit to a degree of jadedness from my decades of feminist activism. And, yes, yes, the whole thing rekindled memories of the abuses I’ve experienced at the hands of men. But I’m a survivor who’s made her way through the pain, continually spiraling inward to shed more light, and then back out as I heal and write, edit and polish, and eventually, publish. No decision about my work has been more difficult than whether or not to include a rape poem in my collection of poetry.
And so, my heart goes out to all the women who have been touched by this case. As a white woman in a heterosexual relationship, I have the privilege of calling up a healer and being treated at my convenience. I want everyone to find whatever it is they need to heal — be that their anger and rage, a community of love and support, a special friend or healer. I hope you, Samantha, get the apology you request. Perhaps this meagre response can help with that.
Thanks again for your inspiration.
Author, Editor, Activist
As I’d hoped, the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre in Regina Beach will host the premiere of TWO WEEKS IN JAPAN: More Than A Family Vacation! Please join me there at 7:00 pm on Thursday, October 27.
What began as an idea for an essay about a family trip to visit our daughter in Japan morphed into an interdisciplinary, multimedia memoir project, a mashup of photographs, songs, websites, essays, rants, family stories, poems, peace politics, anecdotes, and archival data that speak to a range of social, political, and cultural issues. A Q&A will follow the presentation. Refreshments will be available.
Bonus: Carol Daniels, on hand drum, and Sandra Topinka, on singing bowls, will join me at points during the presentation. I met these multi-talented women during my term as writer-in-residence at the Centre and appreciate their participation.
This is a free event organized by the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre with the support of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Author Readings program.
Oh, I had a great #summerofwriting! I wrote some, edited a bit, and gardened a lot. Now, the golden-orange, red glory of autumn is here. And, I joined a book club!
The Saskatchewan Writers Guild, in partnership with Knox Metropolitan United Church (Knox Met) in Regina and Turning the Tide Books in Saskatoon, started Unsettling Ideas: A book club. From the Facebook link:
Unsettling Ideas is a book club aimed at creating discourse, generating ideas and raising awareness to the 94 Calls to Action … from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
My kind of club! I hear the Calls to Action (pdf) from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and need to respond and to do so in community. Lasting change happens when more than one person takes it on. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has (attributed to Margaret Mead). Unsettling Ideas is that group. We’ll meet monthly from September to June to discuss a book by an Indigenous writer and hear from a guest speaker who will help the group engage with the work itself, the particular call to action, and broader themes of decolonization and reconciliation.
The response was greater than organizers anticipated, which is a great problem to have so far as problems go, anyway. While they ensured copies of the book were available, planned an event, and worked through the logistics of sharing it out to communities of interest all over the province, we read the September book, The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir (U of R Press, 2014) by Joseph Auguste Merasty, edited by David Carpenter. They chose it to pair with TRC Call to Action #59:
We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.
We met at Noni’s, a cafe in downtown Regina, with a camera feed running through Facebook Live while Jamie Lerat and Sarah Longman delivered their presentation and facilitated discussion afterward. Jamie works as the Strategic Advisor on First Nations and Metis Education at the Saskatchewan School Boards Association and regularly meets with two First Nations Elders. Sarah is an educator working to make the education system accessible and successful for Aboriginal people and she facilitates the Blanket Exercise with students, teachers, principals, and the community. They provided a gentle entry into the book and related it to their lives as Indigenous people. The points I’ve taken away are:
- Residential schools created an intergenerational trauma that’s still being felt today;
- There are historical gaps that experiences such as those described in this book begin to fill and that many people did not learn about during their schooling;
- Some parents may have difficulty with this book being in the schools but an Elder, when asked about it said, “It happened to children;”
- Generations of silence have grown up around the residential school abuses. Many did not \ can not talk about their trauma;
- There is resiliency in a people who have been brainwashed, psychologically, and sexually abused. That resiliency is key to healing.
It was a powerful presentation. And the discussion was very good, but we didn’t have time to really delve into the literary aspects of this book, so I welcome more discussion about that. I’m thinking particularly about “survivor stories” which this book definitely is, but different from Elly Danica’s, Don’t: A Woman’s Word, for example. And I’m thinking about memoir in general and how this book adds so much to that genre but also to our historical record, a much-needed addition.
Thank you, Nickita Longman, Cam Fraser, and Peter Garden, for making this book club happen. Looking forward to the next read.
The summer of writing continues in fits and spurts. I continue to write about our trip to Japan, in between tending the garden and enjoying the summer. I’m seeing how our visits to Kyoto and Hiroshima rekindled my interests in peace politics and the anti-nuclear movement. How could they not, having been moved to tears more than once during our day at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome), a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Museum it houses, where images and artifacts from the death and destruction after the US dropped the A-Bomb are on display? Remnants of an atrocity. Skeletal remains. Saskatchewan uranium. Image after image. Powerful stuff.
(excerpt) As citizens of this planet … we are collectively calling for a mobilization of civil society around the world to bring about the elimination of all nuclear weapons, to put an end to the continued mass-production of all high-level nuclear wastes by phasing out all nuclear reactors, and to bring to a halt all uranium mining worldwide.
It’s particularly pressing that civil society gain some movement on this issue at this time as “a new Cold War” is afoot. Please take time to read and endorse the Montreal Declaration. Then share it with your networks and communities. Saskatchewan’s Premier Brad Wall will do what he can to kill it. Please don’t let him.
I haven’t posted since mid-February, right after a week at the SWG/CARFAC Retreats at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, SK. The next day I started a full-time plus contract which ended in early April. That allowed almost two weeks of prep time for the conference I mentioned in that last post and three weeks for our 16-day trip to Japan to visit our daughter. She had time off work for “Golden Week” so we were able to explore pieces of Japan’s culture, history, and geography.
We — we being my husband and our adult son — landed in Tokyo after 10 hours on the plane and spent the night at a hotel to get our bearings before heading to Nagoya where our daughter lives. From there, we visited Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka then returned to Nagoya. We also visited a family friend in Tokyo, attended a baseball game to see the Nagoya Dragons soundly defeat the Tokyo Giants (11-4, I believe), spent the night in a traditional Japanese guest house, then made our way back to Nagoya for two nights. Two days later we were back in Saskatchewan.
It was a whirlwind trip, just a taste of Japan, but I have more than 400 photos which I’m culling to prepare a travel talk, Excerpts from Two Weeks in Japan, which I hope to premiere at the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre this August. Details to come, we hope.