#autumnofactivism?

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.


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