I used to think I was relevant. I had gritty things to say about pertinent current topics. I knew what I knew and I knew it was important, make-the-world-a-better-place kind of stuff. A friend once told me I was an interesting person and I believed her.
In many ways I feel that parts of me are waning. Not entirely. I hope I’m still interesting. But the gritty, pertinent, current part. Don’t take this to mean I’m looking for affirmations. I simply mean that who I am in the world and the role I play has changed. Dramatically.
I wasn’t forced to. I choose to.
The reason I choose to retire was exactly what I’m talking about here. I had offered my field everything I could. I had squeezed myself dry. What Sylvia could do for on-reserve housing (my field of work, study, expertise, experience…in general my life’s passion) had been done. There are still side jobs and I’m happy to do them. But my life no longer circles around and around my work. And better still. Other people are doing the job. As well, or better than I did it. Not better because they have more commitment, or smarts, or passion or fire in their bellies but better because they are more current. Better because they can take the thing where it needs to go. We share one foot. The one situated in the present. My other foot is in the past. Their other foot is in the future. And that is how it should be.
I am becoming less interested in the content matter that I have stuffed in my head and more interested in the wisdom I can pull out of my experiences. I know it sounds heavy and more than a little self-congratulatory calling myself wise. It’s a characteristic that should only be ascribed to someone by someone else. But it is only wisdom that interests me these days.
The sum, aggregate, distillation of a life of inspiration and insight—wisdom. The words, touch, music, art and everyday acts of doing—sharing. There is no wisdom without sharing.
Ferron, of course Ferron, brilliantly put how many of us older women feel these days.
“My best guess for me is that I was on the train and then got off…to pee, get an ice cream, buy a book. And the train left. And I can’t catch up.”
We don’t need to run after the train. We can catch the next one. Or we can stroll down the road until our new place in life catches up with us.
All of us crones–the old girls who “have found our voices (or who are looking for our voices) and who know that silence is consent” (from Jean Shinoda Bolen) can do it together at the second, soon to be fantastic, Ferron writing workshop taking place October 26-29 at the Saturna Lodge. Check it out.
Before I start I confess I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I need to talk about it. But I don’t want to talk about it because my brain hurts and my stomach turns when I hear it being discussed.
As I listened to Geoffrey Hinton, the distinguished AI pioneer, talk about the dangers of AI and about how it’s gone past the point of no return and about how even the rich and famous and powerful will have no real control over the mechanisms of power I had the same blood trembling feeling I had when I watched Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. The film introduced some new information but, in general, Gore was not saying anything I didn’t already know. Human behaviour is not going to improve significantly and the climate is changing. It’s a freight train situation.
Same with AI. It is already everywhere. We love it. We aren’t going to stop asking Siri how old Willie Nelson is. We aren’t going to stop “researching” the Internet for answers to our everyday dilemmas. “How widespread are peanut allergies? Should we continue to ban peanut butter from school classrooms?” AI has already seeped into our brains. Another freight train.
While the big boys fight over who controls AI, AI is controlling them. Here’s where my brain starts to heat up.
And the gods forbid regulating AI. That was never going to happen. As Elon Musk says, “It’s not fun to get regulated.”
I’ve never liked science fiction. I’m always unsettled by the non fiction sub text. But here we are. Living in one of the greatest science fiction stories of all time with our very own Frankenstein.
I relate better to the Biblical metaphor. No sooner had the great designer of the universe put his final and human touches on creation and set them in the garden did Adam and Eve, in Musk-like fashion, ignore the regulations. From that moment on the creator was in constant battle with his creation. And here we are. Climate change. AI.
“Siri, what’s next?”
I have a thought that I want to share because I’m unsure how long human thoughts will be useful. I’ve been thinking about how society, at least in the west, has been in a teeth bared, fists up, muscles pumped scramble about everything—left/right, male/female, white/brown, old/young, vax/antivax, rich/poor, open carry/ban guns, red/blue, sane/insane. We really do believe that our enemy is whoever is on the other side of the forward / slash.
I heard one of the screen-writer protesters say that on her work she is now required to identify herself as Susie Smith, human. That’s when I had what is probably an extremely naïve thought. I think I’m close to being right when I say we usually rally together when there is a common enemy.
Could it be that once we all are required to put “human” behind our names that we might realize that we are in this together? That we need to stick together? All of us. Could it be that all the other divisive arguments and identifiers will pale compared to the common challenge coming from what will be outside of ourselves? Oh we will still be able to blame THEM but THEY won’t be able to control the monster of their own creation, the monster they and all of us have come to adore and rely on.
I am not being facetious and I am especially not being disrespectful to people who have very real struggles to identify themselves but there is something I like about signing off as Sylvia Olsen, human. And as I willingly identify as human I do so acknowledging and embracing both the extremely nasty and the wonderful aspects of my species.
Startled by the sharp bbbrrring of a bicycle bell I stop and turn around to see who is coming up behind. It’s a steamy Okanagan afternoon and I’m happy enough to interrupt my jog.
Ice cream. Do you want ice cream? A small brown, very brown boy skids his foot on the loose gravel and brings his bike to a bumpy halt. The wheels on a white plywood box tethered behind bounce sideways and then rest. The lid, decorated with the peeled painted words Ice Cream, settles. The boy, catching his breath, looks relieved that his caravan hasn’t run him over and at the same time looks hopeful that he’s about to make a sale.
What do you have? I ask. Fudgicles, Revellos, Creamsicles, he says.
A Creamsicle, I say. Orange I hope.
Orange it is, he says. That’s 50 cents.
He closes one hand around my two quarters and pulls a brown paper bag out of his pocket with the other. He steadies his rig with his knee until the bag and the coins are stuffed safely back in his shorts. He smiles and pulls out a Creamsicle. He smiles again.
He says, thank you.
As the heat begins its assault on the ice cream I say, thanks and pull off the wrapper. I lap the drips with my tongue.
Where did you come from? I say. I’m not sure if I mean how did you just appear out of nowhere or what brings a young brown boy to this very white interior town? He doesn’t get my question either. He dips his head as if to listen harder. He squints his eyes as if that will help him understand. Then he fans his hand on his chest and says, I’m Portuguese. I’m from Brazil.
He hops up on his bike seat and pushes hard on the pedals. Slowly the rig edges ahead.
As he rolls away I call out, Thanks a lot for the ice cream
Without turning around he calls back, You’re welcome
I watch the boy and the bike and the white plywood box wobble up the road. Little did I know a few months later he’d be sitting at our dinner table eating chicken pasta casserole.
I say, He’s come to stay. He’s now part of our family.
Our kids look at him eagerly, hesitantly, curiously.
I say, You have another brother. He’s our family. Now there are six of us.
He smiles and scoops more casserole. Before I can explain that his foster family can no longer take care of him, that their dad and I agreed to take him in, that everyone will get their say later but he needs a home now…
He says, I picked this family. His English is better now. He says, I looked around this place and knew this is where I want to live. He fans his hand around the table. With you people. In this home.
I’m thinking, wait a minute. You picked? You’re the kid on the bike with the ice cream and the paper bag full of coins.
We hang a flag of Brazil in the room he will share with his new brother. We find a mason jar for all his 50 cents. This will be his permanent stop. He is home.
It’s been almost 35 years and I still wonder who chose whom and in the end, of course, it doesn’t matter. He’s a son, he’s a brother, he’s an uncle, he’s family. It was magic that brought us together.
In one word. A review of the Ferron concert from a guest. Ferron’s gritty, husky, throaty whispers, her timing, exquisite stories and humour led us on an emotional tour. We laughed, we cried, we cheered and we sang the night away. “Harmless love, what’s the matter with harmless love”. We had that sort of love on Wednesday night at the Saturna Lodge. Like Ferron said “There are no predatory animals on Saturna.”
“It was best concert I have ever attended. I mean that. And I’ve been to a lot of concerts.”
From an experienced music-ie. He’s been around. He knows exceptional. He knew he had just felt it.
There are too many lyrics to remember. I can’t pull one up and do it justice. You need to hear them yourself. Scrumptious notions, glimpses, moments. Sometimes like the gentle clicking of knitting needles. Sometimes like fireworks.
“Aaahhh, aaahhhaaa, aaahhh.”
Not said like a word. Not an analysis or a review. After each song a woman sitting in front of me shook her head and voiced the movement she felt with simply “Aaahhh.”
The word kept coming to my mind. Ferron’s generosity filled the room. She’s not young anymore. We found Advil and got it to her in the morning. Her puffy, arthritic fingers still ached when she arrived for sound check. She doesn’t sleep much. She has printed her lyrics but with the dim light they are hard to read. But there she was in a fullness that only comes with being fully real…with it all. It was the first Ferron concert for me but I am certain she was as good as she’s ever been…perhaps better.
Then there was Norm MacPherson. Her virtuoso guitar accompaniment who has played for decades and with stars such as Burton Cummings and the Poppy Family. His brilliance makes it look and sound as if he has performed with Ferron for years.
And Robert Montgomery. He’s been a sound and light guy for the likes of David Bowie, Rush and Reba McIntyre and there he was at Saturna Lodge setting the stage and turning two musicians into a delightful, quality production.
But it wasn’t just Ferron and the others. It was the Lodge. Tex and I learned quickly when we bought it that it didn’t belong to us. Not in the usual sense of the word. We sort of belonged to it. And it sort of belonged to the island. I have long had that sense of ownership when it comes to land, place, space. It’s bigger than me. I am simply the current caretaker. The most recent custodian. The one who is responsible for it for a tiny slice of time until I pass it on to the next and the next and so on.
Ferron knocked on the door only weeks after we had first wondered what we could bring to the Lodge and what it would bring to us. She came bearing stories of previous owners. Previous efforts. Previous dreams. She came bearing ideas of what could be. She was in love with the Lodge. She has been side by side with us bringing a new contribution to this magical place.
So there we were. Wednesday night. A full house. Sharing love.
Okay. I just remembered the lyrics that have been bouncing around in my head. The ones I’ve been trying to pull up as I write this blog. I’ve got them. I have to share them with you. Not to get preachy or teachy but we all need these words these days as we struggle to wonder what to do with our crazy world. Not that we need complacency but we all need to chill out like we used to say.
Ferron’s concert gave us a moment to relax and just be with what we’ve got.
“It’s old human nature, It’s cold or it’s hot
But if it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn
You say it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn
Well if it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn
I’d say snow’s what we got.”
Getting ready to host. Sunflowers by Kevin Stewart (Vancouver)
Winston Churchill said, “First we make our houses and then our houses make us.” He wasn’t talking about our private homes but it’s true. We have a reciprocal relationship with where we live. We start by painting the rooms to match our furniture, or the other way around. We set up our photos and hang our art. We nestle in our favourite corner of the sofa and arrange the bookshelf (or TV remote) so it’s an arm’s distance away. Nothing feels better than breathing in the scent of our favourite meal and listening to the sounds of our personal lives…music, children’s voices, video games, conversation…
Whether our house is a mansion, an apartment or a tiny room…we begin making our space at the same time our space begins making us. Our home is where we feel safe (or not). It is where we learn, love and rejuvenate ourselves. It is where we laugh and cry, where we experience our greatest joy and where we suffer our most heart wrenching struggles. It is where we become who we are.
Our home is an expression of ourselves. It is, in a way, our primary art form. It is creative, not just in its decoration but in its function…in how it relates to us and us to it. We are both becoming.
Preparing the Lodge for guests made me think about the relationship between the visitors and the space and what role we play, as innkeepers, in that interaction.
I was laughing with a woman from Vancouver who was staying for a few days. “I have become a maid,” I said. “It’s a long way from the heady work I used to do…changing the world.”
“But it’s important,” she said. “Creating a sanctuary where people can spend a few days in peace, where they can feel valued and respected, where they can learn something and share something. Or where they can disappear in the garden or in their room, whatever they need at the time.”
And, as my son, Adam, said the last time he was here. “The Lodge is good medicine.”
Preparing that medicine has become our art form. We are making the space while at the same time the space is making us and it is helping to make the people who come to find peace of mind, serenity of spirit and simple enjoyment.
I was anxious when I opened the package and looked at the book for the first time. I have never written a textbook before. I’ve written curriculum for years but writing a textbook gave me an especially worrisome case of “who do you think you?” It wasn’t a unique feeling; I get it every time I publish a book.
Every book feels like a good idea when I start out. Then I bury myself in writing and don’t create the space to think about whether I should have started it in the first place. But it’s always the same; when I open the package my stomach ties itself in a knot and I get lost in a flurry of self-doubt and an assault of “is it perfect?” sorts of questions.
It turns out each one has a glitch…something I wish were different. This one doesn’t have anything on the spine. How did that happen? The first book I wrote had a disconcertingly orange cover and I couldn’t make peace with it. We redid it for the second printing so I’ve put that behind me, but there is always something.
My new-book anxiety prevents me from reading my books for a few weeks; wonder if I find a huge mistake?
But Making Change contains many voices other than mine. It is a result of teaching for a dozen years or so and even my voice is mostly what I’ve learned from the students’ assignments and discussions. The other contributors to the book are Hwiem’, Marlene Rice, a Cowichan elder, Qwuy’um’aat, Eyvette Elliott, a brilliant young Cowichan woman, Frank French, from the Chippewas of the Thames and Simuletse, Stuart Pagaduan, the Cowichan artist who did the illustrations and who summed up the content on the back cover. So while Making Change is mine, because I put it together, it’s not only mine. In one way that makes it even more worrisome because I want the book to honour the amazing contributors and I want them all to love it.
My anxieties aside, the multiple voices and perspectives make it a textbook with a difference. It sheds a light on the complexities of managing housing on reserves. It dignifies the hundreds of housing managers across the country who are working within a colonial system that was not designed to be successful yet who are still finding ways to make profound change. The rich contributions invite you inside the struggle so you can share in the solutions—a place most people never visit. You could skip the bulleted lists of how to manage meetings or communicate with tenants and just look at Marlene, Eyvette and Frank’s grey boxes. They are worth the read.
If you aren’t someone who reads management textbooks and who is unlikely to purchase Making Change from Vancouver Island University let me share with you the back cover, by Simuletse, Stuart Pagaduan, which sums it up beautifully.
“Our houses are not just physical places that keep us warm. Our people have always had a spiritual connection to our homes. The beautiful cedar beams are seen as living beings, not just something to make a roof.
In modern times the housing conditions we have experienced have been part of the great displacement of our people—fragmenting how we live—the way we practice our culture, the way we prepare our food, the way we live together as families—the conditions have been a total game changer and we are still reeling from the effects. Housing causes us conflict in ways we don’t always even understand.
Housing managers have been forced to work in a system with unequal opportunities, a lack of adequate funding and often not even enough support from their own Chiefs and Councils. It seems like no one wants to really address the problem it is so daunting.
But there are some really good people stepping up and making the change that needs to happen—housing managers across the country who are not willing to settle for less with low expectations. They are adopting new ways of thinking that are uplifting our spirits. They are making the change needed so we can pass on new and positive feelings and thoughts about housing to our children.”
Over the past couple of years the First Nations Housing and Infrastructure Council of BC managed the most comprehensive research project ever conducted into what First Nations people are saying about housing and infrastructure in BC First Nations. Over 90% said they want to take back control of their own housing and infrastructure services.
That’s not surprising given the abominable job the federal government has done of managing First Nations housing for close to a century.
There isn’t a Canadian who has driven through a First Nations reserve who hasn’t wondered why the housing is so substandard compared to neighbouring communities. We’ve all asked, “What is wrong…with those people…with the First Nation…with the system…with the government?” Most of us haven’t known which question to ask because we don’t understand how housing is acquired on reserves. We mistakenly start with what we know about housing in the rest of Canada and that will not get us even close to how housing works in First Nations. From that assumption we presume the first question is the right one. “What is wrong with those people?”
I got a job working in Tsartlip First Nation as their housing manager in the mid 1990s. I had lived in the community for more than 20 years by then and had just finished a Masters Degree and it still took me several years to figure out what questions to ask.
The questions were difficult because it was hard to believe that Canada had actually bungled the First Nations housing file so badly for so long.
A little background: In the 1930s the country was reeling from the Great Depression and housing, including First Nations housing, was in a crisis. The federal government responded by creating two housing systems…one system for the mainstream; focused on providing affordable and accessible lending mechanisms, establishing building standards and driving job creation, and one system for First Nations; a welfare-style distribution of small batches of building supplies designed by an Indian agent (often from afar). There was no thought of standards, financial tools or jobs.
The reserve system blocked First Nations from housing themselves and literally forced them to accept the government programs. Oh a person could move off the reserve, you might say. Yes but if you did, as a First Nations person you would not be welcome in mainstream communities and so your housing prospects would not necessarily improve. The same is still true today.
By the 1940s it had become blatantly obvious that the system the government had for housing on reserves—let’s be perfectly clear, First Nations people and their leadership had no control of the system whatsoever—had never and could never produce adequate housing.
Now here’s the rub. When the system failed, as it did over and over again, government agents took that to mean First Nations were unable to be successfully housed and that they needed more ‘help’. The history of housing in First Nations is a series of government fixes—one program after the other trying to fix the previous failure. Never once, that I could find in the records, did the Indian Department contemplate that the problem might rest with government, not the First Nations.
Of course I didn’t, because, in the deeply rooted racist worldview of Canadians, we believed that Indigenous people were not capable of managing their own affairs.
So when you drive through a reserve and wonder why the housing is in such disarray there is an easy answer. Because Canadians believed that First Nations people were not capable of managing their own affairs the government did the managing. The Indian Department designed the programs and controlled how they would be delivered and the lion’s share of government funding for First Nations housing returned right back into the pockets of the enormous “Indian industry” of bureaucrats and professionals who operated the system. And what you are looking at, when you drive through a community and see the ramshackle houses, is the outcome of that arrangement.
Of course housing on Indian reserves (legal name) looks different than in the rest of Canada. Nowhere else in this country has such a housing system existed. No other group of Canadians has been subject to so many state controls over their houses. No one else in Canada is refused the opportunity to go to a bank borrow money to build or renovate a house simply because they live in a certain community.
It takes a bit to grapple with. Long after most residential schools had closed their doors government agents still controlled how First Nations people would be housed. The ill health and social disruption caused by unimaginably substandard housing continues in many communities to this day.
But if we look at it from different angle then think about the time when you drove through a reserve more recently and said, “Hey there’s some really nice houses going up. I wonder what’s happening.” What’s happening is that many First Nations are taking control of their housing. There’s still only a trickle of independently wealthy and sophisticatedly administered communities that have really repatriated control over their housing. But it’s happening for the first time in a century.
So you can see what happens when First Nations are in control. Housing improves and, given time, First Nations housing will meet the same standards as elsewhere.
So as I said earlier, it’s no wonder First Nations want to take back control over their own housing. What is really the wonder is that it wasn’t until this recent federal government took over the reigns of the Indian Department that it decided the government itself was the problem and it ought to get out of the business of delivering services on reserves. It’s still not convinced that First Nations can do it themselves but First Nations are taking control in any case. As my First Nations daughter, Joni, who is an elected councillor for Tsartlip First Nations said, “Mom, at some point it isn’t about what the government does or doesn’t do. The cat is out of the bag. We are taking control over our own lives. The government will just need to figure that out and adjust.”
But there are still so many questions: Will government acknowledge the destruction caused by its housing system? Will there be compensation? Building a new system is a colossal task, will there be enough support to ensure its success?
Thirty years ago Diane Harris, my best friend, sister-in-law and then social worker for Stz’uminus First Nation convinced me that Kuper Island Residential School, where her parents (my in-laws) and many local First Nations kids went to school, was a central cause for the trauma and dysfunction being experienced in her community. And, she said, no one was talking about it. She then convinced me to go with her while she interviewed former students. She said she would interview and I would take notes. Over a couple of months during the summer of 1991 we talked to 70 people. Several people pointed their finger at me and said that they were only talking to me because I was writing it down and they wanted me to tell people…to tell the world what had happened at the school.
Afterwards I filed my writing pads in my desk. I couldn’t even reread my notes. I had no courage to write and no will to tell. My own life was coming unhinged, partly as a generational effect of the Kuper Island school. I was devastated from the stories I’d heard, heartbroken by my family’s own suffering and conflicted about my role, a white woman, in the whole tragedy.
I had a debilitating case of “who the hell are you to say or write anything?” It’s been a life long condition that has constantly had me waffling between thinking I should share my experiences and knowledge and burying my stories to avoid criticism. Diane is pretty much fully responsible for convincing me to write anything at all. She shamed me into writing. “You always tell people they should not be afraid to tell their truths and share their stories,” she lectured me. “Then why are you afraid?” I’m still afraid, but as Diane continues to tell me “Quit that now.”
Back to the Kuper Island interviews; Diane wouldn’t let up on me. “You promised you would write the story,” she said. A day never went by when I wished I hadn’t promised. I just couldn’t do it. We talked and talked about what we had heard. We went over the notes and I jotted down glimpses I remembered and thoughts that she shared with me. We came up with an abbreviated rendition of our notes called “the interview”.
The former students we spoke to also asked us to put on a gathering so they could share their stories amongst themselves. Diane and I, in spite of threats from the Catholic Church and from First Nations people who didn’t want the stories told, arranged the first residential school conference in the country. Phil Fountaine led the discussions along with the late Delmar Johnnie from Cowichan.
Diane invited Christine Welsh, a Metis filmmaker, and Peter Campbell from Gumboot Productions, to film the Kuper Island gathering. (I’ve attached Kuper Island: A return to the healing circle.) Diane also helped organize the healing ceremony on Penelekut Island that you can see in the film. She set up a table and invited people to bring photos of their family who lost their lives because of the school. The table was filled with images, not just of the children who didn’t return from the school and were buried on the school site, but of those who did return but died early, tragically, either from TB or other health conditions or from the trauma of the experience of the Kuper Island school.
The film turned out to be the best way to get the story out, the one I could not write and could not tell. It will be rereleased this fall with a new name, Penelakut: Returning to the Healing Circle.
Finally in 2000 Rita Morris, Ann Sam (both from WOJELEP First Nation) and I found a way to tell the stories of the Kuper Island school. They were kids’ stories so we wrote them for kids. We worked with 6 elders from WASANEC who listened to the stories I wrote and gave us feedback on everything from the tone of the language to what they actually ate at the school to the type of vehicles that were around at the time. The stories, made fiction, can be found in the book No Time To Say Goodbye. It came out 20 years ago and is still being sold with all the proceeds going towards First Nations’ youth activities.
My apologies for repeating some of what I wrote in an earlier post. Diane was in Nanaimo Hospital during the amazing Kuper Island Residential School walk in Chemainus a few weeks ago. I brought her photos and “the interview,” the only writing that we managed to produce in those early years. It’s never been published or widely shared. They are not my words or Diane’s they come directly from the interviews that I put together almost 30 years ago as a collage and that I am giving back…to the world…where the people who entrusted me with them wanted them to be.
do you think it is a sin to tell
no maybe it isn’t
but they told us never to tell
I don’t think it can be a sin
they aren’t around anymore anyway
but it might be best to just let the thing alone
it’s time to get on don’t you think
some of the elders are saying that it’s best left alone
life is hard enough just dealing with what happens today
sometimes I wonder why it is so hard
nothing seems to make sense to me
it’s hard for the kids
I love them so much
I don’t know how to tell them…..or show them
I’ve never tucked them into bed…..or read them a bedtime story
it’s best left alone don’t you think
I think it was hard for mom to send me there
but I don’t know
we never talked about it
she’s gone now
I remember my grandmother
she cried when they came and took me
quietly….but I knew she was crying
I know she didn’t want me to go
she said she couldn’t stop them
and maybe it would be best
she thought it might be good for me to learn English
I was so scared
I was only six
I hadn’t been off the reserve much
I couldn’t understand what they were saying to me
they talked so fast
I couldn’t even pick up the little bit of English that I knew
there were a few of us
I remember George
he was a bit older than me
he helped me out with the English
but he was scared too
the boat ride over to the island was the worst
I didn’t know where I was
I knew that my parents would never be able to find me
my cousin was there
I thought I could find her
she would help me
but I never saw the girls much
she would smile at me and wave
but I lived with the boys
they beat me up a lot
they said I was a sissie because I wanted my cousin
but I didn’t stay a sissie long
I had more trouble learning English that some of the boys
it seemed that I was always hungry
hungry and mad
there was one brother that used to hit me
he made me sit in the closet all day
I didn’t know how to say that I had to go to the bathroom
so I wet my pants
I sat in the dark closet all day
he forgot me and I fell asleep
he got me out in the morning
I was really afraid of the dark
I guess I still am
you know I sleep with all the lights on
it was that same brother that used to come into our room at night
I used to see him take the other boys away
one by one
I didn’t know what he was doing
until one night he took me away
then I knew
the boys didn’t talk to each other about it
we still don’t
I missed my grandmother
I could smell her when I went to bed
I saw her a couple of times
during the summer before we went berry picking
I told her that they weren’t nice to me out there
I didn’t tell her what they did to me
she used to just hold me
it didn’t make sense
I don’t think it made sense to her either
I always remember her
she died when I was nine
I used to look after some of the boys in the infirmary
one boy from Sooke got really sick one year
they wrapped towels around his neck
I had to bring him food but he couldn’t eat
it was T.B.
I remember them finally getting a doctor over to see him
the doctor got really mad
they took the boy over to the hospital in Chemainus
he made it
but he never came back to school
some of the boys tried to tell them
they tried to get the place changed
mostly it just ended up in a fight
I guess we learned they were in charge
they whipped some of the boys
we were all supposed to be quiet so we could hear them cry
one boy wouldn’t cry
we heard him get whipped and whipped
the brother was swearing at him
he said that if he would just cry then it would stop
but he wouldn’t cry
some were really strong
the only thing to do was run away
I went to the village and tried to get on a fish boat
they brought me back
others tried to escape
escape….it’s funny isn’t it
but that’s it
we were trying to escape
the island was like Alcatraz….no way out….no way off
others tried to escape on logs
or in canoes
some made it
I remember when there was a bigdance at Kuper
the people would come over on their boats
they would walk right past the school to get to the bighouse
we would look out the window and watch them
sometimes we would see our family
when I got older I didn’t want to see them
they didn’t know me anymore
I didn’t know them either
when I went home for the summer I didn’t fit
they had got on with their lives
I didn’t know how to get on with mine
I guess I hated most things
I hated the school
I hated the food
the beds….used to wet mine all the time
the bigger boys
I hated talking Indian
I hated not being able to talk English properly
I hated being Indian
it didn’t make sense
they said everything that was Indian was evil
everything that was Indian you were supposed to change
I hated being Indian
I hated white people
I guess mostly I just hated myself
I started doing some of the things I hated most
it didn’t make me feel good
but I can’t remember ever really feeling good
I had nothing to lose
no one was there for me….except me
I was about fifteen when I finally got out of there
I didn’t live at home long after
I pretty much just slept wherever I found myself
I started drinking real bad
I was real bad
I knew one thing and that was that I would never
let no white man tell me what to do
I wasn’t going to let no one tell me what to do
but I didn’t know what to do
you know I have never gone to look for a job
I’ve worked on the reserve sometimes
but I’ve never looked for a job
no I’ve always just looked after myself here
it’s probably best
I can’t control myself when I get mad
I don’t let anyone tell me what to do
no one pushes me around
anyway….I never went back to school after Kuper
I guess I learned to read and write
but I’d never be able to get one of those office jobs
why did they send me to that school?
I don’t really know
my mom’s gone now
she was angry when I left so she didn’t really say
I have never known my dad
they separated when I was at school
he’s on the mainland somewhere
I’m not sure where now
he went to Kuper….I’m not sure about mom
I’d like to find out
there is a big empty hole in my life
sometimes I am just empty
it’s like the whole sky with nothing in it
but not even
it’s not even like that
sometimes I spend a whole day and I don’t think about anything
I think I would like to pray
I haven’t gone to church since I left the school
no….I did once
the priest said mass in Indian
I couldn’t even understand what he said
it doesn’t make sense does it
they changed the rules
now the priest can talk Indian better than me
God doesn’t make sense
at school we prayed all day
beforebreakfast at breakfast afterbreakfast beforelunchatlunch….
but all I prayed for was to go home
God never listened
they told me there were devils at home
I never had a home after
I can’t pray to God anymore
I just go out in the woods and sit
I’ve told you what I remember
I think I don’t remember most of it
it’s part of the emptiness
it’s part of what doesn’t make sense
I’m still afraid….I’m afraid to remember
I’ve told what I remember
it hurts but sometimes I don’t know why
everyone has their stuff to deal with
I don’t want to blame them for the way I am
some people say they had a good time out at Kuper
some say it was better than home
some remember good people out there
there was one brother
he used to coach our soccer team
we were really good
we would go to Chemainus to play
sometimes we would travel
I was a good soccer player
yea….now that I remember I had a good time playing soccer
Sometime in the morning of April 8, 2021 after a few weeks of negotiations we received a call from Caroline, our lawyer, to tell us that Tex and I, along with our partners Elizabeth May and John Kidder were the owners of the Saturna Lodge located on Saturna Island, one of the Southern Gulf Islands in the Salish Sea.
It was only a few weeks before, that the four of us had decided to look into purchasing a place together. None of us were sure what that would look like but once we visited the Lodge we knew that we had found our home. The news that our hastily made plans were now a reality felt like pure possibility. Suddenly there were five of us in the mix, two couples and a grand old lady perched on a gracefully tiered hillside overlooking the calm, sparkling Boot Cove.
First the house would become our home— Elizabeth and John wanted to live there full time; Tex and I, part time. Almost immediately we faced our first challenge. They moved in lock, stock and barrel out of their apartment in Sidney, but the previous owners had left everything from dish towels (some still dirty) and bedroom furniture to a loaded pantry with stuff like a dozen or so bottles of HP sauce, half eaten boxes of Stoned Wheat Thins and jars of peanut butter in the fridge. Our first tasks were to clean, expunge and make space.
Colin Kwok, an architect and friend from Vancouver, came with Joyce, his wife, to get to know our fifth partner and advise us on adaptations we can make so the five of us can live together peacefully.
Never before have I felt more reverence towards a house and a place. Never before have I had such an immediately wonderful relationship with a house and felt such a deep responsibility to enhance and protect her, knowing she will do the same for me.
It’s been only 3 months so we are still settling in to all these relationships. It’s been a long time since any of us have had roommates but we are excited about in our new experience of collaboration, sharing and adventure.
One thing all five of us agree on is that we want many of you to come and visit and share the peace and the beauty. It’ll take time but stay tuned.
I want to be part of reravelling Canada. It can be a thing. The Urban Dictionary says reravel means to put something back together that has become unravelled. Wool workers get it. We have all reravelled balls of wool that have become a jumble. It’s not easy. It takes time. But if you don’t do it the whole thing is useless and you have to throw it away. I think it’s a good time to discover ways to reravel our country.
Unravelling Canada, my travel book about our 2015 knitting road trip, was meant to be a mental revisit of the country I was struggling to come to peace with. The book looks through the lens of knitters from coast to coast and is a gentle and somewhat off-beat analysis of Canada. During the time the book was floating in the publishing never neverland waiting to find a home, Canada, and indeed the world, has become truly unravelled.
In this country it might be said that the public unravelling began with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Idle no More. Although we know the unsettling of Canada has been going on for generations, the public’s consciousness has only been sparked for the past dozen years or so. Since then Canada’s comfortable space has been rattled. The recent convergence of social justice movements has been ramping up public pressure and our country is not fairing well.
International movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too and, of course, the COVID 19 pandemic have rearranged deeply held assumptions about race, gender and our collective health. In Canada, the report on the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and the discovery of the 215 graves from the Kamloops Residential School and hundreds more across the country have “shocked” even people who haven’t been listening. Closer to home, the “In Plain Sight” report on systemic racism in BC’s healthcare system have given us details, the real stories we can’t ignore. These are lessons we can’t forget.
We are grieving the loss of old growth and worried about whether we’ll remove the fish farms in time to give wild salmon a chance of survival. We have a deep disturbing anxiety about the outcomes of continued fracking and that Site C Damn is going ahead in spite of all our collective good sense.
And, as if we haven’t been rattled enough, the recent weather disaster, the hundreds of British Columbians who died in the heat wave, the loss of the tiny village of Lytton and the surrounding First Nations communities, reminds us of the climate crisis, the existential threat to our very survival.
I don’t know about you but I am unravelled. I am also a grandmother and I know that I don’t have the luxury of remaining unravelled for too long. My narrative must change to rallying the masses and building strategies and creating hope. I’m not willing to wait until the last drop of injustice has been eradicated before I call for another narrative, not to replace the unravelling but to go side-by-side.
As we continue to unearth the real stories of our past and our present and figure out our real identity I’m thinking we can also get serious about reravelling ourselves and our country. I’m not interested in wrapping it up again into a ball with the nasties buried in the middle. I’m not talking about shutting down the ravelling…there is so so so much more to do. The pressure needs to continue. I’m saying we need a new paradigm as well and new way to become whole and well and compassionate and real.
I don’t have a tidy wrap up for this blog because we have to build the new paradigm together–the reravelling–and so far we don’t know how to do that. Perhaps we need to wait and do more unravelling first. I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure we can do both at the same time. The grandmother in me says pull ourselves together. The children need hope.