What is reconciliation? What the man says

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

– Margaret Atwood

A man I once admired said, “Indigenous people should not have to endure the labour of educating you.” He said, “I’m here to help you understand that you were culturally insensitive.”

The man is white, with bright red hair and tattooed sleeves down his arms. He’s a mover and shaker, a semi-public figure who wants to fight on the side of the oppressed. He took something I wrote the wrong way and missed his target: the social media trolls who were delighting in a vulnerable moment. An Indigenous woman who bared her anger and disgust at white people. The trolls were so pleased when she said, “Get out, white person” at a public event. “See?” they said. “She’s racist too. We’re all the same.”

Everything I tried to say to this man in my own defense, he deflected. “That’s a white person response,” he wrote. “Again. Another white person response.”

Until then I had envied him – his alternative media company and social circle of activists, artists and politicos. I wanted that life. To be where things are happening, to be making a difference.

But I spend most days working in a cubicle, and use writing as a means to explore and confront difficult questions. He had read much of it. “That’s why I’m surprised,” he said, as he shoved in the knife and twisted it. “So I’m here to help.”

Right here and now, I say to myself, who does have the answers and say the right thing? Do I? Does he? It was a tempest in a teapot, that little exchange; it was an almost physically painful moment (for me). To the red-haired man, I say I am sorry  and I hope you’re doing some good in this world, that we both are doing some good.

Because while we argued, the world went on, as it does: tens of thousands of people on reserves across the country are still without clean water to drink. Indigenous women and girls are going missing—where are they? Why are we not doing more to find them and protect the others?

The two of us, with all our good intentions, are still succeeding in a society that keeps the land and wealth in the hands of those who stole it. Every year more is taken away from first nations and where is the restitution?

I want to lay my hand on his heart, on that angry man’s heart, to calm its pain and slow its rhythm. So often we say the wrong thing and don’t know it, but at least we try to make offerings, to open ourselves to being on the wrong side of an argument.

To be still and gentle sometimes, quiet enough so that a bird, light and hesitant, might land on our shoulders for a moment and take the seeds from our hands. Just for a moment before flying away.

What is reconciliation: the burden of proof

A narrative I hear again and again, spoken in anger:

Nowadays, everybody thinks they should get special treatment. Immigrants want to keep their religion and speak all these different languages—I mean, isn’t French bad enough? And young people! They don’t even know if they’re male or female. And they expect to get everything without working for it. To have their cake and eat it too. Who doesn’t want that? It’s the same with the Natives. They want to bulldoze peoples’ homes so they can make their reserves bigger. What with their houses falling apart and not one of them willing lift a hammer to fix anything. Why don’t they pay taxes like everyone else? Did you know, they have healing circles for criminals? Why should Natives get sentenced to a healing circle? Wouldn’t we all like to get off easy? Those drunk kids who overran that hard-working farmer’s land and threatened his family probably think they’ll get a healing circle. So one of them gets shot. What do they expect? You can’t go breaking into private property. They act like the land belongs to them. Like we should take down all the fences. Change the laws and have different ones for Natives. Give them a free ride. There is only one set of laws, one set of rules. They apply to everyone.

What is reconciliation: the burden of proof

On the trial of Colten Boushie, the boy from Red Pheasant First Nation:

At the trial for the boy who was shot by the farmer, everyone obeyed one set of laws. They all laboured under the burden of proof – some hoping for evidence strong enough to withstand it and others hoping for collapse. The prosecution presented hard evidence, but some of it never got to court: blood spatter and gun powder residue were left to wash away in a summer downpour: the police omitted to throw even a tarp over the truck where the victim died. 1 But the farmer’s Tokarev pistol, a cold war collector’s item, and photos of blood spilling out of the SUV were presented, as well as images of the boy shot in the head. And then testimony: a defendant admitting to shooting the young man, Colten Boushie, but by accident, a freak accident. The hard evidence that survived—difficult pictures of blood, a cold steel pistol—did not withstand the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Certain facts of the case were presented to a jury of 12 Canadians, none of them (apparently) Indigenous, each bearing their own histories and responsibilities. Like all of us, they could see only so far in a world obscured by assumptions and blind spots, gaps in knowledge. These citizens were asked to pass one of three possible judgments: second-degree murder, manslaughter or not guilty. Gerald Stanley, the farmer, the shooter, was acquitted and walks free and Colten Boushie, the boy who trespassed, is dead and buried: one set of laws and one set of rules, applied to everyone.

 

 

 

What is reconciliation: Introduce yourself

Reconciliation is so far away. Now is not the right time. We are miles and miles apart, even though we live next door. How do we move closer? How to begin at the beginning? Hello, my name is. Nice to meet you. Where are you from?

An RCMP officer banged on the door of a trailer to tell Colten Boushie’s mom that her son had been killed. “He is deceased,” the officer said. Officers came into her trailer and searched it. Opened all the doors and cupboards. Meanwhile, Colten’s mother collapsed on the floor. “Ma’am, get yourself together,” the officer said. “Ma’am, have you been drinking?” He smelled her breath. Asked Colten’s brothers, “Have you been drinking?”

Gerald Stanley, the farmer who shot Colten, didn’t know him. He used a Russian semi-automatic handgun, a relic from the Cold War, in the conflict between settlers and first peoples. Stanley seems to have felt only coldness and fear. He didn’t ask, “Where are you from? How do you do?” The kids in the pickup truck didn’t ask either. No one sat down and introduced themselves.

Almost 200 years ago my mother’s family settled in the bush north of Quebec City. They survived by raising chickens and growing vegetables. Cutting wood. Earning a few dollars here and there.

Margaret McKeown, my grandmother, kept a rifle in her bedroom. When drunk fishermen came to the house to steal farming equipment, tools – anything not nailed down – she filled the gun with rock salt, opened the window, shot them in their behinds and watched them run away.

Would the RCMP officer have helped Colten’s mother up, made her tea and held her hand if he could have seen her as a mom? If we don’t know each other, there is nothing to reconcile, only hard words and stony ground. Walls with no doorways leading through. No garden on the other side, where we could walk together.

I know of a town and a reserve. The mayor and his son went on a canoe trip with the chief and his son. They travelled together on a rushing river, adventuring to a place they had never been. It was part of their process of creating. Building a community centre, a hockey rink. Something that wasn’t there before. Making a place where strangers can sit side by side and ask, “How are you?”

Rock salt may hurt like hell. But a Tokarev semi-automatic kills (or maims). The absence of knowing each other brings the bullet through the window of the truck. The problem is always the same and keeps repeating: Gerald Stanley’s wife says “That’s what you get for trespassing on private property.” Colten’s family says “We share the land. To say they killed him for trespassing means they violated the Treaty. Nobody owns the land.”

We are side by side in this place of stories – some shared, some growing out of this old land, belonging to no one. It is not the right time. It is the only time. How do we get close enough to hear the stories, be claimed by them and find ourselves changed?

***************

Details taken from the following Globe and Mail article: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/colten-boushie/article32451940/

What is reconciliation? Purple and white

In this life I’ve felt a touch, whispering of cloth against my skin; big sky flowing over me, an endless blanket of twinkling lights, round white moon floating there, caught in a tangle of branches and clouds. At the height of summer, I’ve walked at night in a stand of pines; the forest is small, but trees become deep and endless in darkness, and I wander there. I once found a clearing where women danced, their dresses swaying and jingling; the bells on their skirts gleaming silver in the pearly light. I’ve always wanted to dance like them, to circle round and round under branches of jack pines, on ground covered with soft, scented needles; round and round to the distant sound of drums.

In this country I’ve walked forests where leaves and needles sway softly, walked under spruce, pine, cedar, tamarack, maple, poplar, birch—walked over clear cuts too, over charred ground, as far as my eyes could see, with a shovel in my hand and saplings in my pockets. In northern B.C., near Cranberry River junction, I watched the sun set at nearly 11 o’clock, listened at night for the sounds of Cranberry River as I lay in my tent. But I never heard or saw it, only imagined the water, narrow and fast-running, bubbling over rocks, fed by cold melting snow running into a rocky bed every spring season, a river descending, always southward.

When I was a girl, I snowshoed in the forest on my grandparents’ land with my Grandpa, under the pine and spruce boughs. I watched him haul out logs, stood nearby as he cut and split them for firewood to heat the big cast iron stove in the kitchen, where a kettle of water always simmered, ready for tea. My grandparents had a swing set across from the old house, and in summer, I would swing as high as I could, watching the sun glint on the tin roof of their home, feeling the coolness of dark evergreens rising behind me. Toward sunset, the mosquitoes would bite my cousins and I as we flew back and forth, watching the sun descend, glinting on the thousands of smooth round stones mixed in the sand and soil of the driveway.

In the city there are pathways too, places where you can wear down the asphalt; I’ve added my footsteps along routes near my house, my boots rising and falling to the rhythm of rush hour traffic. I’ve packed down snow in winter and added my breath, smoky vapour in the freezing air. The big city feels small sometimes—for all its steel and concrete, at times it seems like little more than clusters of houses and office towers hunching along a southern border. Canada, our vast and powerful country, clinging tenuously to warmth and light, while our sleep is disturbed by dreams of driving off the road into darkness, of unexpected blizzards that bury us in snow drifts, of sitting there behind the wheel, frozen and silent until spring. Sometimes we dream of twisting roads leading to nowhere, of rutted gravel ending at the sites of closed down uranium and diamond mines, or an empty oil field, or a vast patch of razed ground. The truth is we only want a little bit of the wild, not too much. It reminds us painfully of all we’ve stolen from the land to feed our cities; of how we can’t manage there, or survive. We just want to live in safety, wrapped in our country Canada, that place of peace, order and good government.

The stand of pines where the drums reverberate, where I’ve walked at night, belongs to a people, the Onkwehonwe people at Kanehsatà:ke, every tree top and root, every needle-covered path. When I walk there it feels like someone’s home, like you could stand all night in a clearing where the moonlight washes over the branches, and pours over our heads, as mosquitoes bite us and the coolness of the woods drifts down upon us.  I’d give it all up, the comfortable, polite neighbourhoods, the friendly faces of Canadians, the peacekeepers, our smug satisfaction. I’d give up the dream and cross over, follow the river currents in my memory. Extend my hands and feel the weight of wampum beads pressing into my skin, the weight of broken treaties, the smoothness of purple and white beads, row upon row, a sea of peace and friendship once offered. But I’m still wandering each day further away from my old home and onto the land; out of Canada and into the world, wide-open places, shimmering with stories, overgrown with relations.

What is reconciliation? The ricochet

His words have a ricochet. He casts them out, they strike and on the rebound, start to make sense. They pick up grit and dirt from skittering on roads. Bits of wood from striking against walls and glancing off trees. Words and strings of words: constellations and courage; Newfoundland dogs, a great black plate of ice. Something called winterfighter in Thompson, Manitoba, breezes turning to rivulets and treasures buried, the Paris of the prairies.

If his words come to you, they may create an image in your mind’s eye, a feeling in your heart about living here, on this land and in the city, with your feet on the street, under trees and streetlamps, beneath satellites that circle around the world and back to you.

He offered poems and songs. Sparks from a campfire, leaving behind flames that smoulder and catch on, enter our imagination and make us see things from the outside – bigger, more mysterious.

His words have a ricochet. He throws them as hard as he can into the air and fears they will make no sense. But you are alert and quick, so you catch them, close your hands before they hurtle onward. You feel them bouncing against your palms, see light sparkling through openings in your fingers. The energy of words seeps through your skin, helping you understand the country, the people, your own heart. The words slow down and become softer – like a goose feather that drifts into your hand, or milkweed that flutters around your feet as you wander a field behind your house.

It was urgent for him to get the words out, to use them all up, so he sent them hurtling. But really, he only needed open his hands and blow softly to release a butterfly of wings and meanings. We were always there, holding out our hands, waiting for them to brush our palms.

Now his work is over, and he’s left a job for the reconcilers: to be gentle and quiet so that as a dragonfly, an idea might alight and emerge. A thought about being more tender to one another. So that when words and songs take flight through the atmosphere, making no sense, they will encounter listeners, who hear and understand, and are made gentle by them.

What is reconciliation? The pendant

I got a pendant from a silversmith and I wear it every day. Because of Gord. He writes the names of people he loves on his hands so he can remember. His memory for things close to the surface is bad. Like names of friends or his favourite place to meet for a coffee. He speaks slowly, leaving lots of space to breathe between words. You could break into his thoughts then, or you could wait and see what comes next. It takes a while for his ideas to form, each one unfolding like a flower. On the pendant, there is a heart, and inside the heart, Gord’s name. I could write it on my hand, but it would wash away, and what I’ve learned from him stays with me: how I have always been on an adventure. Tinged with the lightness of having returned from a trip where I did not worry or work too hard, where I found new things each day. I’m sure it’s sentimental, this circle of silver. But sentimentality and gentleness get confused. Anyway, Gord. This jewel is a shimmering reminder. He lost memories but still finds and keeps words: on his skin, on sheets of paper folded in his pockets, in recordings of his voice. He uses them to map all the new days of his adventure.

What is reconciliation? The chasm

Living in reality
We can endure your cages your bullets
Your lies your confusion
We know you have destroyed your peace
Living in reality you only exist

-John Trudell

For such a long time, settlers and our government have been doing the same thing over and over. We repeat and repeat the same patterns until they become the fabric of our life and seem like reality itself. In this reality, some people love peace, order and good government and some do not: the angry ones, the people from whom we stole the land. The ones whose languages and cultures we tried to kill off. The people we betrayed. Our betrayal is our sorrow and tragedy, buried deep within us—the wound of our country. But this fabric, this injured country, seems like our only choice. As if our way of life is the best one possible and theft and violence were the only means of creating it. Canada. Peace, order and good government. Peacekeepers, diplomats and nice polite travellers are our faces to the world.

Yet consider how we arrived in this present: by refusing to share the land. By signing treaties with our predecessors and breaking them, or misunderstanding (on purpose) the agreements we signed. By taking the land without offering even the promise of compensation. What is now called “Crown land”.  The unceded traditional territories of all the people who lived here first and still live here now.

We parcel this land into lots for houses, roads and industry. We clear-cut, mine and drill for oil in the vast regions. What little is left over we turn into national parks, where we manage the wildlife – counting species of fish, birds and other animals. In parks, we dictate where visitors may walk or swim or pitch a tent. Whatever is left over after that is for Indigenous peoples—we allot 0.2% of the land to 5% of the population 1.

More often now, we hear voices demanding the Canadian government acknowledge that most Canadian land is unceded territory. These voices are getting louder. Our country is filled with histories and life-ways that have existed for as long as anyone can remember. Lands and waters that defy management, that science and technology cannot account for. We try to dismiss these voices or discredit them – these other nations within our borders. We continue to build houses in disputed territories, in places such as the Mohawk community of Kanehsatà:ke in Quebec and on the Haldimand land tract at the Iroquois community of Six Nations in Ontario. We surround communities with heavy industry, such as the Chippewa people of Aamjiwnaang First Nation who are hemmed in on all sides by the oil and gas refineries and chemical plants of Sarnia, Ontario’s “chemical alley”:  home to 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry 2.

To ensure the success of our Canadian project, we place a higher value on our settler lives than we do on Indigenous lives. We don’t always know we are doing this, because we know so little about the Mohawks and the Chippewas and other nations, like the Nlaka’pamux people of Coldwater First Nation in Merrit, BC. A bitumen pipeline runs through the middle of their reserve. Now Kinder Morgan wants to build a new pipeline directly over the community’s main water source. The people have said no. The chief of Coldwater First Nation says: “For us it’s not about the politics, but the future of our community and ensuring we have access to clean, safe water.” 3  The Prime Minister of Canada says, “We are one country. The federal government is there to ensure that the national interest is upheld.” 4 He has promised that Alberta bitumen will reach the west coast by the Trans Mountain pipeline, no matter what.

In the past, we hid the evidence of how we tried to wipe out the old cultures – we ensured that our children did not learn about residential schools or the banning of Indigenous languages and ceremonies. Now, as parts of the truth come out, we blame our actions on the ignorance of the past – back then, we did not know better than to separate children from their parents; we thought teaching them Christian ways would make them more like us. That some children starved or died of TB, or that certain nuns and priests abused the children is unfortunate. We have said we are sorry for trying to “kill the Indian in the child.” 5 But our ancestors lived in a harsher, crueller world. We can’t be held responsible for it. We had not yet achieved our current state of peacefulness and kindness – we were not fully Canadian.

Nowadays, we sometimes allow the old songs and stories of this place to be told, though we often try to orchestrate them. We want everyone to know how open and accepting we are. We are sure it would be much better for Indigenous people to settle their differences our way, under the power of the Crown and through our justice system, though it tips most often in our favour.

And so we repeat broken stories of how we triumphed, how it was all for the best, while we stand on the ground of other nations. We think, how ridiculous: Indians having countries. The Indians who could have ruled countries are long dead and gone. There are no real Indians anymore.

And we make yet more promises we do not keep – of clean drinking water or equal funding for education. We show respect by calling the first peoples “Indigenous” instead of “Indians.” Before that, it was “Aboriginal,” “First Nations” or “Native.” But the empty words we speak don’t change the fact that we are creating a dystopia, a chasm opening up between us. In this chasm, we are strangers on the land – we become lost and drown. Our maps blow away on the wind, swept out of our hands. Animals turn from us, and predators attack. It is a place full of thorns and dead ground.

As time passes, the chasm grows wider until it seems the only way to cross –  to reacquaint ourselves with this place –  is to lose ourselves: to walk off the map and leave behind the marked trails; to search the land’s deepest places for the overgrown winding route – the path our ancestors walked before we settlers made enemies of the Onkwehón:we 6 (the original people). Before we forgot how to be Onkwehón:we.  

We’ve been thinking and acting like settlers for so long we no longer think this place (this land we call Canada) could seep in and grow through us, green and alive. We are sure that it could never be so vast. That starlight cannot sing in valleys and light up the highest leaves, turning the deep green pine needles to shades of blue.

We might still dream in our beds of open rooms where a starry sky appears each night, but it is only dreaming. We may, in our dreams, sit by a window to smell wet earth and the perfume of summer flowers. We might hear someone else who is outside in the night, singing in a soft voice from their yard. See the golden square of their window, lit up. Hear the sound of coyote breathing as he searches through our garbage. We may suspect that we are not the only ones. If only we could remember these things, if only we could still know them when we wake from dreaming.

 

What is reconciliation? Visiting Waswanipi

I left my country and entered another. After driving a long time on winter roads, we crossed the border. Slowly, the language began to change, until iiyiyuu ayimuun, James Bay Cree, took over completely. When I looked out the window at endless snow, it was all familiar, roads and rooftops covered in white, but it belonged to another land. When we finished driving and stepped onto the ground, my feet sank into white snow and we were encircled by a village of snug houses. We followed behind a woman wearing snowshoes until the path led us to an outdoor shelter, where we sat on a bed of cedar branches and warmed ourselves by the heat of an oil barrel stove. We ate beaver, goose and ptarmigan. Beaver roasting and crackling on a spit and bannock turning golden in a cast iron pan. The language of the Eeyou Istchee was the lingua franca, with English or French difficult to speak. Outside, winter was fierce and my coat from down south was like a sweater. I sat close to the hot barrel stove and smelled the wood smoke and fat of roasting meat; listened to the hum of people talking; felt the softness of cedar; the roar of a snowmobile in the distance. Outside, I knew the sky would be pure blue and the pines and firs, dark green. Elsewhere it was February, but there it was another country.

– in memory of Robert Ottereyes

What is reconciliation: The open door

-for Jesse Thistle

When you say you are sorry (from your heart), you open the door to a room within. A cool, peaceful space where a breeze blows in the half-open window and green leaves brush against the glass. You enter and sit in your chair, yellow sun slants across your face and there are no distractions. You’ve begun to understand pain – being hurt and hurting others. You’ve started to make space for it, and as a consequence, find yourself here in this room where pain lives side by side with your heart. You have forgiven yourself.

When you say you are sorry, a door opens and something new begins. The door may open to a different place where sad stories and tragedies fill only a few rooms in a great, sprawling house. A house also filled with laughter and the smells of supper cooking, the quiet murmur of voices in prayer. Someone’s fingers tapping on a keyboard, writing a story; someone else singing, another sewing. Listen to the sounds of children practicing their language. Hear them running in and out of the house, playing hide and seek in a field, gathering wood for the bonfire. They remember and dream as you do, memories and dreams of their own; mysteries falling from the stars, sparks of light shimmering among trees in summer. This house has always been here. But you belonged to a people that painted over the door. A whole other life. You never saw it until now.

What is reconciliation? Memory of stones

Dusk was coming to the balcony of our Montreal apartment. We could see lights flickering on in windows of the city below the cliff. We lit cigarettes using the gas ring on the stove and I singed my hair. Standing on the highest balcony, I saw smoke drifting up and lights coming on: streetlamps, flickering neon signs and high-beams of cars, as I stood there with my friend and her brother. He was visiting from his cabin in the woods near Peterborough. A small cabin with a wood stove that never gave enough heat in winter—where one night, an owl swooped down and startled him just after he had put the campfire out. His cabin was near a place called Silent Lake, not far from Curve Lake and the petroglyphs. The air is fresh up there and feels gentle and warm when summer is coming.

Back then, just after the Good Friday agreement, Ireland was on our minds: the beginning of the end of the Troubles. Mohawks from Kanehsatà:ke invited the Northern Irish to speak to them of their struggles, so much like home—disputed borders and broken promises, guns threatening to fire, soldiers and police guarding all rights of way, armed checkpoints on the roads.1 Gerry Adams spoke at the university in Montreal and people gave him a standing ovation, but I stayed in my seat. I knew he lived in a house surrounded by a fortress. How could he be a man of peace? I suspected him. Afterwards, my friends and I were invited by an IRA supporter to have a beer at the nearby pub, in a private room, with Gerry Adams a few tables away. The whole time I waited for an explosion.

Years later, I visited Saskatchewan and a different friend, who took me walking on a flat, silent expanse of land covered in sage and short grasses. He showed me a tipi ring he had found near his home, and I stood in the circle. After dark, we sat by a campfire in the backyard, such a long way from the Ontario woods. No trees blocked the night sky—it went on and on forever. There I remembered the campfire in the woods at Silent Lake and the story of the owl. I remembered campfires among the trees in Kanehsatà:ke during the pow wow—everywhere I walked, the sound of drums and strumming guitars. I thought of Easter 1916 and how the Good Friday agreement in 1998 2 completed a circle. Near my friend’s home on the prairies, we listened to the crackling fire and talked about how medicine wheels and stones mark a year’s passing. We thought of how we were sitting under a slowly spinning night. Under the wheeling sky, our thoughts turned around and around the memory of stones.

What is reconciliation? Sk’elep speaks

Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children was an education system in name only for much of its existence. These residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society…

– Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Imagine a little boy or girl walking a gravel road on the reserve near home. Picture in your mind’s eye an Indian agent driving through town, opening the door of his truck and snatching a child from the road, to spirit him away over a thousand miles to residential school. As you imagine the scene you may be in a safe place, such as your home or a café. Or on a train taking you to school or work. Unlike the child, you board the train willingly, whether following a familiar route or going on an adventure.

When the children board the train, it is icy cold and strange. They are all alone, without Mum or Dad or Grandma. The train conductor knows this—he’s done this run before, driving the straight rail all night through bush and swamp, his cars full of frightened children, crying for their family. Their lonely voices rise and pass through the windows into moonless sky. The train conductor hears the small voices and remembers them always1.

If such a thing happened to even one of our children we would call the police. Sound the alarm. Send out search parties and shine lights in dark places. Every sighting reported. Communication lines growing taut with worry and danger. Rescuers with their lights held high running through darkness of the neighbourhoods, searching for a sign.

In the image above, you can see sk’elep howling. I can’t tell if he feels rage or joy. I think his fierceness includes both. At night, he still visits the place where they kept the children. It’s been closed 40 years, but his ears still prick up when he hears the voices. He sings with them.

Sk’elep is still with us, as people in their regalia still dance at powwows, as fires that went underground rise to the surface, crackling with tobacco and cedar. The shadows of eagles’ wings brush the darkness, bringing clean, cold air to these abandoned rooms of mould and fear.

The train whistle is gone but sk’elep always sings at night. He passes through backyards and across suburban streets, sending his voice over the neighbourhoods, waking people from sleep. He walks the broken railroad tracks that come down from the north, and he remembers.

Artwork above by Chris Bose of the Nlaka’pamux nation. The image includes a photograph of the Kamloops residential school building. The Kamloops Indian Residential School was in operation from 1894 to 1977. Sk’elep or coyote is the traditional trickster figure in the pantheon of Secwepemc mythology.

What is reconciliation? The circle

They pull and they paw me
They’re seeking to draw me
Away from the roundness
of the life

-I Pity the Country, Willie Dunn

I picture a fine, woven web that begins and ends inside a spider. The spider begins and ends in a web of life that has no beginning or end because it is a circle. Our social and blood relationships are intertwined as webs, beginning and ending in each of us, who in turn begin and end in the circle.

When we came here, we encountered peoples whose sense of the world is circular and revolving, always turning and returning to the same places and seasons. Even today, to our science-based, settler minds, the circle is an inconvenient mystery – we can’t find its beginning or end. Circles don’t stretch out across the land as straight lines do, pinning down life with sharp edges.

The circle curls up into itself and spreads out, getting in the way of our complicated systems: our electrical grids, roads and bridges, telecommunications lines strung out over the earth. Our straight lines are hard and flat, pressed down onto mystery and disturbance: onto a land we cannot understand, despite how we try to measure and parcel it out, square it away.

We have a straight, flat gaze that freezes in place tracks of wild animals weaving through forests, running through backyards in the middle of the night, stopping in mid-air all the wings that ride the wind above our houses at dusk. We would hold it all there, tight in our grasp.

This is the place we call Canada, a place of science and industry, connected from Victoria to St John’s by the world’s longest highway, settled by cities and towns. But this place sees Canada and laughs. The very idea. As if. This place stretches out endlessly. Within it, our highways are only fading lines on the landscape, our cities small outposts of flickering light. I am small in this place and can’t see the beginning or the end.

We settlers have drawn our lines, but we’re lost inside the circle. It’s outside of our outer world, beyond our imagination. It makes up the sky that holds our sky. All our rivers and oceans flow within its firmament of waves. It keeps spreading out every time we think we’ve touched it, taking us further into the wild.