The truth curing my ‘Pollyanna-ism’

I suffer from a disease that, up to this moment, has been incurable–and in many ways, I’m not sure I would survive should a cure be found.
This disorder may have some lengthy Latin derivative for a formal name, but you simply might call it Pollyanna-ism.
The symptoms of this affliction as of late have taken a real pounding and on many days a cure seemingly is imminent with Trump’s antics to the south of us. It’s much easier to look at the sins in the backyard of our neighbours, whereas looking within our borders is a much greater struggle and so my Pollyanna-ism flourishes here at home.
Until now.
In preparing for my next novel, I am educating myself to the strengths and beauty of First Nations’ culture. I have been attending workshops to learn the Mi’kmaq language (local Nova Scotia First Nations’ community) and part of the learning is built around making moccasins–the one for my left foot nearly completed.
During this celebrating of language, I have, in this very short time, come to meet four extraordinary young people who are brimming with grace and courage and focus to make the lives of those they call family and community better.
My Pollyanna heart dances when I listen to their voices filled with passion, their speech eloquent and intelligent, their promise to be warriors for the weak and worn down, for the disenfranchised, firmly entrenched in their psyche.
But then I must listen to their truth; to the misery they have endured first-hand and from the genetic carry-over of the unfathomable suffering of First Nations’ children and families with the implementation of residential schools that saw 150,000 plus children under the collective roof from 1883-1979.
I am reading the 536-page summary of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report and I am reading the words of survivors, such as Isabelle Knockwood’s Out of the Depths, and I am listening to/watching the video memoir of Garnet Angeconeb of Sioux Lookout–and many more such truths on my to-do list.
The symptoms of my acute Pollyanna-ism recently was visible in my column about childhood imagination and castles. In that essay, I credited Canada with providing safety for its children.
That certainly was true for me, but not so for 1-in-25 children who died while “inmates” of residential schools (reported the CBC in 2015), a statistic that challenges the odds of Canadians dying while in service during World War II (1-in-26).
Imagine that your life was at greater risk in a school on Canadian soil than going to war. I can’t imagine, but trying to do so knocked the socks off my Pollyanna feet and made my simple heart ache with grief.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 60,000 survivors of residential schools are alive today. But there is not a First Nations’ person alive who hasn’t been adversely affected by the horrors of residential school.
We, of the European lineage, shake our heads in disbelief and say we didn’t know. How could we? A chief medical officer of Indian Affairs in 1920 reported to the government the alarming rate at which children were dying in residential schools.
He was fired and the government stopped recording the deaths.
According to a Maclean’s Magazine report in 2015, “the aboriginal population in Canada is treated worse and lives with more hardship than the African-American population.” We know. We can’t say we don’t know.
I doubt very much that children torn from their homes and isolated from their family could imagine a safe place like my castle was for me. And for that I feel profound sadness and shame.
That shame will move me to play a role in reconciliation.
wendistewart@live.ca

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail