Someone asked what this word meant during the q&a session of this evening’s lecture.
I signed up for this talk last September. I found it by chance by looking for free events, and specifically free lectures, happening around Vancouver. Tonight, I listened to what it meant to be an honorary witness for the indigenous people. What it means to relearn how to listen with both ears, and your heart. I was very humbled.
I first learnt about Canadian history of first nations people during my fourth year of university. And it was only by chance. I had signed up for a Canadian literature course, and to my surprise, almost everything we were exposed to, and most everything I can remember, was literature written by the indigenous.
There was so. much. pain.
I had never , ever been taught their history. Not of residential school. Not of colonialism this upfront. I had no idea the pain they endured. No, idea. It changed my world, my understanding of the history of a country I was so proud to be a part of. Shame. Shame hit hard.
Listening to one mother tell us of her anger tonight, of those predators that had hurt the missing and murdered…I remember the red dress I hung up last year and felt:
embarrassment for thinking I had done anything of help
reality, that that symbol truly means something. That these women I do not know, they are real. This has happened. Don’t even dare to romanticize the symbol of that dress. It is a tragedy that I have only begun grasping the meaning of.
After the talk, there were refreshments. I had some while standing at a small table and ended up engaging in conversation with an Asian woman next to me. Someone probably in her fifties. She was from Hong Kong originally. I didn’t know how long she had been in Canada. She spoke perfect English.
In the course of our conversation, I asked her, how did she find out about this event. She looked at me, somber, and said she had started asking these questions about ten years ago. When she would take the bus to work and travel thru downtown East side. She would wonder, did the poorest part of Canada grow out of this street. What happened to all these people. How did they get here.
She said she loves talking to first Nations youth. That they were incredibly bright. Are you one, she asked. I smiled and shook my head. And she smiled back and said, I didn’t think so…
She said, I sometimes want to go up and talk to them. But, I’m too scared.
I understood. You just don’t want to offend.
She attends most everything to do with the TRC, the truth and reconciliation committee. She said we have to learn to care, to truly be happy, we need to learn, think hard, and care about this history. It must never happen again.
I was so touched by this woman. Why is it that I think older Chinese women of that generation wouldn’t care? Maybe because I don’t think a lot of them know this history. It’s not something brought up at the dinner table. In my family, the conversation is mostly about what broke out between the Japanese and Chinese at the time of WWII. There is nothing wrong with talking about this history, of course. It impacted the people in my family so greatly. Especially my grandparents. But indigenous history has never touched my family table. Not until tonight, when I told my mom I was coming to this, and she asked why.
One thought that impacted me during this talk was that the host, Shelagh Rogers, said that we need to stop having the history of the indigenous taught only by the indigenous. It is not just their history. This is our history, everyone’s history. We are every much as responsible for learning it, knowing it, and teaching it.
It makes so much sense.