"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Truth and Reconciliation 2

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What is it that provides you with your identity?

If you were to think about the things you could lose that would cause the most harm to your sense of self, what would those things be?

As a sideways path into that question, if I was to ask you, “Who are you?” what would be your first response?

In the first world, people who have employment outside the home often draw a large portion of their sense of self from the job.

For a long time in my life I would answer the “Who are you?” question by saying…an engineer, a soldier. Later on my first response would shift to be a child of God, as my self-identity expanded beyond my education. It is a question I still reflect on, as who we are is such a fundamental part of our being. (I had a friend who was a stay-at-home parent, but had a professional career before marriage and children. The first time I met my friend, she introduced herself as a engineer even though she had not worked in the field for a few years)

So, make up that list of the things that are the foundation upon which you rest your sense of self. It might include education, job, faith, family, children, volunteer actions, music, body art, car or motorcycle, hobbies, career, language, culture…whatever bits we draw out of our lives to place up on the wall as signs marking out place.

It might even be worthwhile following one of the distasteful management practices of the 90’s: the mission statement, but doing it for yourself. What is your mission? That too is tied into that question of self.

I might form that list for myself to include faith, father, husband, vocation, honour, courage, service above self, heritage.

Now comes the tough part.

Imagine now that I come to get you first thing in the morning, before you’re fully awake. I have helpers with me, and we take you from your home and take you away…whether you wish to come with us or not.

When the journey ends, you’re in a place 100’s of miles from home. You’re surrounded by people just like you, but you’re not allowed to be who you are. Instead we introduce you to a new faith, a new language, a new way of dressing. If you slip back into your old patterns, there are consequences, both physical and emotional.

No longer are you allowed to grasp the things which previously made you who you are…none of it. There is a new self-identity being forced upon you.

That’s the basic impact of the residential school experience. While in some cases there were good things that arose out of it, at its core was a philosophy of re-education and re-engineering of the self.

What strikes me from the thought exercise is the degree of damage that can result from that loss of self. I remember graduating from military college, after a hard 4 years (my daughter was shocked to hear I had more credit hours in a semester than she does in the entire year). After the bright lights and parade I was struck with a profound grief. For those 4 years I had a strong sense of self and where I belonged, and suddenly it was all gone.

The legacy of the res schools, quite apart from the abuse issues, was nothing less than the loss of self-identity for several generations of Canadian aboriginals. The schools operated for about 100 years – that’s 10 generations of children passed through that process of re-engineering of the self.

It certainly makes me think. It also helps me to understand (a bit) why my family may have decided at one point to pick the European path over the Metis path.


Written by sameo416

February 3, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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