"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Last Day at the TRC: Joy and Sadness, Hope and Disappointment

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We went and spent Sunday day at the TRC, listening to the survivors and the commissioners. It was all very moving.

I ran into the gentleman who sells Metis sashes from my home province (Manitoba), Miguel.  He operates under the trade name Etchiboy. He’s just stood up a sales website. and continues to sell through eBay.

The sashes are wonderful, high quality objects. He has based the designs on historic sashes held in some museums, including for example, the sash that Louis Riel gave to the woman that had hidden him for several days after the defeat at Batoche.  He also has more contemporary designs by Carol James (the one I just purchased).

Most of the larger sashes are made on hand looms, of alpaca or sheep wool. What is really wonderful is the manufacturer of the sashes is a group of 20 or so Peruvian aboriginal women. The arrangement, much like the fair trade coffee arrangements, provide the women with a reasonable income for their work. Etchiboy’s partner mentioned to me that on their last visit to Peru, these women now had running water in their homes. The image, of aboriginals in another nation, making such an iconic article for Canadian Metis, and improving their quality of life, is wonderful.

He was kind to show me the way the traditional voyageurs would have worn it, in the bush, for back support. Worn that way, the sash is looped about your lower back and abdomen, several inches higher than worn about the waist. The tassels are tied in an overhand knot centered on your body so as to hold the fringes up out of the brambles.

Now, my own little story of racism. I purchased a sash from Etchiboy during our visit, and ‘wore it home’. As I was standing looking at a display, I heard a man say to a woman – “look at that sash, that’s an important symbol, he shouldn’t be wearing that” I obviously wasn’t intended to hear that comment – when I turned and made eye contact with the man, both he and the woman dropped their eyes to the floor.  Interesting, that the ones experiencing shame over my sash were the two commenting about it!

Racism is all about describing ‘the other’ in ways that make them safe to be around – Indians look and act a certain way, Metis look and act a certain way.  Admitting that I was Aboriginal (both legally and genetically) would have shook that gentleman’s world view.  Isn’t that the epitome of exactly what the res schools were about?  It is exactly in the ball park with Thomas Kings idea of the dead Indian – the only one we’re comfortable with, because he looks and acts just as we expect him to, and doesn’t show up in the wrong places, like our schools or workplaces.

I probably should have walked over and challenged him, but I was shocked enough that I wasn’t certain I had heard correctly.  Plus, I’m only really three weeks out of the closet myself…back to Thomas King (I’m Not the Indian you Had in Mind)

so damn you for the lies you told

and damn me for not being bold enough

to stand my ground and say

that what you’ve done is not our way

Maybe I should have been bold.  They were sitting at one of the federal government displays set up in Hall B. Sad that in a place of so much hope and healing that old attitudes still exist…this time, I am certain, because I don’t look like a real Metis (which makes me think – what does a ‘real’ Metis look like?).

If you’ve ever encountered a New York Mohawk you might be surprised by their appearance – as they tend to be quite fair. A Mohawk chaplain I heard speak once commented that whenever he walked into a hospital room to perform a healing ritual, he would be asked why they hadn’t sent an aboriginal person. The very act of phrasing the statement, “he doesn’t look like a ‘real’…” is a racist undertaking, because it presumes that certain groups have certain common characteristics. So a ‘real’ Metis, I presume, would look more like a Cree person, and less like an Icelandic Scot.

Most powerful points in the Commissioner’s statements of reconciliation:

A group of ladies from 15 different African nations came to share their stories of oppression and to offer their support to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. They clearly understood the subtext playing underneath the TRC.

Second was a large group of youth, representing the 4R’s movement. A young Ojibwe lady spoke very passionately about the obligation to make a difference in the world. I was pleased to see one young woman with a Metis sash.

The African women introduced the concept of ubuntu, the idea that all things in the creation are interconnected and interdependent. One summed it up with the phrase, “Because you are, I am too.”

We went out and stood in the smoke from the smudge by the fire, and listened while a woman faced east and sang a song of healing.

The final word to Justice Murray Sinclair, who made this comment, “Reconciliation is when I can look in the mirror, and see your face; and you can look in the mirror and see my face.”


Written by sameo416

March 30, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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