On Friday August 30th Fay and I joined a packed crowd in The Ches Leach Lounge to hear Kevin Lamoureux speak about “Reconciliation as a Relationship.” Kevin is a faculty member of the University of Winnipeg. He is a celebrated public speaker dedicated to the implementation of the findings of the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission.’ The Commission has drafted an Action Plan.
That Action Plan challenges Canadians - challenges us to deal with the results of past relationships with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The Plan lays out steps that will create a stronger, healthier future for all.
Lamoureux’s presentation impacted forcibly with the audience gathered at the Ches Leach Lounge.
The speech had a particular impact on me. My teaching career brought me into contact with many First Nations students. Lamoureux’s words brought back many memories of those students. One student in particular made me realize that many of those students faced, and still face, extreme challenges.
Her name was ‘Rose.’ At least that was the name she was labelled with when she first came to live in Prince Albert. She was from a small settlement north of Lac La Ronge, on the Churchill River.
Rose was assigned to my grade ten English class. She sat as close to the back of the room as she could get. She never asked any questions. She was quiet and only replied if I specifically asked her a question, and then answered as briefly as possible.
In her grade twelve year, she again appeared in my English class. She sat near the back. She was present, but, again, said as little as possible.
Then it happened. Rose wrote me an essay. I had asked the students to write three pages on any topic of their choosing.
What Rose wrote rocked me. In prose and poetic form Rose described what it was like to come to this ‘Whiteman’s, school.’ She wrote how she had to answer to a new name, rather than by the Cree name her grandfather had bestowed upon her. She wrote how she had to eat foods that were foreign to her. She wrote how she had to live in a dormitory, empty of the warmth and love she had left behind in her own small northern community. She wrote how she had to hear racial and sexual allusions made by white boys. She wrote how she had to struggle to not be ashamed of who she was.
The essay did two things: It shook me deeply, but it also led eventually to open conversations between the two of us. She finally talked. We finally talked.
I have never forgotten Rose. She told me her Cree name, the one her loving grandfather had given her. I cannot remember the Cree words for that name – but the gentleness implied by those words is what Rose will always mean to me.
Rose we have long ago lost touch with one another. But, I know, what you bravely shared helped me in working with and understanding many other indigenous students that I had the opportunity to teach.
So, Kevin Lamoureux, what you said was powerful. I hope we can all work to create a better, stronger and healthier Canada.
Kudos to the Prince Albert Rotary Club for arranging the presentation.
Fay and I, just about the time you read this column, will be on our way to Australia to visit our daughter and her family. It will be about two months before I write to you again, but I look forward to coming back to tell you another ‘WHALE OF A TALE.’