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Little Souls: What are they trying to tell us?

Photo of the Canadian flag in orange and white instead of red and white. And an orange heart in the centre with a teardrop.

By Gayathri Shukla; Image Credit: Fiona Kirkpatrick Parson

215. 751. And it keeps coming…

As more disturbing discoveries of the remains of Indigenous children come to light, I wonder, did these little souls know who they were? What are they trying to tell us now?

Might they be telling us that they knew they belonged to the land? A land that connects them to a continuum of unscripted stories, flowing through generations?

Might they be telling us that they knew they belonged to their families? And how they missed sharing a moment of joy with loved ones, of spotting a robin’s nest in the spring, or the crisp breeze of the fall?

As someone who has called Canada home for the past 23 years, I am filled with overwhelming sorrow for this dark chapter of Canadian history, filled with its literal and figurative skeletons. I am embarrassed to admit that after immigrating here in my high school years, I was not educated about the Indian Residential Schools. The first time I learned about this history was only a few years ago, at an Indigenous Awareness webinar. Saddened, I committed to reading the Truth and Reconciliation Committee report.

But awareness without action is meaningless. We all have to start somewhere.

Over the past weeks, I took small steps, first by attending a reconciliation circle. On National Indigenous People’s Day, I hosted a remembrance circle to raise donations for Orange Shirt Society. I was moved by the vulnerable stories that everyone shared in these circles. It reinforced my conviction that in order to move toward reconciliation, we must first acknowledge the truth. We must hold spaces where the truth can be said and listened to, in order for healing to take place.

Still, I don’t believe these steps are nearly enough. They are but the first of many more to come.

The past few weeks have brought moments of reckoning. As a storyteller, a large part of my work at Campfire Kinship involves inviting the authentic expression of underrepresented voices. I am acutely aware that these voices come from those whose stories have traditionally been untold, and whose identities have been stifled or erased. The history of colonization has shown that one of first things to get attacked by colonizers, is the sense of identity of those being colonized. In her poignant publication, ‘The Historian as Curandera,’ Aurora Levin Morales writes: “When the Mayan codices were burned, it was the Mayan sense of identity, rooted in a culture with a past, that was assaulted.”

Our reckoning with residential schools is that the acts went beyond abuse and murder. It made the very attempt to kill the spirit of Indigenous Peoples, by forcefully preventing the transmission of culture to their own children.

 

Because if you didn’t know where you came from, how do you know who you are, or who you can be?

I believe that the confluence and proximity of recent events is no mere coincidence. The discovery of Indigenous bodies, the anniversary to George Floyd’s murder, the hateful attack and murder of a Muslim family in London, and many others – all serve as a stark reminder of how ignorance and fear, when left unchecked, can perpetuate divisiveness and violence. The work of dismantling systems of bias and hatred is a shared responsibility. The telling of our stories, and acknowledging of truth is just one part.

 

Our call to action now is to rise above mere expressions of condolences, and act in solidarity.

I believe these children knew they belonged to their families, communities, the Earth, and Creator. In this period of reckoning for all Canadians, perhaps their little souls are here to tell us that while their bodies were killed, their spirit will never be defeated, and their stories never erased. They whisper to us now what Maya Angelou once told, “When you know better, you do better.”

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on July 1, 2021.

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