official pardon, reprieve,
forgiveness, acquittal, release, discharge, freeing, exoneration,
let go, liberate, let loose, leave go of, absolve, clear, unshackle, unfetter, unchain,
I sit in the fourth or fifth row of chairs with our grade nines and tens on either side of the gym. 300 or so students from as close as Standing Buffalo to as far as Fishing Lake wait with us for guest speaker, Craig Benjamin from Amnesty International. He arrives and begins sorting handouts on the back table.
Two elders sit next to an empty podium on the stage. The man wears jeans and a cowboy hat. The woman wears a flowered skirt with a lacy, white cotton sweater, much like the black shell I’m wearing over my blouse. The man welcomes the audience, introduces Benjamin, and then invites his fellow elder to lead a prayer in her own language. Boys in the audience remove their hats.
Benjamin is tall and thin, an ex-farmer from Nova Scotia. He has a kind smile and his voice is gentle, but enthusiastic. He takes us through a power-point presentation, which might be called Human Rights 101. The students are restless, but Benjamin continues in his easy-going manner. I give my students sitting close to me the eye and some shushing, but I decide I should focus on Benjamin and continue taking notes. He asks if any of us have heard of the United Nations Declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I raise my hand, but I don’t really know any details. He tells us that only four countries voted against this Declaration, Australia, New Zealand, The United States and... Canada. Canada!
intercontinental, universal, comprehensive, total,
inclusive, overall, large-scale, macro, all-inclusive, wide-reaching,
widespread, general, common, collective,
total, entire, complete, unanimous,
communal, group, combined,
cooperative, joint, shared,
He speaks of the Amnesty International project called No More Stolen Sisters: The Need for a Comprehensive Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada. Later as I look through the document, I see the young face of Helen Betty Osborne and remember reading the graphic novel this summer, the story of an intelligent, resilient, hope-filled girl. I see Amber Redman’s unforgettable smile. She’s a Bert Fox graduate. She walked our hallways. Her family still does. She is a stolen sister.
Benjamin tells us that October 4th is Amnesty’s vigil. I wonder if we have time to organize something here. Maybe I should go to one, go to something, get involved. When he asks for questions, my daughter and her friends ask, “How many countries in the United Nations?” and “When was Amnesty founded,” and “How do youth get involved,” and they keep asking. Finally, he won’t let them ask any more until the rest of the audience has a chance. He keeps looking back to Moira and her friends, a big grin on his face.
I don’t wear my jacket for my walk home. There had been spits of rain at noon when I talked to the bus driver from Wadena who said how good it is to bring so many kids together. The sky is clear now, and the sun is doing its thing. Arwen’s on the phone when I walk in the door. Michael comes in from working on his truck. “Where’s Survivor,” he says.
“By the laundry room,” Arwen says, holding her hand over the receiver.
I’m in the kitchen, and Michael has gone to check on our dog. She’s been having trouble breathing, with a cold or something, and since Klee passed away a week ago Monday, she hasn’t been eating. Michael comes around the corner and he is silent.
“Is she…” I say.
“She’s gone,” he says.
Michael heads outside and begins digging up Klee’s grave. He returns half an hour later, wraps Survivor in a blanket and carries her up the hill.