Thursday, October 13, 2011

Day Thirty: The Very Model of a Modern Major-General

At five to seven I'm still drying my hair. Ian will be here with his kids any minute. I switch the blow dryer off and hear my brother, niece and nephew stomping up the steps. Kellen will ride the school bus with my girls and Lanelle will ride with Uncle Michael to school and then be dropped off at the babysitter later. Moira is still sleeping, but Arwen is up for her little cousins.

I stick my head out the door. "It's raining," I say, turning around for my umbrella.

"It's not rain, that's just the leaves falling from the trees," says Michael from the stairs.

I blow kisses to my little people and step down the stairs, umbrella raised. I'm leaving half hour earlier than I was yesterday and the sky is mid to dark blue. I lower the umbrella; Michael's right, until I'm half way down the lane and it is too raining!

Jade and I are off to Wolseley to participate in a First Nations and Metis Literacy Leadership project. We meet other teachers from Chief Kahkewistahaw Community School, Kakisiwew School, Cowesesss Community Education Centre, and Balcarres Community School. We are supported by Sandy Pinay Schindler, Prairie Valley School Division's First Nations and Metis Education Coordinator and Kelsey Starblanket, our First Nations and Metis Liason. We also will work with filmmaker Lesley Farley, who I worked with last year in our Treaty Four Digital Arts Project, and Michelle Hugley-Brass, a journalist, and someone I've admired on CBC radio and her work as Editor in Chief of Shout Magazine. We also look forward to working with Elder Murray Ironchild from Piapot First Nation and First Nations and Metis Senior Catalyst, Maureen Johns.

After lunch of potato, ham and salad, catered by one of my favorite Wolseleyites, Yvette, I grab my jacket, camera and umbrella. I used to live in Wolseley, and I remember some history around the naming of the town. It used to be called Wolf Creek, until it was renamed Wolseley in honour of a military man I think had something to do with the Riel Uprising in 1885. Maybe something to do with the RCMP. I remember hearing that he marched this far and then wasn't needed.

Lesley walks with me for about five minutes, but then needs to run back to the PD Centre. My feet are already wet as I turn left toward the Nursing Home and Hospital. I used to walk our dog around this man-made lake. The wet colours, reds, yellows, oranges, greens, and some flowers still in bloom remind me how much I loved this town. This town that was supposed to be our dream everything -- home, careers, friends -- after returning south from Black Lake.

I walk on the boardwalk that skirts the nursing home and then joins up with the swinging bridge, but I detour to the oldest Saskatchewan court house, and the only one built during the pre-Saskatchewan territorial government. It's earthy and lovely in brick with red accents, but I wonder if this 1894 institution ever took a stand in the name of Treaty Four, signed twenty years earlier. From the middle of the swinging bridge I snap a shot of the Wolseley Town Hall and Opera House surrounded in trees perfectly reflected in the lake. Then I make a quick tour of downtown memory lane, the Canada Cafe, the Wolf Creek Friendship Centre, and I take a shot of the Home Hardware sign, "We've Got your Lumber" in honour of the birthplace of Beaver Lumber. I really did love this town.

Back at our project meeting, we start clarifying purpose, roles and direction. We decide that we'll organize ourselves like a magazine, with Michelle, Lesley and Sandy as an Editorial Board with Michelle being Editor in Chief. The teachers are the School Editors, like a magazine might have a Sports Editor and an Entertainment Editor. We will focus on Literacy and writing. Our theme is "Leaders and Heroes in Challenging Times."

Jade is catching a ride to Balcarres to meet up with her Volleyball Team, and I am driving the number one home alone. I'm thinking about Wolseley. Wondering who he was and why was this beautiful town was named after him? I have supper, phone my friend Rob, and then log onto the computer and find "The Dictionary of Biography Online."

I start reading. Viscount. Born in Dublin. Buried in London's Saint Paul's Cathedral. India. Burma. Crimea. Victoria Cross. China. Montreal. Fenian Uprising. Red River. Upper Fort Gary. Ashanti in West Africa. Governor of Natal. Council of India. Administrator of Cyprus. He captured the Zulu King Cetewayo and is credited in ending the Zulu war.

I am reading and my eyes are swimming on the page. Is this for real? He's a poster-boy! And then I read that in 1880, when Pirates of Penzance came out, everyone in London knew "the very model of a modern Major-General" was written for Wolseley. Really? I love Gilbert and Sullivan. Mom took us to everything, The Mikado, The Gondoliers, Pirates. And then I think, Pirates? Pirates! The British were pirates to Indigenous people world-wide. Was Wolseley the British handshake on the treaty medalion?

I'm still looking for Wolseley's connection to Wolf Creek and I don't find any, but I do read of his last military operation, the only one that failed, set on Egypt's Nile River, as he led a group including 390 Canadian Voyagers, vetrans of the Red River campaign.

I'm outraged.

This past spring I had a fight with my BC friend Rob. We were on a roadtrip to his birth town, Outlook, Saskatchewan. I had made some passing comments about mainstream Canada's marginalizing of First Nation's people. I was likely talking about racism. I don't really remember what I said, but I do remember my tone. I was condescending and a little, maybe a lot, self-righteous. Rob called me on this tone. I got angry. I flipped out that he wasn't on my page. We fired comments back and forth and a few I do remember include:

"When you talk about Canadians, you make me feel guilty, maybe ashamed," he'd said.

"Maybe we should be ashamed," I'd said. "We should be brokenhearted."

"Sheena, you are my oldest friend and I know your heart. But you've got to find a way to be able to talk about this," he'd said.

"I've been trying to talk about this for years. It's been my life work since the north, maybe since I was little, and every way I talk about it, I alienate people. They right away go to a defensive place and they don't hear the stories. They don't open their ears and listen to the pain people have endured. They just think, 'You're calling me racist, and I don't like it,'" I had said.

"Okay then, what is it you want me to hear?" he'd asked. "Figure out what it is you want to say, and figure out a way to say it so people can hear you."

Rob has just moved to Northern BC, so he hasn't seen my blogging or pictures. His computer is likely under a pile of boxes. But tonight on the phone I blame him for starting me down this treaty walk, in search of new treaty talk. And now I'm thinking back to my morning, and my sweet niece and nephew, and my brother I love like life itself, and my hero-of-a-sister off in Cape Breton with our saintly sister-in-law and my nurturing cousins and my beautiful daughters and prince of a husband, and my life-breathing parents, and what is it I want all of us to know and live about treaties?

For now, all I know is that I need to get to sleep because in the morning I need to take a walk, and Arwen has asked if she can walk with me.


  1. Ah Sheena ... a new walk to find new talk. It is the walk to be on, isn't it, no matter what the passion that drives the steps. Blessings on your journey today, sister!

  2. hummm- the delicate balance, the heart of the matter, the love and healing. How to bring healing to so much hurt? Maybe it is in tone. I remember a comment from Andrea (my Andrea from Germany). She gets frustrated that so many movies and comments are always clouded by WWII. She says she did not do those things- so is she to blame because she is German? How is that different than discriminating against First Nations people or anyone? Maybe it's all in conversation that we find healing and in shared pain, empathy and understanding through which life emerges. Maybe you share the same stories, but from the voice of heartbreak, repentance, inner sorrow, shared pilgrimage and even celebration of the deaths because death is not complete or final, culture is being resurrected, can we chew the meat and spit out the bones?

  3. Guilt is one of the hardest emotions and it comes up whenever most of us do serious reflection. I remember doing a couple 10 day silent meditations. The most powerful experiences were realizing how implicated I am in the suffering of others. I realized that most of my focus interpersonally is usually on who did what to me and not what I happened to do to others. It blew me away how selfish my nature is (and I thought I was a good person). All this ignorance produces all this suffering that we often notice only later down the road. We all have much work to do. 300-500 or however many years of white privilege in our people certainly produces infinite ghosts and nightmare realities that are waiting and still waiting to confront us in our infinite universe. How can we foolishly think that most of us are going to respond to doing this heavy work with anything less than resistance.

    That's why you need to be strong in the face of this antagonism. Stay reflective. Keep the Faith and your heart pure.

    That's hilarious about Lord Wolseley being a poster boy for colonialism. It truly inspires a t-shirt project channeled from the fashion mindset of my early 20's Use the Lord Wolseley's face on the front of the shirt and then list all his "achievements" on the back of the t-shirt.

    HMMMMMMMMM...... what t-shirt size are you?

    All the best,

  4. Ah But Sheena, You are walkin the walk. So talkin the talk is in each step.