Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day One Hundred Sixty Eight: Letter to The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair

The sun was hot on my bare arms as I walked home yesterday. I stopped at Roy and Trudine's house because I saw their door ajar and I hadn't seen them for a few weeks. I told them I'd taken my students to the TRC Hearings and they shared a little of their own journeys. As I walked over the bridge, toward the Governance Centre, I waved at a shiny truck approaching, and when it was close enough to see the driver, I recognized Justice Murray Sinclair who smiled and waved back at me.

May 15th, 2012

Dear Commissioner, The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair:

Yesterday the grade ten students of Bert Fox Community High School walked to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearing at the Governance Centre in Fort Qu’Appelle carrying the sign, “It Matters 2 Me.” Many of us, me included, are young in our Residential School History education. We may not realize the significance of these TRC Hearings; however, hearing you, the chiefs and leaders welcome us in the morning, followed by the first three survivor stories in the afternoon and all day today; this will remain with us as a continuing education. The sight of Kleenex held to a survivor’s eye and collected in the bag of tears; the sound of laughter as well as complete silence; the smell of sweet grass; the touch of a hand shake; the taste of an oatmeal cookie will remind us for years to come that we were here.

Yesterday I was deeply touched as a non First Nations Canadian by the specific and repeated welcome from leaders and survivors. My human nature tells me this is ironic. Here I sit, representing the newcomers who represent the oppressor, and yet I am welcomed into the gathering. This is not the first time I have experienced this irony. My husband and I taught for five years in Black Lake, a fly-in Dene reserve in Northern Saskatchewan where we were tested and then embraced in life-long friendship. My husband and I now teach in Fort Qu’Appelle where we have once again been offered trust and friendship by many families who are survivors, or as Chief Perry Bellegarde said, “thrivers.” I am especially honoured by the relationships I have found at our Community Outreach Centre. I do not take these acts of forgiveness and friendship lightly.

Yesterday, Chief Bellegarde said, “Words without action are empty and meaningless” with reference to the Canadian Government’s apology for Residential Schools.  As a newcomer Canadian (from four to eight generations deep) I am deeply sorry for the lack of treaty implementation which brought about the terror of the Indian Act and Residential Schools: however, sorry is not enough; I am also charged to act toward “peaceful coexistence”. I am thankful for First Nations leaders and friends who model forgiveness and provide vision so that my action can focus on hope rather than guilt.

Thank you for this opportunity to offer my personal accountability to treaty as someone who has benefited for generations from treaty. I commit to the following action:

  1. Continue walking alongside survivors from Fort Qu’Appelle’s Community Outreach, learning to share power and privilege,
  2. Continue teaching in our Community High School, discovering the strength in our students’ collective diversity, making our school the ivy-league-place-to-be, as diversity becomes a hotter and hotter commodity,
  3. Continue walking and blogging as I meditate on treaties. Today is day 167 of my planned 200 day walk (,
  4. Seek opportunities to hold government responsible for treaty implementation, and
  5. Support efforts to erect monuments at the sight of each Residential School.
It Matters to Me. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada matters to me. As mother to three daughters and teacher of many more, I am hopeful that this generation we are raising together will be one of truth and reconciliation.

Thank you for welcoming my students and our school into this gathering. I offer prayers and blessings on this process.

Sheena Koops
Grade Ten English Language Arts Teacher
Bert Fox Community High School

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