Warning. Trigger…. Residential Schools.
If you’ve heard the news about the mass burial site uncovered last week at the Kamloops residential school in British Columbia, Canada; you have no doubt felt shock, sadness, turmoil and confusion.
It has rocked me to my core. Not because I wasn’t aware of the harsh past of Canada’s founding – but because I’ve been trying to understand and process the weight of these recent findings.
You see, it doesn’t matter that we bring these atrocities to light, if we don’t shift our belief systems and how we live in our current world.
The world we have inherited is a violent world. We have internalized the western, rational, patriarchal view that life is a battle, that we must overcome not just hardships, but also whatever we don’t understand, what is different; and what we are scared of.
We do not live in harmony with anything.
We sanitize our life. We sanitize our religion. We fight our illnesses. We suppress what is not like us. And we keep doing it over and over again.
The residential schools in Canada much like in other colonies, were an arm of Christian “god fearing” people supposedly; but really they were an extension of power hungry colonists who knew that if they suppressed the powerful beliefs of the local culture; they could win.
This has resulted in decades of dysfunctionality amidst the First Nations people in Canada – because when your past is erased – and you are told it is worth nothing – your soul is scarred – and it takes immense bravery, courage and determination to re-find your wholeness once again.
I don’t claim in any way to understand the depth of this pain. I share only an insight that has been crystallizing for me – that may provide a way in.
As someone who grew up in a minority group within a minority group – I was born into the Bohra community, a small sect of Shia Muslims in India – I understand what it feels like to have my culture and traditions misunderstood. While at school in Bombay, I saw almost no one from a similar background – Muslims were a minority – and we didn’t celebrate our difference in an India that was growing less and less tolerant of our religion.
Plus, as someone in a small Shia sect, we did not celebrate the same holidays as even other Muslims; which made even celebrating festivals a complicated explanation to my teachers or friends.
I remember early on feeling that I lived one life that was visible and secular; at school, while playing sports and interacting with most people; yet, also had this secret “other” life where I dressed differently, went to the mosque with my parents and ate particular foods. I remember feeling embarrassed at the thought of being caught in traditional clothing by school friends – and I left my ancestral faith as soon as I left home – and yet it definitely left a void in me. Yes I was able to adapt easily to many situations and places in my life – yet I never felt like I fully belonged anywhere.
My point is, no matter what the government of Canada says – i.e. that there was no desire to erase the indigenous peoples’ of Canada’s culture or language by putting children into residential schools – when you take a child, out of their home – away from their people, away from their natural way of being, away from love and nourishment; you create confusion; separation and from that emerges great cycles of pain and suffering; that exacerbate as we continue down this path.
I have walked the downtown east side streets of Vancouver- where years ago I helped to start a yoga program for women on the streets. Most of the homeless women in Vancouver, are indigenous. This is not a coincidence. It is a reaction to having ones totality stripped away. It is the byproduct of a search for meaning and wholeness.
When I chose to move to Canada, I was not aware of how deep and terrible its Colonial roots really were. Yet, being from India; I know how harsh the colonial shadow is. I grew up at a time when speaking English well was prized above everything else, where in the process I lost my native language… and with it so many old stories. And while my education prepared me for the world, it did not reveal how much I missed by not knowing and fully understanding my roots.
This is still something I am grappling with.
What is our way forward?
- We must question using not just our minds, but our hearts.
- We must live less violently.
- We must live less in fear.
- We must allow ourselves to grieve.
- We must support diversity and diverse voices so we can understand one another’s real stories.
- We must learn not to numb our pain through substances, but instead offer support, a shoulder, a hug and an ear.
- We must not support inequity – especially with our dollars.
- We must live more in harmony with our environment – and trust the wisdom of nature.
- Nature loves diversity. It encourages it. Let’s keep encouraging this in ourselves as well.
I believe in the ultimate kindness of humanity. We have to let go of the crusty, contracting outer layers of fear to get there. It is time. Our children are our way forward.
June is national Indigenous month in Canada. I’m tagging a few accounts here that have some great resources to educate us and can help us to grow in love, connection and communication.
https://www.instagram.com/morning.star.designs/. The Artwork shown above is by the artist Alanah Jewell as well.