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  • Writer's picturevilmablenman

Truth & Pain

Today, the last day of September, the sunflowers bend their heavy heads, still pointed sunward. Today, the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day, mark the lametable legacy of residential schools in Canada. At last it happened--the acknowledgement of the "somebody done somebody wrong song." The unmarked graves point to pain then and now. For decades Indigenous voices called for truth and survivors have told their stories. Yet questions remain. Where are the other missing children? What really happened to the ones who came home limping, still lame, generations later?

We don't know all the truth yet, but we do know enough of the truth and the pain of residential schools, enough for Canada to take action now. Indeed First Nations are demanding it now. But how will non-Native Canadians observe this day, I wonder?

I'm a Black settler- newcomer who made a new home on Native land. I'm very aware of the history and the ironies of disparities. Although I came later than the colonizer, truth be told, I live better than many First Nations people: I have better access to health care, cleaner drinking water, and wider educational opportunities for my children who did not need to leave home for secondary or post-secondary studies. They were never "scooped. "

How then do later settlers, aka "immigrants", participate in righting the wrongs, in healing the pain that was here before we came? I want to hear and learn--more. I want to speak up and out--using my settler voice and my settler eyes. I have an MP, an MPP, a computer, a conscience.

Speaking of truth though, except for First Nations inhabitants, aren't we all "settlers"? And what if all the settlers spoke with one allied voice?

Today, on this first national day to acknowledge the truth and pain of residential schools, I want to pause and reflect on what reconciliation looks like for me sitting here, looking past the tallest sunflowers through the lenses of a settler frame from my home on Native land.

Settler Letter

Dear Indigenous neighbour,

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a settler—a newcomer observer,

a traveller from the Tropics seeking shade in this suburban glade.

I arrived late, later than Champlain and I make no claims to land I’ve landed on

I only claim the territory bordered by my own brown skin.

But I won’t lie, I love my grey patch outside where someone felled flat

a Seneca forest then paved paradise so I can park my car. Truth is,

I safely drink water I do not boil or buy and each night I see my children come

back from school nearby, each classroom complete with wireless devices

to enlighten and delight.

I want you to know that I know this truth: each time I slip

through my door, I’m stepping into space your ancestors walked

through before, for I am squatter settler. So it hurts me on this day marked

for truth and reconciliation to think of the fights you lost and the fights you’ll still

have to fight to make your home your own on Native land.

--Vilma Blenman

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