While reading Matthew’s gospel recently, my eyes teared up when I came across “but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs”” (Matthew 19:14).
I realized that the images from my research work for Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada had not gone away. The discoveries of unmarked graves rekindled the vicarious trauma of those images. I’m not Indigenous, still, one cannot escape the realization that the triumvirate of empire, colonialism and racism made unwilling martyrs out of thousands of Indigenous children and their families. I use the term “martyr in its original meaning as “witness”, as they were witness and victims of government sanctioned cruelty just like the early martyrs of ancient Rome. But unlike the ancient martyrs, these saints remain unsung. But now, some light shines in the darkness.
Among the many making cracks in the colonial armour, allowing light to enter our consciousness three come to mind: Alanis Obomsawin, Abenaki filmmaker and activist, who work sheds light on discrimination and injustice, but also on Indigenous strength and resistance; Dr. Cindy Blackstock of the Gitxsan First Nation, works fiercely and tirelessly for the rights of current Indigenous children; and, Sleydo (Molly Wickham), an Indigenous spokesperson for the Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their allies, who struggle to preserve the health of Wet’suwet’en natural ecosystems for future generations, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
These three living saints are numbered among the innumerable unsung saints who have struggled against the injustice of empires from time immemorial. Let’s begin to remember and celebrate Unsung Saints, and by our own actions amplify the light.
Art and writing by Rev. Dr. Victoria Marie
Orange Shirt Day was the first day for Indigenous peoples to understand who our parents and grandparents were. It is a day where we discovered conversations around knowing our parents went to Residential school. I feel our family was missing something in our lives prior to that. I grew up in a world of adults that were in Residential Schools, these adults were once children who were severely neglected, sexually & physically abused, tormented, medically experimented on and in many cases as we are finding out today, many died and were buried in unmarked graves.
Orange Shirt Day marks a day of a long journey. Much healing is required by our community, both indigenous and non-idigenous peoples. We have been sitting for many years now with society and government talking of Reconciliation, but having no idea how to do that. Now people like myself have to be the voices of Indigenous People and saying the way to healing is through OUR cultural practices. Being able to do ceremonies without barriers.
On my healing journey, I found that the best way for my family to heal is through the lands and waterways. I believe Creator guided me into this path to heal my family and help others find a healing path. I have trained with some knowledge keepers and now I am a Indigenous Cultural Facilitator. I work with Indigenous Plant medicines. I started by harvesting plant medicines with my children around Vancouver. Without forced teaching, my children are learning to identify plants and the benefits. They watch me create Salve Medicines, Tinctures and know how to dry the plants we harvest. This is a family thing that we do together, and it becomes a normal thing we do from Spring to End of Summer. A cultural event that I am handing down to my children and they will hand down through their children.
For me, working with plants is a way of healing. Advocating for garden spaces within parks to be able to get our hands in the dirt, which is a proven method of mental health healing. Touching the dirt helps with depression and gives you that connection to the earth. Being with our Indigenous Plants is one way to be culturally connected to who we are as people.
While we are on this journey to healing, it opens up a safe space to discuss among each other of how our people got through residential schools and how we are recovering and learning why we are who we are today. The Earth is our Ceremony and we are in ceremony everyday.
It is important for Non-Indigenous people to give us this safe space to talk about our experiences, residential school is not over: instead it is called Child and Welfare today. If we are given our safe space to talk, we share our lived experiences. We are not necessarily asking for help to heal, only a safe space to listen to us.
The Park spaces that I have created so far, I call Bridges to Decolonization. They are not only a space for learning Indigenous Plant medicines and food, but also a space for People of Color or IBPOC, particularly immigrant people to share their own cultural food from their own home lands.
It’s very important that Non-Indigenous people know that Systematic Genocide is real and very much alive today.
Gitxsan by my parents, Caroline & Earl Brown
Nisga’a by my grandparents, Harold & Elizabeth Wright