The first day of discovery: essay and poem

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This first-person article was written by the PEI Poet Laureate. Julie Pellissier-Lush, actress and writer. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the FAQ.

When the news started to cover the first discovery of the children’s lost graves, I was in shock.

What did this mean? We as Native people knew the stories, we knew the suffering our survivors had endured in residential schools all over Turtle Island, but now it was all so real.

I felt a pressure in my chest, like a heavy weight pushing all the air out of my lungs, slowly but surely. I pushed those emotions away, compartmentalized the emotions that I wasn’t allowed to feel so deeply.

I had not been to residential school, but I sat and cried with the survivors as they spoke about their experiences.

The first day after the news it was blurry, I had a hard time staying focused and doing my job, but I did. It was the same the following days: I went to our communities where we gathered to drum and sing for these lost young people. They erected a memorial with 215 small white crosses, each draped in a tiny pair of shoes. At sunset we drummed for the spirits of these little ones so they knew we cared so they knew we knew they were there and welcomed them all home.

There were a few tears those nights, as we drummed and held each other’s pain, but it wasn’t until exactly a week later that I allowed that pain to strike – and she did. hit hard.

I have children, I have a grandchild. I wondered, what if I was born earlier and my beautiful children were taken from me? And I cried.

I cried for hours without stopping, thinking about the pain and the pain these young people endured, thinking about how lucky I was not to have experienced it. And that’s where I started to write.

I took everything I had heard in the news, from families and communities, and I created a poem, my poem.

I wanted people to keep talking.

It’s not just a title that will dissolve in a day or two – it’s our story.

I may not have been forced to go to residential school, but my grandfather did, and his pain and trauma passed on to my mom and me, so in some ways I’m too a survivor. It was such a terrible trauma that it passed through everything we did: how we are parents, how we make friendships, how we deal with difficult situations, and even in our very DNA from generation to generation. generation.

This hurt still resonates in our communities, and Elders say it will take seven generations to overcome it.

I am only three generations from evil. My lineage still has four before we are healed, so I must do my part in this healing for my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. This is my path, and I must walk it.

When I can no longer walk this path, I will pass on my teachings and responsibilities to my children as they walk their path. It’s our story, with no intention of creating guilt in others – it’s just about making sure we all know the truth. It happened, it’s real, and it’s just one of the things our survivors need you to know as they begin their healing journey.

This is my poem that I wrote to help start my healing.

Apple trees

In the wind I hear their voices:

Look for us now so that we are not alone

It’s time for all of us to finally come home.

Children taken from our families and homes

We had no choice but to cry goodbye and leave

These places were always dark and scary and bad

No matter what we did, someone always got angry.

At night our sobs started endless

All the kids just needed a friend

We weren’t considered human, so easy to get hurt

When we died, we were buried deep in the earth.

They ended our little lives over and over again

There was no sadness when our bodies died out

They always buried us late, late at night

There was no one to tell them it was wrong.

An elder told me what he had learned when he was little

Something that slowly took away all its joy –

Apple trees they planted on those sad little graves

These trees were hiding their crimes, no need to be afraid.

Look for trees full of apples near schools

These helped these monsters break all their rules

The tree[s] the roots go so deep into the ground

They hide all these bodies so that they are not found.

Indigenous peoples all over this land

Everyone knows the stories. We took a stand –

Now is the time, come hear our truths

Bring all of our children home from under those stifling roots.

Creator help us, let the wind of change blow

This is our living history, not so long ago

Listen to the little voice crying, “Please remember me”.

We must now go and find those sad old apple trees.

For those kids who never came home

My heart is breaking that you’re so lonely

For these traumatized children, who are still alive

Please never feel guilty that you were able to survive.

It’s time to sit down with our survivors now

And if they need help, don’t be afraid to ask them how –

They hold the truths they prefer to hide

Of all those other kids who didn’t survive.

In the wind I hear their voices,

“Look for us now, so that we are not alone

It’s time for all of us to finally come home.

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