This week as we prepare to further examine the construction of student identity we focus in on Indigenous identity. In order to prepare for our lecture with Corey O’Soup the Saskatchewan Child and Youth advocate we were asked to watch the video for Secret Path by Gord Downie. I am lucky enough to have heard the album and read the graphic novel prior to this weeks class. I hadn’t however watched the video online in its entirety. This is a great resource and I am glad to see it be put in the hands of more and more people in particular educators.
I think that I took a few really valuable things away from watching and listening to Secret Path. I think that it was incredibly interesting to watch Gord meet with Chanie’s sister Pearl. Watching Gord get to know the people of Chanie’s story and the future that was left without him was very powerful. I think that watching “The Road to Reconciliation Panel Discussion” was also very valuable. I think that Tasha Hubbard brought up an interesting point about the power of animation for bringing us a bit of distance from the stories that makes them more accessible. There is something that is at some points universal and in other ways allows us to see the specifics of one persons story. That may be the strongest point of Secret Path- in its multi-media presentation it serves as a great entry point for the discussion of Residential Schools. First you have the music of Gord Downie, a Canadian music icon and someone who was always willing to address the tough issues, then add to that the graphic novel and animation of Jeff Lemire- an award winning and critically acclaimed illustrator and graphic novelist and the aesthetic appeal of a work like Secret Path becomes an incredible entry point to discussions of the Residential School experience.
I think that the impact that many people forget about is that not only is the loss of the person, but that we also loose the future that person was capable of. Ry Moran talks a lot about how the generational trauma of Residential Schools impacts Canadians more now than maybe we are aware of. Ry also points out that we are just in the beginning stages of the reconciliation process. We are just now as a country starting to talk about these experiences. Many thousands of survivors shared their stories for the first time ever as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). If we think about how little of this story has been shared historically we can see how the trauma surrounding the experiences of Survivors and their families is only just beginning to become something we can start to heal.
This idea that we are just starting to discuss these experience speaks to the experience of lived reality vs the hidden reality of colonialism. As Jesse Wente says “colonialism has a great ability to blind everyone to the truth”. I think that this is a really interesting way to frame the hidden reality of colonialism. Colonialism in Canada was so focused on the assimilation or elimination of the Indigenous people of Canada that it became truly a juggernaut at creating a systemic blindness to the experience of those people. If we look at how that has affected us historically we an see that as a country we have spent 150 years hiding these truths and only the last 2 speaking about the truth of what too place.
Gord Downie says, “down south none of us on 52 heard a darn thing about what was happening up here at all”. I think that is something I can really relate to. I know that I was in school while the last Residential School was still operating. The Gordon Indian Residential School closed the year that I started high school. That seems like something that should have been talked about. That seems to me like it should have been in every social studies class in Saskatchewan but here I am twenty-years later in university and I am just now discussing not only its existence but its impacts. I feel like Gord when he says “Ahh- something is wrong with this country”. This is just a perfect example of how colonialism instituted that systemic blindness.
The other thing that I relate to in this week’s “reading” is really the power of art. Using music and visual art to tell this story has not only provided an opening for discussion but how it has such a deep impact. I feel that the same story can be told without art and it would not have the same impact. In fact I would argue that the 1967 Maclean’s article is proof of that. Yes we are in a time where more people are realizing the importance of acknowledging these stories but I would argue you could find several more current articles about Indigenous issues and specifically residential schools and that few of them have had the impact that Secret Path has had on the conversations surrounding reconciliation. This is why art is so important to me and why it is so important that is addressed properly in schools. There is power in the aesthetic experience that is unlike any other for tapping into parts of the human experience. Using art as a tool for social justice is incredibly important to me and this is just one example of many to show why it should be seen that way by everyone.
The question I’m left with this week is how we push back against what Tasha Hubbard calls “the myth of Indigenous People as being deficient, or less than”. As she points out that myth is really powerful. This is part of the institutional and systemic racism that we need to address as we start to understand how we work our way towards reconciliation. I think that art and conversations are a great place to start.