WRITTEN MESSAGES OF RECONCILIATION

This is where we want to hear from you, the visitors to this website. We want to know how YOU see the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada. What does reconciliation mean to you? Do you know of people in your community who are bridging the gap that’s been created during our shared history? How do you envision a shared future? You can leave a written message here, on this page, or go to the “Videos of Reconciliation” page and send us a video segment.  We hope to feature a wide variety of messages from people across the land. You can also email us at garnetsjourney@gmail.com. Here are some we’ve received already:

This message came from Brian Beaton (Sioux Lookout), on October 30, 2012:

As a non-native person, I am privileged and blessed to be able to experience, share and learn from Garnet’s Journey that is taking us “Full Circle”. My late wife, Lorraine Kenny, and Garnet’s life-long friend helped me learn and understand a little bit about the pain and suffering experienced by the children, the parents, the families and the communities as a result of the residential school agenda imposed by the Canadian government and the churches on the original peoples of this land. Taking this journey taught me so much about real resiliency and respect for First Nations and the survivors of these foreign institutions. I am sure that Lorraine’s spirit is dancing in celebration of the production and story that Garnet’s Journey is providing for all Canadians. Thank you Garnet and Ashley for doing this work and for allowing me to learn and grow. This production is a great legacy for everyone!! (Brian Beaton)

This email came to us from Sheila Nabigon-Howlett, of Peterborough, on November 1, 2012: 

Dear Garnet, My name is Sheila Nabigon-Howlett. I received notice of your launching of the website event in Lac Seul, from my friend Jean Koning. We are both members of our local (Peterborough and the Kawarthas) TRC Support Group. I was totally overcome by your account, in the video, of your life experiences. It mirrors in many ways my own experience with my ex-husband Herb Nabigon.

I am a white woman (originally from Ireland) and Herb is Ojibway from Heron Bay Ontario (now called Pic River First Nation, near Marathon, do you know it, do you know Herb? He has recently retired back to Heron Bay, after teaching at Laurentian U. for many years)

 I could go on and on about our lives, our work, what I see as similarities, but suffice to say at this time, I wish you all the best for the launch of your website. It looks wonderful and so needed at this time.

 The quilt:  our TRC group (chaired by Alice Williams of Curve Lake F.N. near Peterborough) did this quilt two years ago. It’s been exhibited in many places, mainly church-related. What’s amazing is that I based my square in the quilt on your story! I read your story in the Aboriginal Healing Foundation Research Series “From Truth to Reconciliation” book and wrote my one-pager “The Rabbit blanket” based on that, because it was too sensitive to use my own and Herb’s person story,. I’m attaching the story and a photo of the quilt. My square is in the lower left-hand corner; it depicts a thunderbird, a teepee, a residential school, a broken body and spirit (yours!) a broken patch of ice – the snowmobile. I hope you can open the attachment. I also sent another email, with attachment in a different format.

 Our TRC group has now become the “3rd World Canada Tour: Peterborough Organizing committee” as we are preparing to host the 3rd World Canada Tour with Andree Cazabon and the Youth Drum and Panel from K.I. and area. This is happening next week, Nov. 9th and 10th for us, just about the same time as your launch. So many hopeful things happening!

 I just came back from a conference of the Council of Canadians in B.C. where the Aboriginal leaders are fighting the pipelines, and several chiefs are working together with the C. of C. which is wonderful! I could tell you more about that if you wish. I find it very hopeful. Blessings and best regards to you and your wife Margaret and family!

Sheila Nabigon-Howlett. Peterborough.

Here is are some thoughts on reconciliation that were sent by Mike Aiken (Kenora), on October 14, 2012:

I can remember Garnet telling a story about how he wanted to become a
wheelchair racer.

He was describing how he’d taken part in a community
fun run, and he talked about letting the forces of gravity propel him
downhill to the finish line, where he would raise his hands with glee,
upon crossing the finish line. Judging by his grin, I think there was
a bit of the trickster in his story, too. In fine Anishinaabe
tradition, there was a healthy dose of humour and mischief mixed in
with the truth and wisdom. This, too, is part of the discernment and
reconciliation process.

On another visit, I stopped in at the A-frame gallery to find him
reading from a speech he was to give in Ottawa. After pouring his
heart out once more, through the telling of his story, he looked at
his intimate audience, and asked us for our thoughts. It was humbling
to be asked for my impressions, as Garnet’s courage in convincing
police, then courts, then his community about the life behind the
walls at residential school has been a force that’s helped change how
we view our collective history.

Over the years, I’ve been moved by the telling of many stories. My
work in the media has brought me into contact with elders and
survivors, judges and advocates, teachers and administrators, as well
as those who weren’t yet in the world. I’ve been moved by the depth of
compassion of such role models as the late Joe Morrison, who opened
his home on many occasions, so that I might learn to appreciate his
point of view. As I recall, he could also be a bit of a trickster. One
evening, I was returning some photos to him. I thought it would be a
quick stop, until I found myself in the middle of a square dance at a
Red & White gathering. It was hard to say “No” to him.

The photos I was returning told the story of his family’s history at
C.J., the residential school at Kenora, where his father and mother
had attended, before Joe’s turn eventually came. There were the
pictures of the band members with instruments, of the buildings and
the grounds, the faces and the names of classmates. I’d come to know
Joe as the justice of the peace at the court house, his mother Ada as
the elder for the Fellowship Centre next door, as well as Danielle,
his daughter who had served as class president for her high school.
How the sense of warmth and compassion, even for strangers, had
survived the harsh realities of such a past remained a source of
inspiration for me. Whatever troubles I’d overcome in my personal life
could only pale, by comparison.

On the day of the Apology from the prime minister, Joe led a
discussion in Kenora at the Lakeside Inn. Survivors, and the
descendants of survivors, got to tell their stories. It was an
insightful afternoon, but still full of raw emotion. It would’ve been
easy to allow the direction to turn towards bitterness or anger, but
Joe insisted on hope and a move towards a positive direction. It was
important for the energy in the room to be used in a constructive
manner, so that it would provide some sense of hope for those who’d
suffered, as well as those in a second or third generation.

Joe’s partner for community feasts was Nancy Morrison, who also chose
to share her story with me.  In time, she would record it on
neatly-written pages in red and blue notebooks. She’d ask me to
correct her spelling or grammar, but it wasn’t necessary. My job
became simply entering it into electronic form, so it could be
forwarded to a prospective publisher. Again, her love of tradition and
culture was unmistakable, as she described in detail the cycle of the
seasons. How they’d gather for the harvest in the Whiteshell in the
fall for wild rice. What her role was as a little girl, when it was
powwow time. How the different plants could be used for medicines. To
visit with her to Bannock Point, or to Anicinabe Park, was a trip back
to another era. She allowed me to see through her eyes how a shoreline
might look, as if it was snow-covered, when it was filled with tipis.
I might imagine in my mind’s eye how the road from Rat Portage to
Kenora has changed, when the garbage was still open, or the
shanty-towns in place nearby. She even shared some memories from her
time at St. Mary’s, where it had stood and what it was like for her to
be a student, after her mother had died.
To reconcile images of her as a girl, in those days, with scenes I’ve
seen of her more recently, is to appreciate just how far she’s come in
more than eighty years of life. From the scared run-away of her youth,
to the elder who commands the respect of community leaders across the
spectrum, it’s been a remarkable journey. I’ve seen her open a weary
heart to call for peace, after a shooting downtown, as well as offer
comfort to a grieving family, when her own emotions are worn. Such
strength from such a small and weathered frame.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my friend and mentor Colin
Wasacase, who has helped me to navigate the twin tracks of our
communities. He’s a residential school survivor, who became the man
charged with closing them all. He’s been a leader with Grand Council
Treaty 3, who’s also sat on city council, and the chairman of the
city’s emergency shelter, who also chairs the police commission. If
you wanted to get a sense of perspective on things, he could offer a
deep sense of history from a personal point of view, and always with a
sense of humour. At the end of an evening of tense debate over the
prospect of having a casino in Kenora, only Colin could have everybody
laughing. During a town hall meeting about the future of policing,
only Colin could break the ice with a corny joke, because most in the
audience felt a personal connection with him that overshadowed the
issue at hand.

At the time of Confederation, there was a deliberate separation of
municipal and provincial governments from First Nation councils and
tribal authorities. This has meant there isn’t any direct
accountability at a local level among governments at the local level.
While we may share the land as friends and neighbours, those who
govern us don’t share a decision-making process.

However, the downturn of our regional economy is certainly reflected
in the social pressures on our communities. The pathway to recovery is
certainly helped by the prospect of employment and housing, but these
pathways take clients through a maze of agencies and mandates.

In recent years, the federal and provincial governments have offered
stimulus projects to virtually every community in the region. They’re
meant to help ease the transition to a new economy. As the funding for
these projects comes to a close, governments in Ottawa and Toronto are
now tightening the purse strings, with more emphasis on local
governments to find solutions at the local level. This means pulling
together those willing to help create wealth, as well as those trying
to help those without any wealth at all. It seems fairly evident,
then, that our collective success in making a transition to a new
economy will also depend on our success at removing the divides within
our region. (Mike Aiken, Kenora)

6 thoughts on “WRITTEN MESSAGES OF RECONCILIATION

  1. Garnet, many thanks to you and Ashley for making your story available to me and everyone on the web. I already knew about the political and cultural impacts of the residential school story..Your video, the Full Circle, taught me about the personal impact of our shared history. I am grateful to you for having the courage to be honest about your experiences. Your strength and emotional generosity are so appreciated and I am sending you all my best wishes for your continued journey. Thank you, thank you. Susan O’Donnell in Fredericton.

  2. Thank you for this site and especially for the film ‘Garnet, Full Circle’. Every time I hear Garnet speak about his experiences in residential school and his journey to find healing and reconciliation I am amazed by his courage and love. There is so much inspiration and hope to be found in his strength and clarity. I think it’s important for as many people as possible to hear his story, not only to learn about the personal impacts of attending residential school but also to see that if he has been able to overcome such trauma and violence to be a strong voice for reconciliation, surely all of us can join him in creating a better future for us all. Meegwetch Garnet for all you have given to helping us understand our collective past, this is the only way we will be able to figure out where we are going.

  3. I greatly admire your courage and humbleness. You are truly a wonderful person inside and out, with great strength. Thank you for this website, it is very informative and touching.

  4. Garnet, you have been one of my great heroes since we first met back in the early 1990s. You called me at the Anglican national office and said you wanted to meet with your abuser. I think we were both afraid of the journey we started on together that day, but you led the way with courage and steadfastness–and an unquenchable desire for healing. All I could do was grab your coattails, hang on for the ride and try to be as supportive as I could. In the end, of course, you did it all, and my support was minimal, but along the way I’m very glad to say, we became friends.

    Thank you for your continuing courage and spirit in always pushing forward on this journey, and for never giving up. If “healing is knowing who you are,” as someone once told me, then you have surely found your healing, even in the face of others’ denial, and of great physical health challenges. Thank you, particularly for shining a light for other residential schools survivors, and indeed for the rest of us on the oppressive side of the relationship, to follow in your footsteps on this healing pathway that we all need to take together.

    And thank you (and Ashley) for this website, your latest gift to both your people, and all of us in the human family. Your humanity, your faith, and your great soul shine through every inch of it.

    With love, respect and admiration,
    John Bird

  5. I have taken the first step, and the next, so in 2008 everything changed for me . I returned to school an took the instructors diploma program from vancouver community college, it is a seven month program, and me a Survivor from the Schools( ten years) actually graduated with a diploma, and now since 2008 I have done numerous lectures and powerpoint presentations on my experiences to elementary, secondary, senior secondary, and colleges. This must be taught in all schools the history of residential schools and its deep impacts to our people and still the vicious circle has not being broken in many of the northern reserves of northern British Columbia, so I as an teacher will continue to raise awareness and also be a role model to the Survivors and tell them that I did and so can you to heal and reconcile and stop looking back to look forward and get rid of all the mental garbage we have carried since we left the residential schools.To all the other people who haVE NOT HEARD ABOUT THE SCHOOLS listen to a survivor or go to this website and read about what happened to the First Nations of Canada. By the way my name is Clifford Quaw of lheitli tenneh near prince george bc and my GPA was 3.66 at vancouver community college also the course was and still is a Third Year course at VCC thank you

  6. Garnet,
    I was surprised when I got the email from Margaret last week congratulating me on my 60th birthday, I was amaized that she would remember the actual date, it’s been so many years since we’ve all seen each other in person. She mentioned then that you were going to receive the Order of Canada, and so I emailed back wanting more information. She gave me the web page address, and I’ve just finished watching the last of the videos, and still have tears in my eyes. I still fondly remember my time teaching in Sandy Lake, and when Marg and I met this crazy, fascinating Anishinabie journalist. In my years up in Sandy of course I heard stories of the residential school, but nobody ever spoke in such detail or so movingly as I just heard. It makes me think of my father, grandfather and brother-in-law, how they never would really speak of their time over seas during the war. We all just seemed to know that it was just too painful to remember, and even as children we never really asked much. The problem with the code of silence is that often terrible things are allowed to continue for way to long, until someone has the courage to speak up. I congratulate you on being one of those people, but then you were always a leader of sorts. I’m also inspired by your ability to forgive, Garnet you and Margaret have always been people I admire, and have great memories of (I only wish we didn’t live so far apart, and we all kept in touch better), after viewing this moving and soul searchingly honest account of your life, I admire you all the more and I’m proud to call you friends.
    Nancy Turner, Hanover, ON

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