Reckoning with grief, and responsibility

This post addresses painful truths about genocide towards Indigenous children. If you or anyone you know is Indigenous and needs support, the Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419.

Hi: I’m Andrea, RAVEN’s Director of Communication. Some of you know me as a name in your inbox: other folks know me as a settler of Scottish/Irish ancestry living on the unceded territories of Hul’qumi’num-speaking peoples, known as Chu’an or Salt Spring Island. 

Last week, I sent an email that told the story of how one community of settlers gathered to mourn the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools. In that story, I also reached out for donations for our Heiltsuk campaign. Many of you wrote right back. Some appreciated the chance to reflect and respond, while others expressed anger that RAVEN had used the  grief of Indigenous families in the context of a fundraising campaign.  

I appreciate all of the comments that folks sent my way. From the many messages I received, it’s clear that lots of people want to have a bigger conversation about the horrors being unearthed at residential school sites. It’s also clear that – though we have a mandate from Indigenous Nations to fundraise on their behalf – we have to put down our tools and allow space for mourning.

That critique hit home. The transition from reckoning with grief and responsibility, to the “business as usual” of fundraising for Indigenous legal challenges, was jarring. To the two concerns I was trying to balance – the need to make space for grief, reckoning and responsibility, and the need to support Heiltsuk Nation’s response to a different tragedy — the diesel spill in their waters — my breathless rush served neither. Despite the fact that the calls to take action are genuine, the timing was insensitive at best and risked causing further harm to survivors and family members. 

We’ve watched a lot of settlers and white folks offer apologies this month. But even a heartfelt apology is only real if it is backed by action. Know that this self-correction comes together with my commitment to keep on inviting difficult conversations, listening deeply, and – most importantly – taking action to step up for Indigenous Peoples not only on political and environmental frontlines, but in the places where the wounds of colonialism are most keen, and cutting.  

The harms of capitalist society include a kind of relentless forward march that leaves little space for emotions, reflection, processing, un-knowing. Thanks to the call-out that I received after sending Friday’s email,  I am humbled and more attuned to the real pain that this relentlessness can cause. 

It feels like settlers like me are only at the beginning of a period of unearthing many painful truths that Indigenous communities have long known and lived with. As Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde said, there are more than 130 residential school sites that haven’t been investigated yet. 

RAVEN’s “vibe” has always been about creating change through bringing people together in fun and celebration (“who knew stopping a pipeline would be so much fun”)? That joy in community is still part of our DNA. But it needs to be balanced with the ability to hold hard truths, and a mature emotional response: mourning, moral inquiry, taking responsibility, moving from a fix-it mentality to one of respectful allowing. 

With love, and resolve. 

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