The nature of native politics in this country is not expressed by our politicians. It’s not articulated by radicals, the disgruntled, the jaded or the profane. Neither is it adequately framed by our elders, teachers and healers.
Instead, its most significant expression is in the voice of our youth. This is what the commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission need to hear.
They also need to see what we saw recently. We were in Saskatoon for the Anskohk Aboriginal Literary Festival. The third night was devoted to an open-mike stage for emerging native writers. As an established author it was my honour to sit and hear young people read and perform.
One by one they took the stage and one by one they clarified any misconceptions about the face of our politics. They rapped for the most part. In the context of the black American experience they used the poetics to shout, cuss and detail the incredible baggage of hurt they trundle about the world. They rapped and the rhythms left no doubt about the nature of aboriginal realities.
They rapped of suicides of those far too young to die. They dissed a world where young girls are duped into prostitution. They rhymed the angst of homes rocked by violence, neglect and abuse. They shouted out the anger and resentment of young people grown tired of alcohol, drugs and the gang culture that has usurped the culture of ceremony, ritual, language and philosophy they ought to be able to claim as their own. They seethed and they hurt and they let it go.
It was an awesome spectacle to experience.
See, these kids are the product of our history. They are the generation we have laden with the quality of our choices. It is their role to interpret the world with the tools that we have given them — and those tools are, all too often, blunt and Neolithic and we owe them more.
When we speak of truth and reconciliation, it is not as AFN leader Phil Fontaine so righteously claims, “all about the survivors,” it is all about the survivors of the survivors. The brunt of the residential school experience is borne by another generation, that’s the straight truth of it. If truth is to be reconciled it needs to be spoken and the truth is that the lingering horror of those schools is being foisted upon our youth.
When the commissioners chose to argue and split they showed the immaturity of our politics. When the AFN claimed it did not meddle or interfere, it showed that all we’ve learned of governance is obfuscation. When Chief Commissioner Harry LaForme resigned it showed that we do not, as we do in our finest chest pounding, defer to our elders. It was an abysmal embarrassment.
Because Canada watched us push for this. Our neighbours heard our leaders moan, grouse, accuse, denigrate and denounce in order to push through the settlement deal and then form the commission. They listened to the formal apology in the House and then watched as those chosen to lead crumbled under the weight of egos.
A truth and reconciliation commission is no place for egos. Rather, it’s a place for heart, insight, reflection and the moderate application of leadership. Because truth does not need to be ushered or directed and reconciliation comes from the heart, not education, an assumed expertise or a philosophic pedantry. The commissioners failed us, they failed Canada, they failed our youth.
Now, in order to save face, the commissioners need to resign — and apologize. It’s the right thing to do. Maybe not the politically savvy thing but that’s just another ego ploy in the end, and the fact is that our young people are watching. They need leadership to reflect heart. They need chieftainship. They need stalwart examples of responsibility because it’s what everyone expected from the commission all along.
Then, when the job begins to get done and true leaders are chosen, they need to coax out more than just the survivors’ stories. Hurt is intergenerational. The truth is that there is a new generation of pain arising from the same source. The reconciliation of that begins with giving it voice. To have it affirmed and recognized.
It shouldn’t need to be rapped from a stage. It shouldn’t need to be penned in isolation and loneliness. It shouldn’t need to be fed by egos playing politics or leaders aiming for a place in history.
It should be heard in a circle of those who share the same pain, who yearn for the same peace, who choose to work at building the same country.
That’s what it is in the end. We seek truth and reconciliation because we want to build a better country. For us. For those who follow. Ahow.