Into the Trees… On Changing Perspectives

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So Hubby and I went camping a couple of weeks ago. It was not our best trip. For numerous reasons, some of which have to do with camping, it was an eye-opening trip. Or at least one that triggered changing perspectives for us. Let me explain.

As I said, it was not our best trip. First it rained. It rained on the way up the valley in the truck. It rained harder while we sat in the truck at the campsite waiting for the rain to stop. Then when the rain slacked off a bit, we began to set up.

Let me make it clear that we love camping. And we’ve loved it for a long time. Through various phases and incarnations: small tents, bigger tents, leaky tents, tents in car camping sites, and tents in the wilderness where we had to paddle our canoe and carry all our gear through several portages to get where we wanted to camp. One cool June morning years ago when we emerged from the tent, bent over and achy, we decided to upgrade to a tent trailer. We’re on our second tent trailer now.

Our current tent trailer is pretty luxurious. We have a small gas furnace that can keep off the chill in the fall, and a couple of fans that attach to lights to help create a breeze when it’s hot and sultry. We have a small bench sofa, a table, and a fridge inside. And a gas stove and a small barbeque that we set up outside under the awning. We even have a screened room that can be attached to the awning.

But for those non-initiated, you should know that a tent trailer is not a trailer. It’s not a mini-house on wheels. We can’t just drive into a site, plug into the electricity, and kick back on the sofa, weather be damned. There’s lots of set up with a tent trailer. And the last couple of years setting up the trailer has been getting harder and harder. It takes both of us to do all the work. And sometimes Hubby’s bad shoulder and my bad back don’t make it any easier. At other times poles break, doors won’t slide into position, cranks fail, velcro won’t stick, batteries die… you know. Stuff happens.

Some trips after all the hard work of getting set up, we have a glass of wine and our supper, and then snuggle into bed all cosy and warm. With the windows zipped wide open, we fall asleep with a breeze in our face and the sounds of frogs in our ears. Heaven.

This trip was not like that.

So many things went wrong while we were setting up in the rain that on our third try to get a pole on the awning to fit, Hubby said, “If it doesn’t fit this time, we are packing up and leaving. And the minute we get in the driveway I am listing this bleepedy, bleepedy trailer for sale.” And, folks, in my heart of hearts, I honestly did not know whether to pray that the pole fit this time. Or pray that it didn’t.

Of course the pole fit the third time. But our spirits were bruised. Did we want to do this anymore? This was a question we asked ourselves for most of our trip. Are our perspectives changing when it comes to camping?

cosy in bed in the tent trailer with his book
Finally all cosy in bed with his book.

Of course, even on this camping trip, we biked as usual. Stopped at the local store for homemade butter tarts, as usual. Sat with our wine by our evening campfire as usual, when it wasn’t raining. What was not usual was our mood. We were pensive. Thinking about the future. A lot. And we were anxious. Unable to detach from life back home. Unable to detach from the cares of the world. Especially as the news has been so devastating lately. We were still reeling from the news that the unmarked graves of 215 indigenous children had been found on the site of a former residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.

The “Indian Residential School” System in Canada (government mandated and church run) has long been notorious for its attempted assimilation of indigenous children, for requiring that indigenous children be forcibly removed from their families and sent to residential schools where they were subjected to countless abuses. Not least of which was the erasure of generations of family ties and cultural identity. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission which tried to dig into the 165 year history of this travesty called the system cultural genocide. And the inter-generational trauma continues.

The rainy Monday that we were away camping was Canada’s first ever National Indigenous Peoples Day. Hubby was off golfing…. in the rain. But I was back at the campsite, reading, writing in my journal, and listening to CBC radio. I listened to one story that moved me to tears. An indigenous elder talked about how it was when the children had been taken off to residential school. The reporter said the woman waved her arm, and asked her audience to imagine a whole community, empty of children.

Such is the magic of radio that in my mind I followed her waving arm and saw small wooden houses and lanes and fields and trees. And no children. All of them gone, many, many never to return. Imagine, if you can, the horror of the taking of the children. Then imagine the aftermath. Imagine the quiet. And imagine the grief of families. It’s unimaginable, isn’t it?

But here’s the thing. I’ve known for years about the evils of the residential school system in Canada. And the horrors to which children were subjected. About the terrible discrimination against indigenous people, not only here in Canada, but in every country that has been touched by colonialism. Many of which we have visited… like Australia, the States, New Zealand, Peru… where colonial governments and churches wrought similar devastation upon indigenous communities. But, you know, I don’t think I ever felt so viscerally the impact of colonialism as I did listening to that elder speak last Monday. I’m not trying to be dramatic here… but it hurt my heart. It did.

our canoe trip up the Bonnechere river helped us change our perspectives
Seriously, how many hats do I need?

The next day we went fishing. We drove for miles, parked the truck, carried everything down to the river, and set off for our day of fishing up the Bonnechere River into Algonquin Park. As usual.

Here’s a short video which kind of sums up our day on the river.

We had a good day. Even though we didn’t catch any fish. I tweaked my back twisting to hang onto branches that smacked into my face and then clip them off so we could proceed upstream. After that Hubby did all the clipping. And once we reached open water we talked. And talked. As we are wont to do when we’re canoeing. There’s just something about the slow pace. The splash of the paddle in the water. The soft clunk as it hits the gunnels. The utter peacefulness of our surroundings. It brings us back to ourselves in a sort of way. And to each other. And what we believe and want from our life together. I can’t explain it. It just happens.

The trees, the birds, the grasses swishing in the breeze. The moose we saw on the road in. And the muskrat as we pushed the canoe into the water. It’s not necessarily spectacular or even beautiful scenery to everyone. But it is a landscape which is so meaningful, and so very Canadian for us. Being in the bush has always helped us to put our life and our problems into perspective.

And because we were in Algonquin Park, part of unceded Algonquin Territory, traditional lands of the Algonquin people, we knew this landscape was even more meaningful for those whose ancestors were here long before ours arrived. And I think that is, in part, what made this whole trip such a journey of changing perspectives. For me. For us.

So Hubby and I are grappling with our future. How can we keep doing what we still love to do? Because our day up the river convinced us that we are not ready to give up this part of our life yet. And we’ve come up with some solutions. We’ll see how they work on the fall camping trip.

But since we’ve come home, I’ve been grappling with how to process my own perspective changing moment. Was it an epiphany? I don’t know. I’ve tried to write this post several times. How to pull everything together in words. The rain, the frustration for Hubby and me that first night, the day I listened to the indigenous elder speak, my emotional reaction, the day in the canoe, and afterwards. When we arrived home we heard of yet another devastating discovery of many more unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school.

I’ve been reading about residential schools a lot since we came home. I toyed with not tackling the subject at all on the blog. But that didn’t seem right. I think part of what has been bothering me is that I am so disappointed in my country. In what I always believed it meant to be a Canadian. Maybe that makes me naive. In fact it probably does.

And I keep thinking about the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. How reporters on American television kept saying, “This is not who we are as a country.” And Hubby became exasperated. “How can they say that?” he asked. “Of course it’s part of who they are.” Denying there’s a problem just perpetuates the problem.

So let’s just agree that the devastation of our indigenous peoples and their cultures is part of who and what Canada is. It’s part of our history, and the ramifications of that are part of our present. It’s part of who we are. I don’t like it, but there we have it. And as we learned from the BLM movement, as non-indigenous people we have to recognize our privilege. To try to be better as a country. And better as individual Canadians.

You know Thursday is July 1. Canada Day. And a lot of people, including some of my friends who have indigenous family members, will not be celebrating as usual this year. Indigenous leaders are calling for Canada Day celebrations to be cancelled. For Canadians to sacrifice this one Canada Day. To make it a day of mourning and reflection instead. To stand with indigenous people, and respect their grief. And maybe spend it learning, and teaching our children, a bit more about what it means to be indigenous in this country.

I think that’s a very good idea.

P.S. Here’s a link to a list of 48 books about residential schools, compiled by Cree author David A. Robertson. Many of them are children’s books or are suitable for kids. The first book is Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese which is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Period. I wrote about Indian Horse in a book post which you can find here.

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79 thoughts on “Into the Trees… On Changing Perspectives”

  1. Tricky post, beautifully demonstrated.
    This past year or so has given everything we thought we knew a huge shake and those of us who have been fortunate to avoid infection and its consequences are all probably thoughtful now. There have been times when I have watched the careless, the thoughtless, the greedy, the uninformed, the wilful and thought: this isn’t who we are. But it is. Everything has been changed. Or simply revealed, as though an archeologist has dug deep and revealed another, hidden strata of the country. I think we are only in the foothills. Let’s keep on trudging.

  2. thank you for a thought provoking post. there are no easy answers but your husband is right… this is who we are.. the US,Australia, Canada and so many other countries have a horrendous past and its not necessarily over. the important thing for me is to acknowledge and really think about what can be done to make change, not token woke statements by companies or celebrities but real lasting impactful change one day at a time

  3. Such a thought provoking post Sue and so thoughtfully written.
    I’ve read similar articles to you and found the vision of a community having had their children forcibly removed, simply heartbreaking. Hard to comprehend that these atrocities have happened relatively recently, in our lifetimes, as well … and may well be continuing in some places.
    Especially having travelled and stayed in Kamloops with my children …
    Tamara Bells display of 215 pairs of children’s shoes on the steps of the Art Museum in Vancouver really brought tears to my eyes … so real, so poignant.
    It made me think of the memorial in Omaha that commemorates the lives of those that were killed during the April 1995 bombing, where there’s 168 chairs … 19 smaller ones for the children …
    Thanks for writing this post Sue and tackling such an emotive subject. So well written, as always.
    As for your trip … I think I can understand. My experiences of trailer tents was how they always need two people to put them up … and trying to do that with a toddler and a baby … ( we’d pop them in a pram and travel cot with toys, next to us so we could chat and sing to them ) and a painful back!
    As you say once it’s all up there’s lots of good times and happy memories.
    It sometimes takes these moments and experiences to encourage reflection on life moving forward.
    I’m sure you and Stu will find a way to continue your adventures in a way that makes you both happy ( most of the time! 😉)
    Rosie xx

    1. There are shoe memorials across Canada now, one here in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, and I even saw one here in Manotick. It’s only a gesture, but gestures bring awareness and hopefully change. We’ll see.

  4. Back in April, a good friend borrowed our old tent trailer for some visiting family. In appreciation, they used their handyman skills to repair all the small annoyances that had piled up in almost thirty years of ownership. The tent trailer is in its best shape in years! Our sons are using it for their young families and we are thankful for this! Back in their teens, they and their buddies would crank it open in our driveway, string out an electric cord from the garage and have their Nintendo games out there. The tent trailer served and continues to serve our family well.
    I absolutely loved your video. Yes, the sound of rain on the tent trailer roof is special and conjures up wonderful memories and scents! Back in the 90’s, we had an incredible family vacation in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota where we used leeches for bait, caught small-mouth bass, and had one of our best fish frys ever! We spent a week in a very rustic fish camp built in the 40’s. Our sons count it as one of our best vacations.
    This was a poignant post for me as we are in our 70’s and no longer have the backs for setup. I look forward to learning how you and husband deal with the physical labor of setting up.
    Thanks for bringing up sweet memories of how much we loved our tent trailer years!

  5. Lovely and thoughtful post and video. Thank you for sharing your vacation and your musings. For me, the hardest part of aging is the changes – the things one can no longer do, or want to do; the things one still wants to do, but they are so difficult, or impossible; reconciling with the past, personal or national…

  6. You really illuminated two very different subjects with this one. First-aging as a couple-we have found what one can not do, hopefully the other can. Compensate for each other. We have decided to stay in our house where we have lived for 45 years.At least it is an environment that we know and are comfortable in..So stair-chair,walk-in-bath tub.bars to hold on to,walkers, rollators, etc,mainly for me, because he is too damn proud to use anything. BUt he is an excellent caregiver.So hopefully our children will never have to be!On to your second topic-what our countries have done to others.When I grew up in Miami,there was a place,attached to a small tourist business,mainly see the alligators and other tourist junk,which was used as a field trip location for many elementary schools. The Seminoles lived in thatched roof open-air huts in colorful clothes,dirty and the children gawked at them T hey are gone now,where? But the Seminoles have a very organized society now within our state, radio stations,T.v etc.an organized political system, and CASINOS- just to prove that they do not need us.But it is working. Then there are the others.Hispanics,orientals,etc.Miami is really very multicultural,not what it was when I grew up there and had no clue! I also have no answers at this age, other then to try to practice the golden rule.It is very easy to be shocked and appalled at what other countries have done to its indignious peoples and ignore our own problems.I have no answers. we can’t go back.I can only hope that wiser minds can come up with the answers on how we go forward.But I appreciate your have a forum for discussion of these issues. I do no mean to offend anyone with my comments, I am just as lost as the next person.

    1. Yes, they are very different subjects. But ones that both arose for me while we were away. I struggled to link them. Maybe the best way is to say that they both involve coming to terms with who I am now, as a person and as a Canadian.

  7. Oh boy…I can’t imagine being the parent or the child being forcibly removed from the family unit. How dare they! Having separation anxiety in the past I think I would have truly died. Plus had we been an Indigenous child we would have been placed in those schools…we are of that age. Unbelievable, shameful, heartbreaking and I mourn this Canada day. I love my country but we all have a history. It was time this was broadcasted wide and clear. A sensitive, thoughtful post.

    1. Thanks, Robin. I recognize that even though I have been aware and appalled at the whole residential school issue, I failed to truly empathize. I had my head in the sand, I guess. Or maybe my heart in the sand.

  8. Thanks Sue for an especially thought-provoking post, on multiple levels. Sorry to hear that your trip was not what you’d hoped it would be, sounds like a lot of the disappointment was weather-related. I hear you on the horrors we have all heard about with the children in those residential homes, heartbreaking to have to accept that it happened.
    And here in Minnesota, just a mile and a half from where George Floyd was murdered, our upcoming July 4th holiday feels different this year. We like to think it’s about celebrating our freedoms, but what about all the people whose lives are still impacted by slavery of their ancestors? We readily dismiss so much of our violent past.
    I am reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, and it really gives me pause to think about all the history I never learned growing up. So many horrific stories that carry forward for the families who were impacted many years ago and now by police violence. I switched from reading novels to reading about race after George Floyd was murdered last year. My copy of Louise Penny’s All the Devils Are Here awaits me on the mantle. I started reading her based on your mention of her here, thank you for that. I hope to get to it one day soon. Meanwhile I try to take solace in the small stories about neighbors helping each other on our neighborhood blog, saying that’s who we are when a child goes missing and is quickly found when neighbors immediately helped search for him.
    Blessings to you, and keep on writing.

  9. Hi Sue,
    thank for your post about that part of Canadas history, I also heard it on the radio. Terribly sad. I don’t find the suitable words, but I can empathize your feelings. Every country has his own slur/eyesore. I’m from Germany, I feel guilty for things, that happend 80 years ago in Germany.
    Never forget this and trying to be better as individual humans.

    As for your feelings regarding camping. I know, it hurts, when cherished routines seems to feel not longer sustainable without adjustments. You two will do that, I’m sure.
    Hugs from Cologne, Susa

  10. Perhaps, being in nature, on land once wholly owned by First Nations peoples, you were even more opened up to this shameful history of brutality and murder.

    As for camping, you are most lyrical and content describing the canoeing portion. So, I am wondering whether you two might enjoy a lodge or rental cabin, which would relieve you from the grunt work, but allow you to fish and canoe happily.

  11. Such a beautiful and thoughtful post, Sue. I gasped at the image of a village with no children – while I’ve known for years about the scourge of the residential school system, those simple words took me to an entirely new place. Much like the 4th of July in the US wasn’t a happy one last year, Canada Day this year can’t help but be different, and sadder.

    1. It is different this year. Hubby and I just returned from a bike ride where we circumvented several neighbourhoods looking for flower garden ideas. In all the many yards we passed we saw only three Canadian flags displayed. That is a huge change from most years. Shows people are reflecting on the issue, I think. I hope.

  12. When I was an undergraduate I learned about the Native American schools here in the US, and I was horrified. I was in school to become a teacher and generally regarded that profession as a force for good; this was the first time I realized it could be used for evil purposes, too. It is difficult to imagine the moral corruption that led to the violence that took place in those indigenous assimilation schools, but yes, it is a part of who we humans are.
    I too find myself, at 60, contemplating more deeply than ever who I am, what I want, and what I will leave behind when I go. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought here – heading out now for a long morning walk to contemplate. Thank you.

  13. I can’t trust myself at the moment to say much about the “revelation” of what has long been an open secret about residential schools, in Canada and elsewhere. My personal and family history, Métis history only recovered in the last generation or two (and the politics around that a whole ‘nother can of worms) are too entangled, and then my years of teaching Canadian and First Nations literature, the racism writ large from well before Confederation. . . . Except that I hope the momentum continues and that First Nations don’t have to keep carrying the costs of unearthing (literally) the evidence and fighting again and again in courts to make that evidence mean something. Not just to do with residential schools, but in so many other areas. I hope more of us have our perspectives changed, and that those changed perspectives translate into political pressure for significant, substantive policy change.
    Thanks for a thoughtful post on a difficult but important topic. Two difficult topics, actually. I’ll be following curiously to see what changes you might make to your wilderness expeditions, if any. xo

    1. I hesitated even broaching the subject because I am in no way an expert, nor in a position to cast aspersions. In the end I just settled for telling exactly what happened and how I felt.

  14. This is such a beautiful,poignant and thought-provoking post, Sue!
    I’m learning a lot from you and Frances,I couldn’t believe that all we’ve learned and read in newspapers about Canada was so kind of defective or incomplete (about USA and Australia not!) and am so sorry to read such sad stories,who,unfortunately are part of your history (or our history, as people of the world)
    As for your trip-I hear you and your musings so well,there are so many things to reflect on……to make some changes,minor or major , sooner or later.
    This Covid year and a half did make changes in my life,too, although I’m not completely aware of them yet
    Dottoressa

  15. It isn’t who we SHOULD be. But it is who we are. Sadly, whether in the US, Canada, Australia…fill in the country name, we humans regularly fail to live up to the ideals we purport to believe. Only when we face our own shortcomings, the lies we tell ourselves (we’re great!), and begin to view our country through the prism of those who suffer, can we find solutions and bring about change. As many past and recent events have demonstrated, it is unhappily too often, too little and too late. But we must try.

    On a much lighter note – As for the camping, well, we sold our trailer this spring. It was larger than your tent trailer (we used to have one of those), but seemingly just as much hassle to set up, and increasingly, provided multiple opportunities ripe for marital discord. Think the time we had to quickly evacuate a campsite at night due to flash flooding was the beginning of the end for me. Ever tried guiding (aka screaming at) your husband to back up to a trailer hitch in a furious downpour, in the dark, while you are standing knee deep in water? Yes, that was my moment.

    1. That is a good way to put it, Mary. We should view our country through the prism of those who have suffered.
      P.S. Giving backing up directions is a situation ripe for marital discord (as you say) let alone in the dark in a downpour. 🙂

  16. Wendy from York

    That was such a moving post Sue . I have read the news reports of the indigenous children of course & have felt shocked & saddened . Partly because it was in Canada & , compared to most countries of the world , Canada seemed to me to be a good & fair country . It still does but where human beings are involved nowhere is perfect . You don’t mention the UK in your list but we have caused our share of sadness . I did like Dotteressa’s comment that as people of the world it is all our history .
    I’m interested to hear what you have decided about your wilderness trips . I sort of know how you feel . For all our married life walking has been a big part of our time together . Footpath signs all over the UK & abroad too have beckoned to us . Partly the exercise, partly the beauty of our surroundings & partly us enjoying time together away from it all . But my back is complaining now , sacroiliac problems ( yes I’m doing the exercises from my physio sister ) & steep gradients plus rough ground are not kind . It’s not a big problem at home on the flat vale of York but I’m noticing it more here on holiday in Wales . The walks seem to be far longer & much steeper than they used to be ??? We’ve watched our fit , bouncy dogs grow old & start struggling on the hills so it’s no surprise. There are adjustments to be made & walks need to be well researched these days but I’m still following those footpath signs – for now .

    1. Those uphill and downhill walks get harder every year, don’t they. But we do our physio and stagger on as best we can. Nice to have a physio in the family though. Good luck with the exercises, my friend. 🙂

  17. Thank you for writing about this sad chapter in your Canadian history and how it affected you. We here in California, on the coast below Santa Barbara have our own shocking history of colonization to regret.
    It was good to read about how the years have changed your perspective on camping and all it entails. My husband and I are 81, in good health, but hey, even with that our old muscles get too much battering at times. We have stayed in a hotel for the past several years as our favorite camping spot in the Sierra is only 1 1/2 hours from the hotel. It is always pristinely beautiful, partly because not many people ever stay there, it has water, and pit toilets and that’s it. No RV hook ups, and only available for 4 months or less in the summer as the road is not plowed the other months. A few years ago my hubby wanted to get a larger tent so didn’t have to crawl in and out at night. So we got a very nice large tent that will hold our queen size blow up mattress, and a porta potty, and camp chairs to sit and read in comfort with battery lights. Now we are contemplating using the tent again. But the more I think about it, I’d prefer the hotel room with microwave and fridge and all the comforts of home, thank you very much.

  18. We had a tent trailer when we were very young with kids, then moved onto an RV. Perhaps, a proper trailer or small RV of sort would make life easier and still allow you to enjoy the great outdoors and your lovely, relaxing canoe trips. It is a sad, introspective time when we have to give up something we have loved to do. We rode a motorcycle for years. It was such a sense of freedom but bad knees lead to the eventual sale. We then bought a boat and loved the kicked back, relaxing lifestyle. I hope you find a suitable solution, Sue. Please share when you do.
    I am not ignoring your poignant post on the treatment of our indigenous people but I have no words to describe how I feel. You have said it better than I ever could. Thank you for writing this post.

    1. We’ve considered moving up to a trailer, but feel it’s not worth the cost at this stage of our lives. Plus Hubby is not keen to pull one, or have to back it up. Can’t say as I blame him because I am no help with the directions for backing up!

  19. This post is such an interesting and sensitive account of both the dreadful news around the indigenous schools (which we are getting in the UK) and the problems of setting up your camp. I think most nations have committed ghastly crimes against vulnerable indigenous people and every nation needs to look honestly at its past, and that includes the UK.

    Oh gosh I so get the years that impact on one’s activities. Just like Wendy of York we walk a lot on our holidays (and at home) but lately my R hip has been misbehaving and that’s really impacted my ability to just walk and walk as we used to do. Eight mile walks, 10 miles walks were nothing to us, although, I did like a good cup of tea after! But now, I can walk a bit and I’m doing exercises given to me by a physio, but there is a reckoning on how much we can do these days. It’s sobering. I’d say carry on for as long as you can as I love reading about your amazing vacations and it sounds as though they are really important to you. Go for it and thanks again for a lovely sensitive post.

  20. Good morning from Camano Island, WA southwest of Vancouver BC and Kamloops. Thank you for highlighting the genocide of indigenous peoples, in your country and the U.S. And, I agree with hubby, “it is part of who we are”. I’m a bit older than you and have begun to think of life as a spiral, passages that mark our lives while signalling a simultaneous turning. The passages herald our entry into a new phase of life, a different relationship with our community, a keener awareness and hopefully a deeper wisdom. Whether the passage is slow or speedy, solitary or communal, celebrated or unrecognized, it can become an intimate knowing of the spiralled shape of times passing. Your reflection describes just such a passage. You’ll know when the turning from the trailer tent is right and how to celebrate it’s passing. Just ordered Indian Horse. Hugs this day, Diney

  21. What a thoughtful post. The moment I heard about the graves I wondered if you would address it. Thank you. It is such a sad, deeply distressing topic. I have a two year old granddaughter and can’t imagine how awful it was for parents and grandparents to lose their children. Frances mentioned the Métis above. I had never heard of them until I started reading mysteries by Peter Bowen.

    On camping , I hear you. We had a pop-up tent trailer and it was quite a job to set it up. No problem when my husband was younger and when our sons got older they helped out. We sold it a couple of years ago and he sleeps in a tent or the truck. I stay at the nearby lodge (very rustic) with my girlfriends. My camping days have been over for quite a while. I used to love camping in the forests and beaches, especially in British Columbia. We now go to the eastern Sierras, my husband is an excellent fly fisherman and avid hiker. He’s 70 now and I’m not sure how much longer he’ll do this. I have to admit there is nothing like campfire coffee and breakfast.

  22. Lovely, thoughtful and well stated post. I’m from the US and just read Caste. Also very thought provoking and worth the read.

  23. A beautiful and thoughtful post, Sue. I lived in Kamloops during the 60s and did my elementary schooling there. I was not even aware that there was a residential school not too far from where I lived. In fact, I didn’t know it until this terrible revelation of 215 unmarked graves appeared. Somehow, although I’ve studied and taught about indigenous issues, the reality of the tragedy didn’t hit home until the graves were discovered. I cannot imagine a village without children who were ripped away from their parents by the government. There is much to ponder.

    We tented until about 3 years ago. I got up in the early hours to visit the washroom (outhouse) and was gripped by such agony that I couldn’t lie down. I walked the loop of the campsite for an hour before waking Tim and saying I needed to get to a hospital. It was a kidney stone. I know in my head that the tent and the kidney stone are entirely unrelated, but for me, that was it. We bought an Escape travel trailer (made in Chilliwack) last year just as the pandemic began, and I’m a much happier camper. In addition, the trailer has AC and the house does not, so we’ve been using it on the driveway during the heat dome!

    Indian Horse – such a good, good book. Everyone should read it.

  24. Lovely, sad, insightful post. History can break your heart, but there’s no real healing without facing it head on. Another shout out for Caste, a wonderful, difficult book. I just love your writing and your perspective, happy to follow wherever they may lead.

  25. I’d like to think the awful images of hundreds of small shoes and childless villages become so seared in our minds, none of us can justify turning away from the hard path which lies ahead for our country. We can look to our political leaders to “do something”, but I think many of us have to check our own comfortable lives and now ask ourselves what we can do as individuals to support those who we’ve been content to keep at the margins of our society.

    Change comes when the discomfort we experience pushes us to explore alternative ways of thinking and behaving—in life as well as camping. Putting money into a new tent trailer or RV could be a solution, but it may also just obscure the reality you and hubby are facing— how does one recapture the delight you had in wilderness camping now that an aging body has intervened? Politicians can negotiate, legislate, and allocate but they can’t re-write the past. As my grandmother used to admonish me “It’s good that you understand, but now what are YOU going to do…” It was the combination of reality and responsibility in that question which always made me pause before answering.

  26. Thank you, Sue, for this thought-provoking post. What we humans inflict on one another in the name of “civilizing” or “saving” is at times beyond comprehension. Germany after WWII not only acknowledged its past but owned it, educating its children about their unvarnished history. They managed to do in 40 years what we haven’t managed in 400. It’s time others followed suit. An attempt here in the States with critical race theory has been met with feigned horror from those who prefer to deny that, for millions, this country’s founding and development were neither glorious nor valiant. I am certainly not my slave-owning ancestors, but if I choose willful ignorance over truth, that sin is wholly my own.

    1. We have started to do some of that education after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. In Ontario now all high schools have turned their grade eleven English course into an Indigenous Studies course. And since grade 11 English is a requirement for graduation every student must take this course. I know other things have been done but not sure of details. A friend and former colleague served as a consultant on Indigenous Studies for our board for a few years. I know she organized all kinds of activities for the staff and students of our board. But so much more is to be done. Not least of which is changing attitudes.

  27. Thank you for this post. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. We all need to face up to history and how it continues to reverberate in the present.

  28. Thank you for your warm heart and open talk.

    This change in perspective is shared by so many. We didn’t know what had been happening. In the US, should we have known? Surely. But we weren’t taught and we didn’t question. Now the truth is coming out. All we can do is be open and committed to the well-being of all, I think. And communities of like-minded people with shared intent are everything. xoxox.

    1. So true, Lisa. Indigenous issues were too easy to ignore for so many years. Too easy to pass off as something to be dealt with by our government, not something to concern us.

  29. Thank you for your honesty in confronting feelings about the past and future. Part of my family history was never discussed and was kept hidden by my grandmother’s family as they lived in open denial of their indigineous heritage. My grandmother and her sister were horrified if I played outside for too long in the summer. Not for fear of sunburn but that I would get ‘dark’ , something that I could not comprehend with my Celtic fair skin. I assumed it was a holdover from their Victorian upbringing when having fair skin was a goal. I did not know that skin that tanned might ‘give away’ a well kept family secret. How sad! Yet it was from my grandmother that I learned about the plants of the forest, what could be safely eaten and what should be avoided. Gathering and boiling young cat tails, rolling them in butter and eating them like corn was a treat in the spring. Her sister made the best fry bread as well. The two indigenous young women they hired in the summer taught us how to canoe and paddle and fish as well as educating us about the flora and fauna of the Georgian Bay area where the old ladies lived. The girls’ grandmother showed us how to make simple birch bark crafts but nothing could compete with her own beautiful quill work birch baskets trimmed with sweet grass. Sometimes the quills came from an unfortunate porcupine shot by my aunt! I treasure two of the pieces of that lady’s work that my aunt purchased from her. Recently I saw a interview with an indigenous woman who commented that when she was at university many white students she knew there had never met an indigenous person. Never had a conversation with one, never got to know them as fellow humans. Having had the honour of knowing this family made it excruciatingly sad when the horror stories of the schools came to light. One of the two young women we knew went on to be a nurse the other a teacher. It breaks my heart to think of all the potential that was buried in those unmarked graves. All the potential that walks this earth broken and lost by the generational trauma that is the legacy of the residential schools. It saddens me to think that a branch of my family turned their backs on their indigenous roots denying their own history.
    My grandchildren are biracial and my son and DIL intend to tell them about ALL their roots. The better to recognize their own powerful wings.
    This Canada Day I will wear orange and not the traditional red. I will honour the lives lost and show solidarity as an indigenous ally. I owe it to those unmarked graves and to my ancestors whose voices were silenced by some stupid colonial misconception that being indigenous was ‘not as good as’ being European.

  30. You have given us a lot to think about Sue. The recent news from Canada has made lot of us think but I don’t think any colonizing nation has had a particularly good record in dealings with indigenous or first nation people.
    Here in NZ our record is nothing to be proud of but accepting things are not right is at least a start from which to work. What was perhaps acceptable behaviour a hundred and fifty years ago is no longer the right thing to do. The younger generation is growing up in a multicultural world and have a very different approach to life. Hopefully they can bring about the changes required so things like this are never repeated. I look at my grandchildren and they are a mix of Scottish, English, Irish, Kiwi, Aussie and Maori. Perhaps this is the future.
    I can sympathize with your camping dilemma as well. We also had a tent trailer and my husband and children loved holidays away in it. For me it was just doing all the things I did at home but with a fraction of the space and facilities. Finally there came a time when I decided I didn’t want to do it any more. It just comes to you that you are over it. I didn’t want to traipse across to the ablution block, especially in the rain. I didn’t want to have to unpack and repack continuously, or try to get clothes and towels dry after hiking or swimming.
    As a compromise we now stay at a fairly basic lodge but there is a stove, flushing toilets, hot showers and beds at the right height. We can still sit and listen to nature but in a bit more comfort. We still own a boat but haven’t been out in it for quite some time because it is proving harder to tow and launch it. Cooking and making up a bed each night is becoming more difficult as we age. That might be the next change.
    You will know when it is time to change and it sounds as if you might be reaching that point. I think the pandemic has made us more thoughtful about our futures as well. Stay strong.

  31. Sue, I really appreciate your honesty and openness in talking about the issues that are confronting our country right now around residential schools. Many years ago I was privileged to teach in a small Cree/Salteaux village in northern Manitoba. The thought of that idyllic village without its children brought tears to my eyes. I cannot imagine the agony that the families of those children who were taken went through – and so many of them never made it home.
    Thank you, too, for the sights and sounds from your fishing trip. I loved listening to the birds, seeing the flying insects, hearing the gentle boat sounds. It was reminiscent of the “African Queen” at times, when you were wading through the bushes, clippers in hand. I was thinking how much Katherine Hepburn would have appreciated your clippers! (But of course that would have ruined the arc of their story.) I hope that, even if camping becomes too much over the years, that fishing remains something you do together. You do enjoy it so!

  32. Have you thought of all our Veterans who fought various wars for the freedom and rights of Canadians? Not celebrating Canada Day is an insult to them. Can we not realize the harm done by the church to indigenous and still honour our great country on Canada Day? I have lived abroad for jobs and travelled to many more, and have enjoyed their traditions, way of life, culture but am always happy to come back to our big, expansive, wonderful country. I feel sad that we can not celebrate as a country. Do Americans not celebrate July 4th because they had slaves? Or treated their indigenous population wrong? No! They realize they can and should do better with their African American population, their fellow Indigenous, and their Mexican immigrants but still celebrate their day as a great nation. We are privileged to live in a great nation so let’s celebrate that. It’s one day.
    I know this is controversial but I had to voice my opinion. My son had been in Afghanistan and I feared for his young life. Do not make his sacrifice a moot point.
    Happy Canada Day to Everyone! 🇨🇦

  33. Sandra Thompson

    Well said! I have recently completed a 12 week Indigenous Course on line with the University of Alberta, and it opened my eyes. I recommend to anyone, who is not familiar with Canada’s history, to take the course. I grew up in England and had no idea any of this had happened. Now there is a double whammy for me. The result of British colonialism on Indigenous people
    and the shame of what the Canadian Government and the churches did to them.

  34. Cynthia Blaylock

    Wow, so much to unpack in this post. Since I already have a glass of wine down the gullet I doubt I’ll be able to address all I’d like to. And ending a sentence with a preposition is not a good start. I knew nothing of Canada’s treatment of indigenous people or its residential schools; in the U.S., or at least in California where I am, we have always been preoccupied with our Southern neighbor, not those of you in the North. In fourth grade, we had many lessons on Father Serra and the missions here in California – all of which involved some level of coercion/servitude/subjugation/education (choose your verb based on your bias) of the native Indians. It’s troubling, but (and I do not intend that conjunction as a defense) it is but one example of the history of man’s quest for dominance over other men, lands, and resources. It never seems to stop. I watch the space race and wonder who will claim the moon, the planets, the sun. If there are people on those orbs, I’m sure some nation will attempt to exert control over them. Colonialism has its advantages and disadvantages – as in all things, it depends on which side your on, I guess. It is heartbreaking to see the innocents hurt.
    Camping … we graduated from tents to a small motorhome to a ridiculously large 40 foot motorhome. It had 2 bathrooms, a fireplace, 4 televisions and a washer/dryer. While it was cozy and comfortable it was also stressful to drive and park, and crazy expensive to store and maintain. As Dickens said, we had the best of times and the worst of times in it. We sold it a few months ago and will probably buy something smaller, more agile, and easier for both of us to drive. He is 76 and I am 68, but neither of us are yet ready to give up the zen of camping.

  35. Sue, this was beautifully done. There were a number of “gotchas” for me in this blog. One, the image of a village where all the children were there one day and gone the next. That was so powerful and excruciating. The second was the line to view our country through the prism of those who have suffered. And your husband is correct. The killing of George Floyd and all the rest of the black men is so the USA.

    I grew up believing strongly in the all the American ideals. But as a woman in her 60s, it has been slowly eroding and especially in the last 5 years. The BLM movement really made a point to me and so have not enjoyed the 4th of July as I have in the past.

    As a white American, I wonder how we can make sure these kinds of atrocities do not happen again. And by these kinds of atrocities I am including slavery, white nationalism, and all inequities and social injustices that still go on in the US. I am so afraid too large of percentage of my fellow white citizens do not feel the same way.

    I really appreciate you taking on this topic.

  36. We were just about to leave on a camping trip of our own when you posted this, so I didn’t have time to digest it thoroughly and comment until now.

    As for the camping challenges, it sounds like you are exactly where we were a few years ago. Over many decades, we had owned two tent trailers and traveled extensively with them when our children were young… northern Newfoundland, across the Arctic Circle in the Yukon, Alaska, California, the Grand Canyon… but the time came when putting that old tent trailer up and down just became too much. It was sad to see it go, but we graduated to a small hard side trailer (we call it our bathroom on wheels with a kitchen and bedroom attached!) We absolutely love it and when it poured rain for several hours on our most recent trip, I was thankful not to have to deal with wet canvas anymore. We also replaced our old canoe with a lightweight tandem kayak that is much easier for us to load and unload.

    As for the residential school topic, I admire you for tackling it and doing such a good job. Like you, I was fully aware of that dark part of our history, but I had never stopped to think of the communities void of children. Absolutely heartbreaking. Sadly, our history is part of who we are, the good parts and the bad. Hopefully, as a nation and as individuals we can find a way to move forward in a way that fosters healing. We can’t change history, but we have to expose what was hidden, acknowledge it, and do what we can to make amends.

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