Fireworks as recognition of loss

I was asked the other day about when I first learned about residential schools. At the time, I didn’t recall exactly when, but I’m pretty sure it was at a conference I went to while I was in grade 11 or 12. That would be the late 80s.

Back in the 80s there was a huge program to try to stop people from drinking and driving. In our high school, we had a “Counter Attack” club – Counter Attack was a public awareness and enforcement program to stop drinking and driving. It was not uncommon when driving at night to come to an intersection where all vehicles were stopped and all drivers were screened for alcohol use. In British Columbia it is part of the Counter Attack program. In Ontario, they call it R.I.D.E. Anyways, that is the point of this post. The important thing is that I was in this club and I went to conference in Terrance – we even stayed over in a hotel for the night. It was probably my first ever conference.

One of the concurrent sessions at the conference was called the Alkali Lake Experience. I knew nothing about it at the time, but to this day I remember the session and the story. I won’t retell the story, as it isn’t mine to tell – rather I shared a link as I was able to find a case study of it on the Internet. It was interesting to also hear a little more about what happened 10 and 20 years later.

I think that it was there where I first learned of residential schools and the impact they had on communities. I wasn’t old enough to really get it. The story I learned was about alcoholism and recovery. I learned nothing of the sexual abuse.

When I hear about the abuse I am reminded about something one of the girls in my dorm said to me – this would have been first year university, so only a year or two later. She was studying early childhood development. She had learned that molestation was part of traditional indigenous cultures. She was asking ‘is it wrong if it is part of the culture?’. I am disturbed even thinking about it – but I also am wondering where the idea came from. Was it the legacy of the residential schools that brought the whole idea of molestation into the community?

Someone said to me the other day that Canada as a whole was reckoning with its past. This Canada Day was definitely different that those of the past. This is a time of reflection and hopefully a time of reconciliation and healing.

Canada Day is also the day my mother died. It has been three years since she passed. She is missed every day. I find that I sometimes think about telling her all about the things that we are doing at Treehouse. She died as we were heading over to my Aunt’s house for backyard fireworks. Ever since then, when I see fireworks I think of mom. That year, the fireworks were in her honour. I felt a connection when the Calgary Mayor “Instead of celebrating the anniversary of confederation, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the fireworks will mark the loss of thousands of Indigenous children to Canada’s residential school system.”

So for me, fireworks will always be a recognition of loss.

Feature image by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash.

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