One of my preoccupations as a creative worker: what does it mean to be Canadian?
What layers of being make identity complex: citizen-settler-immigrant—Canada was/is a promised land, a paradise, but it is jagged.
I was born in a city the British named Poona, now Pune, in the state of Maharashtra, India. My parents brought me to Newfoundland and then to Labrador, and then to Northern Quebec and Ontario and then we moved across this country.
For several years of my earliest growing up, I didn’t know I wasn’t Indian like the Cree children I played with while my parents taught in schools in places like Fort George and Deer Lake. I still remember the day my mother explained to me that we were “not that type of Indian,” when I came home crying because I couldn’t attend a birthday potlatch for my friend.
Years later, my father enrolled as a divinity student at McGill. He would be ordained into the Quebec conference of the United Church. He was one of only a few South Asians to minister to “white” congregations. We were at that time sent to Saskatchewan.
All those hymns I learned. I was a Sunbeam in choir and when older, I wore a CGIT midi uniform. (Canadian Christian Girls in Training).
We can know things in our minds.
We can study, nod our heads. We can watch the news on TV, scroll our phones for what’s trending.
We can hear the word, Truth.
And then there are moments that become epiphanies.
Nodding my head. Earnest and smiling. Listening and crying.
Hosting a UBC Book Club meeting: around the table we sit and read and study the words of Chief Bev Sellars (They Called Me Number One): all these moments resonate. Or, they resonate and then life intervenes. All our busyness.
And maybe then the moments return because they are not yet done with us.
Nov. 6, 2019, at the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre:
“He refuses to this day to step inside a church.”
(As told to me by my friend JW about Bill Wilson).
“…I’m curious, was there not one instructor who was helpful to you?”
“No, no one in that whole school.”
(Geoffrey Carr, July 25, 2013: Interview with Chief Robert Joseph, in Witnesses: Art and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, September 6 – December 1, 2013), Morris and Helen Belgian Art Gallery, UBC.
Maybe this is how deeper change happens—for some time now, as I read and listen to Indigenous writers such as Jordan Abel, Joanne Arnott, Billy Ray Belcourt (A Country is How Men Hunt), Therese Mailhout (Heartberries) and many more; as I observe the pain and discomfort this word and concept, “Canada” carries for many—as I read and reread documents about Indian Residential Schools, I’m becoming more and more uneasy with my own implication in structures, and systems.
And this comes to me: Language is a structural system.
So, this new decade: thecanadaproject, my lifelong poem chronicle, will now be thecanada?project
Moment to epiphany to reflection to memory, hold the door, a threshold, and we take first steps, howsoever small and imperfect—one punctuation mark at a time——