Aaniin = I See Your Light
As I saw the yellow school bus pull up outside the Fraser building, I made the slow realization that I was about to knowingly get on the wrong bus.
This was a back to the future bus. Yes, this bus was for UVic Law’s Indigenous Perspectives Camp, but being surrounded by so many L1s (first year law students), I felt like I was in that terrible Adam Sandler film, Billy Madison. And sadly, it was me who was Adam Sandler in this scenario. I was by far the oldest person on the bus excluding the driver.
As the bus headed towards Tofino, I sat quietly like a weird old crotchety aunt that some poor kid is forced to sit next to at Sunday supper. I started to think about the many ways that visibility and the difference that is born from that is manifested. At times difference is overt while in other circumstances, difference emerges in more subtle nuanced ways.
We spent 4 days in the land, on the land, and in community, and in that time I felt the sense of difference shift into one that was self-affirming.
Over the course of our trip we went to 3 reservations and listened to knowledge keepers, elders, and chiefs. They shared an intimate history of trauma, and spoke to that with a candour that was breathtaking in its vulnerability and courage. Rationally, I know that those folks were accessing their power of agency and made active choices to disclose personal details.
The old adage “the personal is political” played like a running loop in my mind. There is much power and learning done by personal disclosure, especially after being silenced for lifetimes. Despite all of this, I felt protective and mad. We aren’t going into somebody’s cul de sac in Oak Bay and having grandmothers come out on their front porch to disclose the painful secrets that many families share.
As the bus drove through one reservation, I felt intuitively protective. I wanted to black out the windows and prevent the “campers” from seeing the burned out cars, the couple of fellas who were clearly enjoying a few “pops,” the broken down houses. I felt that knee jerk reaction to try to prevent the stereotypes be realized. My reaction wasn’t in response to any disrespectful behaviour from any of the L1s. My fellow “campers” were lovely, warm and engaging. That feeling is on me, its not due to anyone else.
A few days after our return, UVic acknowledged Orange Shirt Day on September 30th. Phyllis Webstad was 6 years old when she went to residential school.
On her first day, she wore her new orange shirt. That shirt was immediately removed. That feeling of invisibility never left her. Orange Shirt Day was conceived by her as method of acknowledging the cultural genocide that was perpetrated through the Residential School system for over 100 years.
By the time I got around to picking up my orange shirt from First Peoples House (FPH), the only size left had more Xs than an X-rated movie. Now my crotchety weird old aunt look was complete. In short, I felt VERY VERY VISIBLE. Like a human cross walk.
Within that feeling of vulnerability, I realized that this one important aspect to the event. The visibility is the point of Orange Shirt Day. I’m supposed to feel conspicuous, different, other. Once I saw others on campus with their shirts, I felt a sense of solidarity and connection.
My eldest boy, Jonah is 11. I brought him to school with me last week because he had early dismissal. I had an assignment deadline, so he went to a weaving workshop through the campus cousins program at First Peoples House. I worked in a student lounge while he weaved next door. It made me feel at home and at peace to see him connected.
Our family isn’t from here, and as such we have no connection to our community. This felt like home. He came to me wearing the headband that he made. He was taught that the weaving acts as a marker to others to let them know who your people are.
We decided to go to the University Centre for a snack. As soon as he left FPH, he felt very visible wearing his head piece and asked me to hold it for him. A few minutes later, he asked for it back and wore it eating French fries. He had completely forgotten the feeling of being the “other.” He wore it home and his brothers keep trying to steal it off of him.
Learning how to navigate the feeling of being the “other” is a mighty lesson that we are gifted to learn. It’s often in those moments of discomfort we are most aligned to the essence of our being. It’s like a big highlighter has amplified all the points of internal and external difference.
The important piece is that you’re seen, your light is seen; it doesn’t matter what colour it glows. Aaniin; I see your light.