Staying silent is not an option

A truth and reconciliation gathering in Merritt left Steve Rice pondering the dangers of saying nothing.

My TNRD journey has been full of surprises, both good and bad. I have been honoured to meet some very wonderful folks, from volunteers and community champions to provincial ministers who really are trying their best to do the right thing within budget constraints that sometimes just handcuff them. There is also the dark side where folks “spin doctor” important issues, where politicians take a wrong turn, where a personal issue takes on an ugly tone and accusations fly: accusations that a simple fact check would dispel as untrue. Good people and good families are hurt and discredited; unjustifiably so.

On the flip side, as a TNRD director I get invited to many events, and also sit on many boards. I am fortunate to have a voice in many important issues; issues I take very seriously.

An invitation not long ago to a truth and reconciliation gathering in Merritt was an invitation that changed my life. I left that Merritt gathering with a new perspective. It was a graphic and disturbing, eye-opening experience surrounding residential schools.

I came home and immediately put pen to paper. That is how I sort my thoughts when I have trouble wrapping my head around something. The residential school horrors seemed unimaginable. How did this happen?

The following is how this pained me, though I can never possibly understand the pain. However, I do better understand how much we love our children, and the waking nightmare that permeates the souls of residential school survivors every single day.

Imagine, if you will, a beautiful day; your beautiful children‚

Life is good to thee; as so it should be.

Your children, your universe‚

Your children, they always come first.

You wake every day: good morning, my children, you say.

The world around you may be falling to pieces‚

But you have your children; your nephews, your nieces.

And then one day the unspeakable descends:

Strangers at your door; these are not your friends.

They have come for your children; your nightmare begins.

Kicking and screaming; desperate and crying‚

Children pried from the loving hands of Mom.

Life will never be the same: your children are gone!

We heard many stories that days. I met many who had spent the most formative years of their lives in residential schools. We broke into sharing circles and each of us talked, one at a time, without interruption. I closed my eyes many times. I envisioned my children, my grandchildren in a place where no child should ever have to go. I cried many times.

When my turn came to speak I knew I had been part of the problem. When I had heard things in the coffee shop, at campfires, or at parties with friends—things like “Why don’t they just get over it?” or “It’s time to move on”—I remained silent. I was guilty, as all those who stood silent with me were guilty. My silence ended that day in Merritt.

The despicable, disturbing history of residential school abuse is not something you “get over”. It is a part of your life that will always be etched in your mind. We may be able to move forward, but it will be more than government and meetings that will move us forward. It will take you and me to speak up.

When we hear “Get over it” we need to speak up. We need to share a coffee and conversation with residential school survivors. We need to envision our own children ripped from our grasp and placed in an abusive, nasty place, with no way to help them, no way to comfort them. A living nightmare!

I can in no way imagine what the pain, the hurt was like, but to even think that this could have happened to our children is light years beyond disturbing. It is a shocking tragedy, a heavy, horrendous load that families will carry with them their entire life.

If you get a chance to talk with a survivor, please do. See the pain, the terror, and hear about the destruction of the family unit up close and personal. If, after the visit, you think you could “get over it”‚ maybe you weren’t listening.