By Carmen Rodriguez de France, Ph. D.
University of Victoria
“We carry the embers of all the things that burned and raged in us. Pains and sorrows, to be sure, but also triumphs, joys, victories, and moments of clear-eyed vision. People give us those. People cause flames to rise in our hearts, minds, and spirits, and life would not be life without them” (Wagamese, Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations; p.27).
Late (and Great!) Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese left us earlier this year. His physical presence, gentle and reassuring, will be missed. His spirit however, has stayed with us. Through his poetic way of being in the world, through his words, and through his way of living life, I have come to understand Redemption, Reconciliation, and Resurgence as elements of life, and as important pieces in the process of putting back together what has been disrupted.
I first ‘met’ Mr. Wagamese when I was flying back to Victoria from Saskatoon, after visiting Batoche, Wanuskewin, and Prince Albert. Being an immigrant from México and growing up in the 70’s, I had only learned about these places through photographs, magazines, and the occasional foreign film featuring Canada. To be in such places of beauty, history, and spiritual connection was overwhelming. The landscapes, the sky, and the power those places contain, still fill me with reverence, awe, and wonder. On the airplane, I found a discarded newspaper (which I kept). In it, a small image of the author caught my attention; and his words caught my heart. The heading read, “What it comes to mean” and from that day on, Richard Wagamese has been present in my life. Like many of his readers, I am one who is thankful for his presence in this world, for his gifts, which we received directly and indirectly, and for leaving us thinking about opportunities for Redemption, Reconciliation, and Resurgence.
Redemption is sometimes defined as “the act of making something better or more acceptable” (https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/redemption). In my work as an Indigenous scholar, I am in constant search for what my work “comes to mean” personally and professionally. I want to always remind myself of the need to make my work more acceptable, and better, especially since I was not born here in Canada; though my ways of being and feeling are close to many of the Indigenous people I have met, I am mindful that I am not “one of them.” Redemption then, becomes an everyday calling in which I reaffirm my commitment to my workplace, my colleagues, the community members with whom I work, and those I have yet to meet.
Like love, Reconciliation takes different forms and shapes. Through his novels, poetry, stories, presentations, and in his editorials, Richard Wagamese showed us what Reconciliation can look like: A mother and a son making peace in Dream Wheels; a father and son reunited in Medicine Walk; finding a place to belong in Keeper N’Me; or reminding us that “people cause flames to rise in our hearts, minds, and spirits” in Embers. Through his words in prose and poetry, I have found a way to open doors to others who like me, are searching for ways to enact the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). One way in which I thought to take action was to start a Readers’ Club at a local branch of the library where, through reading the works of Indigenous authors, we have gained awareness and understanding of Indigenous perspectives, ways of knowing and being, and learn how to “climb the mountain” that Senator Sinclair speaks about in his speeches, addressing the shared responsibilities of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to create a shared future. There is no one definition for Reconciliation. There is no one path to the mountain. Each of us will have to find a path or create a path; first, for reconciliation within, and then for reconciliation with the outer world.
As we amble those paths, and in order to sustain the commitment to the Calls to Action from the TRC, we need acts of Resurgence in our everyday life. The outcome of such acts can yield different results depending on the context in which they are performed: educational, political, socio-cultural, and so forth. Ideally, the attempt will be to challenge the status quo, question history, connect our communities, and ultimately, restore disrupted nationhoods and livelihoods. Among other practices, everyday acts can include speaking one’s indigenous language, learning from Elders, following protocol, connecting to the land, deconstructing historical inaccuracies, and sharing knowledge on how to build a sustainable future.
As an educator working mostly with future teachers, I am aware that the pathways to creating opportunity and possibility rest in part on the shoulders of those of us who work in teaching and learning contexts be them schools, universities, museums, art galleries, libraries, recreation centers, and any other spaces where there is an opportunity to become more aware, more knowledgeable, less critical and judgmental, more compassionate, more patient. To Indigenize is to educate; the creation of new stories is what we need. In the words of Mr. Wagamese, “What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship—we change the world, one story at a time…”