Inherited History

This is a collage of two photos. One is the community memorial of children's shoes, an expression of grief and loss brought forward as ground-penetrating radar was first revealing unmarked graves at many Indian Residential Schools. The other photo is the sign posted by the Ontario Legislature on the plywood hoarding that protects the statue of John A Macdonald.

It reads, in part:

"Though we cannot change the history we have inherited, we can shape the history we wish to leave behind."


As if the harm done by Canada to Indigenous people, cultures, and communities is a thing of the distant past, as if its damage isn't still felt today, and isn't still occurring. As if generational trauma doesn't exist. As if systematic deprivation and ongoing efforts to break up families has a time limit.


As if the people who have done this harm are long gone, and we – the white, settler Canadians like me that this was written by and for – are just standing here, innocent and bewildered. As if the structures the Canadian policy of cultural destruction created are no longer in place. As if the continued and uncorrected injustices aren't a foundational part of colonial and settler wealth today, and through the generations to come.

There's so much here in this statement that's meant to seem wise and conciliatory, while coded to uphold white supremacy and paternalism. It's meant to make people who look and sound like me feel smug, that We're Considering It, and What More Do They Want When We're Being So Reasonable?

So instead I look at all of those little shoes. Soaked by rain, frozen in snow, sun-bleached, and empty in rows. The grief, the loss. All the harm we've caused, all the evil done in our name. How incredible a place this could have been if we had met Indigenous people as equals from the very beginning. Or if we had done that at any point in time, including now.

Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports.

I'm working my way through them, in small pieces, and not in any particular order. I read as much as I can stand, skip to a different section, and repeat – and continue until I need to put them down, to start again another time. Rain is easier to absorb than an ocean. But being being cold, and wet, and shivering is nothing compared to drowning.