The Canadian government has declared Sept. 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and made it a federal statutory holiday. Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only provinces that decided to not recognize it as such, leaving it to each employer to make that determination, but that is not what I want to write about.
What I want to write about is the fact that at Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, our phones and emails are lighting up from fellow colleagues and community members looking for a meaningful way to observe this day and its intent. This says so much about the potential and spirit as this day is inviting us all to learn, reflect, and be motivated to go forward in a good way.
I had a moment of intense emotion as I walked my dog this morning. While walking, I listen to talk radio and this morning a guest was on the show to talk about an adapted Indigenous musical adding shows at this year’s Fringe Festival due to its immense popularity. It was the only show to sell out this year. Bear Grease was adapted from the hugely popular feature film Grease released in the late ‘70s. The songs are the same, but the lyrics were changed to reflect indigenous experiences. The gals wore poodle skirts, but they were adorned with ribbons. The guys wore leather jackets, but also impressive Indigenous medallions. The producer and lead actor opened the show with some context. When Grease was released, Indigenous folks were living in a terrible time in history. Kids were in residential schools, we didn’t have the right to vote, and the pass system was in effect where you needed permission to leave your reserve to conduct business. But we aren’t there anymore! So, if we were allowed to participate the same as everyone else, we think it would’ve looked something like this. Then this wildly engaging and fun musical begins.
I knew these things. Many do. But as I walked, I got a wave of intense emotion. How different things could’ve been, would’ve been. This was when my parents were growing up. The brilliance of this show is that it not only reflects what was, but also shows us what could have been and what direction we are still trying to get to. Bear Grease was simply brilliant and hopeful and hope was the emotion that overcame me.
As a nation, however, we are still in the earliest stages of the healing that needs to happen. When Indigenous folks get upset about a MMIWG art installation conceptualized by men, when Indigenous folks get upset about a Catholic school district selling orange shirts, we need to pause, listen, and then keep moving forward. Not at the exclusion of those voices, but because of them. To stop because of the anger means we are not moving forward. Appropriation is a real issue; protocols are extremely important. We must call out appropriation when we see it, and not give it voice or a platform because it quite simply isn’t our voice, nor will it benefit our people. Protocol is hugely important, but we cannot assume that because non-Indigenous folks are involved that protocol wasn’t followed.
I think it’s wonderful and appropriate that a man, the perpetrator of so much pain towards Indigenous women in the MMIWG scenario, conceptualized this moving and beautiful tribute meant to honour and raise awareness of our societal need to do better. I was invited to be a part of the art installation at Parkdale-Cromdale Community League, to share my knowledge and ideas, to ensure we followed protocol, to mobilize others from the Indigenous community to the project. To hear it was challenged does not surprise me, but boosts my resolve to go forward and bring more people in.
This is what this day invites us to do. This day for me is sombre. We will have failed, though, if it continues to be just a day of reflection and not also a call to action throughout the rest of the year.