Friday, June 25, 2021

'They Found Us'


Travelling back in time,
we feel the pain, hear the cries
and screams, small children
torn from their mothers' arms,
disappearing into the past:
all those children who never
came home, whose families
never knew the reason why.

I picture silent forbidden tears
in rows of beds at night, see
the harsh mouths, the hard eyes
of the staff, punishing the culture out
of small, confused, suffering
First Nation hearts.

First Nation, yet
marginalized, oppressed,
the gift of how
they lived in harmony
with the land
spurned. (Look where
that has brought us.)

Those who did go home
arrived different from
how they left: hearts full of pain,
suppressed anger, wounded by
abuse and all they had seen.
Children have no language
for atrocity, for trauma.

Spirits still wander the halls
of those dormitories of despair;
still float across the grassy fields
where so many small bodies
lie hidden in umarked graves.

An elder speaks, with
tears in his eyes: "And a small
First Nations voice whispers,
'They found us. They found us.'"

Tears in his voice. Shame
in our white hearts, our skin
shriveling on our bones: white,
the skin of the oppressor
of people of colour
all over the world.

Not a time to speak,
a time for those of us
who are strong enough to listen, to hear the pain,
the heaviness of the burdens carried
by those who suffered,
and  the generations who followed.

It is hard to find words 
that encompass the totality
of where we are.
Some stay silent,
afraid to acknowledge
this shared history
of colonial oppression.

Not me. 

What a week. First 215 unmarked graves outside a residential school in Kamloops. Then 751 unmarked graves outside a residential school in Sakatchewan. There will be more. Every residential school grounds will now be searched with special equipment designed to recognize human remains.

Chief Bobby Cameron is the speaker who said "And a small First Nation voice whispers 'they found us. They found us.'" So moving. I think of how many nights those children waited for their parents to come and get them, not understanding the government banished them to the schools, forbade the family to visit. Assimilation, they called it. Some use the stronger word: attempted genocide. Thankfully, they did not succeed in disappearing those beautiful people. 

For eight and a half years, I was peivileged to work among First Nations, at a treatment centre on the site of a former residential school. Many who came for help had suffered in that school. I saw how the pain and trauma filtered down to succeeding generations.

Canada Day is coming. No possibility of celebrating. On that day, I will reflect on the First Peoples of this land, whom I admire and respect so much. I hope they soon claim their sovereignity and be recognized as their own nations.

for earthweal. No end of sad news. Yet human nature is built to strive to be better than we are, so I will not surrender hope.


  1. Some stay silent,
    afraid to acknowledge
    this shared history
    of colonial oppression

    Love your bringing it up Sherry! It was a free for all for colonialism then but for tearing apart an infant's hold to their family for whatever reasons was inhuman.


  2. No, there are no words, but it's the poet's job to speak the unspeakable, or to tell us that her job is unspeakable in this case, which you did. We have the same stain here in the U.S.; with improving ground radar, how many bodies lie beneath the old school grounds. Like a cultural old growth cut down to stumps. Still the fossil ghosts sing.

  3. This is the saddest and most tragic thing imaginable. Why oh why would this have happened? How?

  4. Thank you for speaking of this terrible injustice. It breaks my heart and I hope that their souls can now rest as they move skyward far away from this place of pain. sigh...wiping a tear..

  5. It is similar to the Australian stolen generation story where the children were still being taken away until 1970
    Watch the movie " Rabbit Proof Fence"
    true story.

  6. Yes, I have watched Rabbit Proof Fence a few times............I simply do not understand the kind of white consciousness (or lack of) that exists in some people.

  7. The worst of it is that we all knew this history--those who say they didn't had their eyes closed and their hands over their ears--and yet we chose to let it be. But we are being forced to confront it. Our actions will speak louder than our words. (K)

  8. You are right not to stay silent, Sherry. Such unimaginable heartbreak. Such tyranny. And as you say, 'Look where that has brought us.' An ill wind that blows no good.

  9. criminal. the legacy of colonialism.

  10. So hard to believe what can happen in 'civilized' countries. My heart cries.


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