The last 15 months have been extraordinarily stressful. Waiting anxiously for the daily update from our Provincial Health Officer and too often not getting the good news we were hoping for. Wondering if we should tell anyone about the tickle in our throats. Pondering just how many other hands had touched the apples we bought. Simply smiling at the check-out person in the grocery store because we couldn’t understand a word they are saying behind their masks, and afterward realizing they couldn’t see our smiles behind our own masks. All this while smothering ourselves with hand sanitizer at every opportunity.
We are finally seeing signs of optimism. Two weeks ago, I was able to hug my parents for the first time in a year. I was so grateful for this “normal” moment. I could finally exhale. It was difficult not seeing them but being told we weren’t “allowed” added an even greater stress. Prior to covid, such a scenario never even entered my mind.
Throughout the covid crisis, people have wrestled with isolation, loss of income, and for some an inability to worship publicly in the way they were accustomed. Alcohol and drug use has increased. Many people have felt real trauma. The recovery will take time. I am sure our government will continue to put programs in place to support people in need of help.
As you consider your own situation, try imagining the level of trauma that restricting First Nations to reserves had. Despite our isolation being only a very very small taste of what First Nations endured, I ask you to take what you experienced, multiply it by 100, and use it as a learning opportunity.
I grew up on the traditional territory of Tla’Amin Nation in what is currently called Powell River. The people of Tla’Amin had family in K’omoks, Klahoose, Homalko, Shíshálh (Sechelt) and in other parts of the Coast Salish nation. The ocean was their highway system.
To see my parents, I travel through traditional and unceded Coast Salish territories. From the traditional territory of Tsawwassen Nation through the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) Nation then through the traditional territory of the Shíshálh Nation and on to the traditional territory of Tla’Amin Nation.
After just one year, I can travel freely again to see my family. In the case of the Coast Salish people, they were put on lockdown for decades by colonizers. Families were separated and lost touch.
Until the 1960’s, the people of Tla’Amin needed a pass to leave the reserve. In addition to keeping families apart, this kept them from their territories while the colonizers extracted the profitable resources from the land and sea. Of course, this is only one of many atrocities First Nations faced and continue to face.
We can’t put ourselves in First Nations’ shoes, but we can begin by trying to understand their truth.
There are far too many people in denial or ignorance about Canada’s treatment of First Nations and the lasting impact of shameful actions. We need more people to step up in their support. Together we can reach a tipping point that leads to honest and forthright reconciliation.
Also, for those of you interested in learning how to pronounce some of the place names you see on road signs around Vancouver and Squamish, I encourage you to check on the following link. I had wondered how to pronounce the “7” in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and now I know.