In the wake of more colonial violence, a love letter to those who are grieving

When the genocidal forces of this country lay their hands on our people it is our collective responsibility to stand up — because we know what happens to one happens to all
Rose petals float on dark water of the lake, over rocks which are visible underneath
Flowers given to the waters of Okanagan Lake in memory of loved ones gone too soon. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

There are days when we walk this earthly plane, and begin to question why it is that we were born into this space and time. And sometimes it’s our hardships that teach us the biggest lessons. When we choose to sit with our feelings, make kin and visit with them, we are able to move through the visit and see the lessons. 

I just finished writing a series about the life and loss of a sqilx’w kin, Kwemcxenalqs: a story of the beauty of her life, and a story of the harms our people experienced during a search for her. Three days after the second story was published we heard of the death of a young Tshilqot’in man, who died while in the custody of the Williams Lake Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 

At the centre of each of these deaths, and countless more, is Canada. When the colonial forces of this country lay their hands on our people, it is our collective responsibility to stand up, and hold on to one another. We are each other’s greatest strength — because we know what happens to one happens to all. 

So I’m here to share what’s been on my heart to share. I’m using my voice because I was taught that when you have a gift you are responsible to use that gift to help your people. I’m here to share with my own people, Indigenous Kin, what you deserve to hear.  

I want to remind you that you are here today because your Ancestors fought for you. Because they knew that your breath needed the air to be imbued with hope, through your words, your prayers, and your life’s song. 

The way the Ancestors took care of the land, the berries, the water, the animals, their Spirits, is only proof that they have loved you from many timelines away. 

And on days like today, I sit in reflection and remembrance of the many beautiful things I’ve witnessed in our people. And rather than saying I stand witness to our genocide — I’m going to share how I stand a witness to your beauty. 

So this is my love letter to you. Because sometimes, we just need to hear the beauty of the world around us when harmful things come to try and make us forget.

I stand as a witness

I stand as a witness to how sqilx’w (Indigenous) families wake their babies up with their sqilx’w skwist (Indigenous names), singing the notes of their name in the air. Calling the spirits to come walk with them on that day. 

I see how through our own pain as parents we do our best to shield our children for as long as we can from the colonial violence of Canada that we know inevitably awaits them. I see parents, Aunties, and Uncles protecting their loved ones through ceremony, prayers, and language. So that our future People to Be never need to question their value in this world and will stand firmly rooted to the ground that knows their names. 

I see our children being brought up in the Old Ways, running the mountainsides before sunrise, disciplining their bodies in ceremony so they can hear their Spirits — and honouring their bodies’ calls to the land when life gets tough. I see them mourning when they are successful in their hunt, I see their grateful hearts when they are picking berries, and can hear the power that lies in their whispered prayers.

I see us awakening to the calls of our Spirits, remembering our strength, and living out our responsibilities given to each of us through our Creation. Knowing that we are stronger together, and that even for those who walk off the beaten path we are honoured that they are still walking with us. We know they are an important part of our collective journey.

We walk this journey together

When we bury our loved ones we come together to honour their life journey. An Elder once shared out loud over the crowd at a funeral, that after we buried this young person we are to stop crying. 

He told us that the reason we have a procession is it signifies all of our people coming together to walk them home one last time. 

And that’s when we are all asked to come to a stop. That stop is important. We give of ourselves to honour that last stop for the person we collectively grieve. When we do this, we are coming together to reflect on what they taught us and what they gave of their life while they were here. We are all sacrificial people, so what did they give through the sacrifices of their life? And that’s what we take with us from their last stop.

Then, he said that once we leave the graveside and have said our prayers, have sung our songs, we must let them go. And we must continue our journeys again while not forgetting that we are to be Helpers to the grieving family in their sacred time. 

You’ll see who the Helpers are in our communities after someone passes. Helpers are the ones who give up their sleep to be a firekeeper and watch the sacred fire overnight at the wake. They are the people who bring food to the grieving, the ones who cook, clean and mind the children, and the ones who remind everyone the importance of following protocol. During the time after the burial, Helpers will hunt for the family, bring them their berries and medicines, or bring them firewood for the winter. 

Helpers do what they can to support the grieving family in a time that protocol asks them to be closer to their grief so they can work with it through ceremony. We, as community and Nation, should be doing these things without being asked or told. And some of us have lost that Old Way — or maybe this colonial world we also have to walk in forces us to forget the importance of these things.

So when you are going through your grief, honour your time with it. Visit with it, make kin, and when the days are hard and you lose all sense of time and identity, as you will, touch your hair. Feel how long it’s gotten since your grief began, that’s why it’s there. Your hair is so important in this time because it holds your story, it reminds you that time has passed and you have made it this far. 

What’s most important is to trust in your teachings and let your ceremony do its work with you because this is how we are bound together. 

And when I say “we” I don’t just mean the people that are walking with you, but also the Spirits of the land you are born from, the water that runs through the creeks and also through your body, and your Ancestors whose prayers from many timelines away are still with you. 

So if you do anything — cling to that knowing with all your life. 

Never forget you are of these lands. The powerful force of Grandmother Moon pulled you from your mother’s womb into this place because you were needed here. Your first cry out to the world was because your Ancestors knew this world needed to hear you. Your Ancestors knew that your life would contribute to this place what was needed. 

So be in kinship with your ceremony, whatever that may be, and never let this world make you forget your sacredness.


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