|Rock in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut - image used on our Easter bulletin - reminded me of the empty tomb|
Our Johnny, an Inuk much loved member of Mile End Mission, was taken to hospital the Friday before Palm Sunday. Johnny died this afternoon surrounded by people who love him and upheld in the prayers of many more. We are shocked and deeply saddened. Johnny is from what was formerly known as Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay, west of Great Whale River (Poste-de-la-Baleine on the map) - and now again called by its Inuit name, Sanikiluaq.
|Barren, rocky and exquisite landscape|
|Sanikiluaq from the space shuttle|
(When Johnny was moved to the ICU on Good Friday, the letter was written and sent. Last Wednesday, brother Jonassie with his wife Daisy arrived and are staying at the Mission. They are overwhelmed by the love for Johnny that now extends to his family.)
Those of us who knew Johnny well already knew much of his story - his life has been tragic in many ways, growing out of sexual abuse as a little boy by a teacher, a social worker, and (he told Lori recently) an Anglican priest (three different white men). Years later, Johnny began the collective action lawsuit that brought the teacher to justice and compensation to the many, many victims.
Tragedy notwithstanding - Ahh ... but he was loved. By family. And in recent years by a whole bunch of us. He'd ask, "Why do you care about me?" Over and over. And we'd answer: "Johnny, you've had such a hard life, but you're a good man with a warm heart." A sense of humour. Twinkly brown eyes. Stubborn as all get out - but hey - he survived where many of us might not have. A miracle. He spoke at Connie's funeral in August 2012. We may have forgotten most of what was said, prayed, and sung that sad day - but we will never forget Johnny's short tribute - "Connie fed us. She clothed us. She loved us." That was Connie and that was, and is, Mile End Mission, folks.
|Flowers can bloom in rocky soil and through tribulation|
Jumping back to Easter Sunday - Dora told me I may tell this part of her story. She would probably give permission to tell more, but I'm not going to. Suffice it to say this much. At age 8 she was taken to a residential school run by the federal government (not by a church organization in this case) in Great Whale River, Quebec. The abuse of the children was beyond comprehension, unspeakable except by the person whose story it is - at least for now. Dora testified for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission last year, and has a DVD of her testimony.
What priest in her (or his) right mind would ask someone to speak about residential school abuse on Easter Sunday? I had other things planned, but I believe it was Holy Spirit that moved me to toss my plans and ask her to speak. I see resurrection in Dora as well as Good Friday. Still, I had to ask how she felt about it - and if she saw evidence of resurrection in herself. Otherwise, we wouldn't have done it. She does. And we did.
Part of Dora's story:
The community didn't know the children were going to be taken. Government officials arrived and acted with haste and cruelty. Seared in Dora's memory - her mother tugging frantically on one arm, and a government agent pulling the other. Eventually her mother had to let go, fell to the ground face in her hands, helpless, hopeless, wailing for her daughter. The children, tossed into a plane that had no seats, had no idea where they were going, why, or for how long. When the plane took off, the children were thrown together to the back of the plane, when it veered left or right, they fell to the side, and when it landed in Great Whale River they were thrown frontwards. The children lost their voice, forbidden to speak their language. Dora's hair fell to below her knees. It was cut short with bangs along with all of the girls. You've seen the images. For Inuit people, their hair is almost sacred. Dora has never been able to allow her hair to grow long again, so traumatic was the experience.
They spent ten months of the year at the school and two at home in summer. That first year, they knew nothing of the future and there was no contact allowed between families and children. Her father dog-sledded across the winter ice over the years, but sometimes they only found out he had done so when they went home in summer. Boys were separated from girls, and even siblings could not see each other, though the buildings were close together.
I could feel a teensy bit of "This is Easter Sunday, a day for flowers and joy and celebration and Alleluias. What on earth is Ros doing/thinking?" I wondered myself, of course. And so I should have. Though I had listened to her stories and prepared the way, introducing Dora and a tiny bit of her history before she spoke, even I wasn't prepared for the horrific details she told us ...
After Dora spoke, I made connections between her story and Easter. It went something like this - Easter only has meaning after Good Friday. Nothing justifies or explains away suffering and death. Holy Week I had been aware that Johnny was Jesus for me along with so many millions of others suffering and dying in today's world. Good Friday and Easter are NOW, NOW, NOW as Herbie O'Driscoll has said. There is no justification for racism, for slavery, for Japanese-Canadian Internment Camps in WWII, for residential schools, for child abuse, for cancer, death of a spouse or a child, for the suffering of someone with Alzheimer's or their carers ... We all know suffering. We all make choices. We all experience Good Friday in our lives, and our Easters can grow out of them. Nothing, however, diminishes the suffering or can explain it away - eg - "Those were different times..."
The last Canadian residential school was closed in 1996. A thorough report was written in 1907 by Dr. Peter Bryce about the horrendous conditions in residential schools, the extremely high death rates, conditions of the buildings and levels of abuse. The government buried the report for 15 years, and eventually Dr. Bryce whom the Department of Indian Affairs had hired to write it, published it himself in book format. And still the schools went on.
It's also important not to see either Dora or ourselves only as victims. We are more than victims. We suffer and have suffered, yes. And most of us have had help, love, and support to enable us to grow into new life as well as the courage to do so.
Dora is a woman of courage who has found her voice (understatement) and who has learned to cry. The children in the schools were forbidden to cry. She took a course in counselling in Iqaluit, capital of Nunavut, and in the process, began to face her demons. She is a counsellor in the elementary school in Sanikiluaq. She tells truths with grace and a gentle spirit. She also has a wonderful sense of humour. We cry and laugh a lot. Mostly laugh.
After Dora and I had each spoken, Tom played while Dora sang "Jesus Christ is risen today" in Inuktitut. I had nothing to do with what happened next - no hint - didn't even think of it myself ;-) ... The entire congregation spontaneously joined in singing the Alleluias. Alleluia's pretty well the same in many languages. WOW!! Awesome! Alleluia!! And then they clapped fervently! I'm hoping that Sandra, who taped Dora singing on her Ipad, will send a link and you can see and hear her. (see link below)
Johnny was a gift. Dora is a gift. Alleluia and thank God for this family - that they've entered our lives and hearts for ever 'n always.
Johnny died peacefully at 2pm while Jonassie and Daisy were singing "How great thou art" for him. In Inuktitut, I think. Johnny's body will be taken this week back to his birthplace and spiritual home to Sanikiluaq after many years in different parts of Canada. Being loved these last years, finding a home where he was loved and accepted and part of a community again, I believe he came home in himself.
May each of us come home in whatever ways we most need.
|An inukshuk in Sanikiluaq - A guide home|
Inuksuk (inukshuk)Inuksuit are placed on the temporal landscape acting as "helpers" to the Inuit. Among their many practical functions, they are used as hunting and navigational aids, act as coordination points, serve as various indicators (eg. where
|Eider ducks - a staple past and present|