I’d like to begin by apologizing to anyone who may have Googled “Joseph Daily Herald column” expecting to read the words of my talented wife Jessica. Hopefully you are still reading this and haven’t navigated over to Facebook to post an angry status update.
I am a Prince Albert boy so some of you may already know me. I, like most teenagers, couldn’t wait to leave my hometown. Anywhere else had to be better. I lived in Regina and Saskatoon. And as a professional musician I have travelled to almost every corner of this country and done more than my share of international traveling. But the more I travelled the more I realized that Prince Albert will always be home to me.
I live a stone’s throw away from the house where I spent my first 16 years. My children go to the same school I did from kindergarten to grade 8. And my family attends the same church where I once sang in the choir. The same church where I made my vows to my wife. That church is St. Alban’s cathedral.
I am not here to talk about my beliefs other than to say I have mine and I respect all those who have different beliefs. Rather, I felt a need to address the anger that many feel towards what they refer to as “The Church.” Like The Church is some all-knowing super villain sent to destroy us.
This is a touchy area for me as a Cree man. I have often had to defend myself for being a church going citizen especially in light of the overwhelming stories of church-sponsored residential schools where there were horrific abuses towards aboriginal people. I have heard horror stories from some of the most important people in my life about what they endured. But many of those people have told me “it wasn’t the church, it was some sick individuals who hurt us.”
That thought alone can build bridges.
Everyone has bad experiences.
I have been jumped and beaten severely by four white men yelling “kick that Indian’s head in.” But this was four individuals. Not the entire white race.
And I have had to confront a store clerk for calling my nephews “stupid Indians.” But that was one (now unemployed) store clerk.
And I have recently been yelled at by a teenage girl from a car telling me “get a job you lazy Indian.” But she was one young immature voice who is going to have a very difficult time coping in a province that is expected to be 50 per cent aboriginal by the year 2040.
My point isn’t to say Prince Albert is racist. It isn’t. Are there racists who live here? Absolutely. I’m not naïve. And I’ve travelled enough to know I’m more likely to experience racism here than almost anywhere else in this country. But I will continue to defend this city and raise my children here because I know that the good vastly outweighs the bad.
We can always do better though. And when I meet a group of amazing, open-minded young people who tell me that they are the children of a racist but they themselves want to build bridges I know that the next generation is already doing it better.
My point is that when we stop holding an entire group at fault for the behaviours of a few then we can build bridges. Much needed bridges. Maybe more important than getting a second bridge to connect the north to the south we need to nurture those relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
I was involved with the Idle No More movement. We held a rally almost a year ago to the day in which 400 aboriginal and non-aboriginal people joined in peace and walked through downtown Prince Albert. We were turned away by many local organizations who wanted to help but were unable to as they were government funded. At the end of the day it was St. Alban’s that opened their doors for us.
Even more profoundly, the church announced just last week that they will be offering free Cree language classes to anyone who is interested. When we talk about healing it begins here. This church is helping to restore our language to not just Cree people but all people. I am 36 years old and am only now taking steps to learning my language. I would like to commend this church for not only extending an apology, but for taking steps towards healing … for building a much needed bridge.
Prince Albert was founded by a Metis man James Isbister. A man of Cree and European blood. A walking monument of what this city can be if we can all work together.
I would like to humbly thank you for taking the time to read my words. I would like to thank The Daily Herald and The Moose Jaw Times Herald for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts. I look forward to any feedback, positive or negative, that you may have. I would love to hear any stories you may have or ideas for future columns. Communication starts with a ‘hello’ and this was mine.
For those interested in the St. Alban’s Cree classes they will begin on January 15 at 5:30 and will take place every Wednesday. Stop in and say ‘hello’ or ‘tansi’.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org