the first murder / residential schools
Once upon a time, there were two brothers.
Now Abel looked after the sheep, and Cain worked as a farmer. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, evil is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Then Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand."
On May 27, 2021, preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School uncovered the remains of 215 children buried on site.
I remember clapping my hand over my mouth and blanching, physically disgusted that the lives of precious indigenous children mattered so little to the people watching over them that they would dump their abused, lifeless bodies into unmarked graves. Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.
Evil is crouching at your door.
Us white people crowded once again behind the “not all white people” banner – we weren’t there. We didn’t do it. It’s not fair to have to sit with the anger of indigenous people when, at the time, we were also children. Our refrain constant, our chorus the national anthem. “Of course we feel bad for the indigenous people – who wouldn’t? We’re not monsters. But this isn’t our problem. It’s not our fault. And besides, wasn’t it all John Macdonald’s idea? How could anybody have stopped him?”
We didn’t know. We didn’t know. We didn’t know.
“Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
I spent a lot of time after the fact trying to avoid what I already knew : that there was a strong probability that these children, hated and unprotected as they were, died terrified, violated, alone, and hopeless. Without hope. Nobody came to save them. Nobody.
What kind of story is this? Where was God in this story? I couldn’t find Him anywhere. I resented it.
Because there had to have been a moment when those kids knew. They knew. Nobody is coming for us. Nobody is going to save us. We can’t stop it.
I tried to get away from that knowledge. I tried to skirt around it, or to pick it up with gloves and put it inside a Ziploc bag where I could observe it dispassionately. But that knowledge was not inanimate. It stared me back in the face. It was a living thing that I was interacting with. And I just couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear that there wasn’t a good guy. There was no rescue. And there was no rescue 215 times. Someone failed to come to their aid 215 times.
That number multiplied as the weeks wore on, of course.
The only answer or hope that I have been able to carve out of this horror story is the ground. The soil. The trees. The rivers. The land. The land held them, the land kissed away their sorrow and their pain, the land lavished grace upon grace upon grace. Holding them as a mother holds her child in slumber. And the land delivered them back to us. The land didn’t let us forget.
And if I believe the bible – and on good days I think I do – I believe that God created the land. God created the ancient womb that held them. I forget sometimes, about that. I forget that I actually worship the God of the wood frogs. And the common loon. And the soil. And the earthworms. And the unmarked graves. The God who witnesses all cruelty.
What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.
In the bible we sometimes find stories that echo or parallel modern stories. And we recognize something in them. We recognize that of course this isn’t the whole story. They didn’t just die in vain and then remain forgotten. That was never going to be the whole story. Because God. Because justice. Because there is goodness. There is redemption. There is a God who is even angrier at injustice than your friendly neighbourhood swamp witch (me). There is a God who is not content to merely observe. Listen. The blood of your indigenous brothers and sisters cries out to me from the ground.
What I have to believe – not for my own peace of mind but for the sake of truth – is that God’s love can redeem even the ugliest of stories. As He has always done. As He will continue to do. Death never has the last word.
But I haven’t lost you, my son. No no no. And you will find one of these letters. I know you will. You never missed a trick of mine, so why stop now? And when you do find this letter, you know what? Something extraordinary will happen. It will be like a reverse solar eclipse – the sun will start shining down in the middle of night, imagine that! – and when I see this sunlight, it will be my signal to go running into the streets, and I’ll shout over and over, “Awake! Awake! The son of mine who once was lost has now been found!” I’ll pound on every door in the city, and my cry will ring true : “Awake! Everyone listen, there has been a miracle – my son who once was dead is now alive. Rejoice! All of you! Rejoice! You must! My son is coming home!”
(Hey Nostradamus!, Douglas Coupland)