The political climate regarding Canada’s Indigenous People is hot, the federal government is trying to make an inquiry to Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women work. There are questions about the government’s integrity to their commitment to reconciliation while Trudeau and Liberals made reconciliation one of four themes for #Canada150 celebrations.
Through all this, it can be a difficult story for non-indigenous Canadians to understand and to wrap their heads around the history and the issues that continue to drive this story to the top of the national news programs. For most Canadians it is difficult to comprehend the pain of the past of residential schools, sub acceptable living conditions, child suicides and losses due to fires and other living conditions not permitted in the mainstream.
For the longest time I’ve been looking for something to read that will give me the sense I was looking for to understand the tragedy, pain of the history of our First Nations communities. There were books of political nature; non-fictional accounts and fiction that told the stories; magazine and newspapers articles were too formal. I searched through the entire bookstore shelves searching there was nothing that I felt was a good introduction for me to dive into.
I stumbled onto The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew; the book only had two rows on the top shelf. The Reason You Walk on the back cover is described as “a father-son reconciliation.” Flipping through a few pages, The Reason You Walk, describes a son, learning from his father about the life his father’s father had and the lessons and how those lessons came from the elders. The father, a residential school survivor is ill and in the months of his life. Wab tells the story of that last year with his father.
While The Reason You Walk is about how Wab and his father are reconnecting, it is also the life of his father, his life before Wab and his live as a residential school student, being taken to Kenora Ontario – away from his parents and community and from the years in school in Kenora, with only a few weeks back home each year. Yes, The Reason You Walk is the book for me that could explain the pain, the suffering and the loss that the residential schools brought, it would be my first step to understanding the importance of reconciliation and truth. The Reason You Walk is the book that opened the door to the first step of wanting, make that being able, to learn more and though I have used the word quite a bit, understand more.
Wab and his father are not perfect, in fact they have had dark periods in their lives, death, alcoholism, divorce and multiple spouses are all part of their lives before the wisdom of the elders is absorbed and accepted. They accepted their responsibility for their roles in the lives of their people, family and children. Wab and his father were exceptional men in their lives; they were a journalist, professor, Chief and activist. Kinew now sits as a MLA in the Manitoba legislature.
The Reason You Walk shares the troubled lives of Wab, his parents, siblings, wives and children. But it shares a message that goes far beyond the teaching of the elders, it is a message that applies to everyone, it is about the reason we walk…as Wab sings the song after his father dies.
“I am the reason you walk, I created you so you might walk the earth.
I am the reason you walk, I gave you the motivation so you would continue to walk, even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.
I am the reason you walk, I animated you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back towards one another.
And now my son, as that journey comes an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk home to me on the everlasting road.”
The idea that reading the story of a father and son reconciliation can be a mirror for a greater appreciation of the challenges from our First Nations communities is not lost on me. They do not forget or try to rewrite their past, it used to remember and drive towards future goals. This is something that should be considered, when nationally efforts are made to wipe the past from our sights.
As demonstrated in The Reason You Walk, the past is used for a good future and so it should be and governments, Canadians and Indigenous People to move forward from the actions of those in our past.
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