Monday, 11 July 2011

TRC Reflections — Part 2

At the end of the final day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Northern National Event in Inuvik, a teenaged boy took the microphone.

"Commissioners, I'd like to invite you to a birthday party," he said, before taking the hand of Commissioner Wilton Littlechild and leading him - and a procession of residential school survivors - to a full-on cake-and-candles celebration.

Like thousands of other residential school survivors, Chief Littlechild never had a birthday party when he was a boy. Children at residential schools weren't allowed to celebrate their birthdays. To this day, some survivors don't even know when their birthdays are.

So on July 1, as Canada was whooping it up with Will and Kate, the TRC was hosting a "Special Birthday Ceremony" for residential school survivors in Inuvik.

As we entered the party room, each of us got a cupcake with candle and a birthday card. Before long, we all lit our candles, someone dimmed the lights, and the performers onstage led us in singing "Happy Birthday to You" - twice in English, before members of the different nations sang in their own languages: Inuvialuktun, Gwich'in and Slavey.

While some party-goers were clearly excited by the celebrations, others shed tears. This birthday party marked the end of an emotional week, four days of reliving past hurts while renewing long-lost friendships, alternately feeling the
pain of the past and the joys of newfound hope amid cultural celebration. This particular soirée, like the entire TRC event, couldn't help but be bittersweet.

When it came time to blow out the candles, I noticed a number of the now-elder (or at least middle-aged) birthday boys and girls putting a lot of thought into their wishes before they closed their eyes and blew. Then ... lights up, some musical entertainment and dinner.

The main course at the community feast that night was spaghetti and meatballs - the chef told me he figured that's what would be on the menu at a birthday party!

The TRC shindig was the second ceremonial birthday celebration I've attended in Inuvik. The first happened a week earlier at a Gwich'in pre-TRC gathering on the banks of the Mackenzie River. At this party, an elder, a youth and the head of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, together, cut a birthday cake before we all joined in with a sing-along Happy Birthday and yet another feast.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

That's a beautiful story. Sometimes the smallest gestures carry the most weight.