The yellow school bus in high school crossed two reserves on the way south. Close to town was a flat plain in the valley between the peaks with houses scattered about a winding road that turned and circled between them for no reason I could understand. No curbs, no sidewalks, no trees…a newer house beside and older house, a new truck in the front and an old car in the long grass beyond and children playing with a spotted dog.
Meanwhile…the more I read about #idlenomore the less I see what I have seen to be true. I hear little talk of the children in the long grass or the water. I remember the glass of water the old man next door gave me that tasted like a lead pipe. “I don’t drink water”, he said, as I put it down on the table…but that’s another story for another time.
In another time and place Sean Penn in an Esquire interview said he learned to ask the people of Haiti what they needed three times. First, he explained, they will tell you what they need today because they will not believe you will return…by the third time, they will understand they can tell you what they really need. And further more, once you share that trust you will see who is most committed and best able to help.
I wonder aloud if I had asked those children with the dog what they would say? Or that girl who stopped coming to class in the 10th grade to be a mom? Or my friend Rob who was the oldest of two boys living off the reserve who wanted to be the first in his family to graduate. He was a good friend…and we shared the same fears of what our future would hold after we had both seen what alcohol and neglect had done to our fathers and families and our grandfathers and their families before them. When things were hard he would breakdown in the despair that he might not end the cycle, afraid that it was in his quarter-blood…and I knew because I had seen the same fear in my father’s pale blue eyes like the ones I see in the mirror but knew my potential was not limited by a racist society that sees him as less.
I look back and I am disenfranchised by the conversations today in social media, print and TV. I am saddened by words of white people who have never known an empty wallet, let alone an empty stomach, arguing over who is most accountable and who is entitled. I can’t begin to understand the reality of being an aboriginal person in Canada today but I can’t imagine the children on the bus or those teens turned parents and alcoholics who sat next to me in class would say what they need most is for their local chief to meet the prime minister. If I asked them what they need, I doubt Rob would reply we need to agree who is responsible before we fix the water, or stop the girls from being abused, or find a way to feed the little ones a snack in the morning or a hot lunch when they’ve had no breakfast. I think they would ask if our business partners would like to donate some more warm jackets to the daycare or collect some food for that single dad with two girls who found a job but has nothing for two weeks before he gets his first paycheck but is too proud to travel to the food-bank on the bus. He would think first about the children…they all would.
Yes, politics and politicians will meet…and yes, I understand they must, but perhaps while they do, we can see what more everyday people like you and I can do today to make a difference in a child’s life while the others continue the discussion into the next generation.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. by Margaret Mead