Some of My Favourite People

Ascension Sunday was beautiful in so many ways.  Bishop Emeritus Frederick Henry was with us for the celebration of the Mass.  As much as being a part of this family has, at times, been a struggle, it feels as though I am home with my community when I share in the Mass with so many friends.  Sometimes in today’s world, we can be very MEcentric and I find that I am able to quiet that and really focus on ‘the other’ when I am in community. I sometimes wonder how the human family will look back on the world that we are creating and what our part in history will be.  I lifted prayers and offered up this Mass, in particular, for people in my life who have medical struggles and for my children.  From Mass, I stepped out into a gorgeous-weather day and decided to make my circle of the pond, with Max before anything else.

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I booked up the afternoon with a create! workshop at Wendy’s…a session co-delivered with Ruth Purves Smith, needle felting and wet felting, forgetting that I was also committed to attending Indigenous dance led by Jess McMann.  Sigh… I opted to head out to Lakeview, as I knew I planned to visit my YaYa at the Foothills Hospital afterwards.

The afternoon was glorious, back yard crafting with beautiful and engaged creatives. The birds were chirping and singing and bathing, all the while.  Ginger snaps and ice cold lemonade were served as we went about learning to make dryer balls, wet felting and creating lovely artworks.  A great way to spend the afternoon!  Thank you, Wendy and Ruth.

Not only is Ruth a huge advocate for the Custom Woolen Mills, she is a heart-filled musician and huge song writer and story teller!  I hang out with amazing people!

In conclusion, kits were put together and I was eager to get over to the hospital and my friend, to see if she would be able to try felting.

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It was a joy to watch my YaYa, sit outdoors in the shade of Foothills Hospital and manage some felting.  I will bring the project that she began along with me on my next visit and bit by bit, she can construct something beautiful.  Best she not poke her finger with one of those needles!  The day was so much brighter because I was able to hang out with her and to see the progress she has made in her healing.  Four months later, she is a strong and inspiring fighter!  Her husband is equally inspiring because he has been selfless and supportive through this very unique journey.  They are, together, an inspiring couple.

I spent the evening on my own…a little putzing in the garden…some more walking with Max…some texting with my daughter who had entered a song-writers competition.  She got to chat it up with one of my favourite Alberta song writers, Joe Nolan, and so I will aptly conclude this post with one of his tunes.

The day was a ‘Ballad of Some Sort”.  (Changed my mind…but, YouTube it!) Instead, River Ends. Both Ruth and Joe deliver music in wool socks.  I think song-writers who perform in sock feet are generally good people.

Thanks, Wendy Lees, for being a beautiful person!  Thanks to you, Ruth…for sharing the joy of creation with me, again.  Such warmth and generosity!

Love Art in Calgary Tours

Wendy Lees

Ruth Purves Smith

 

 

IS-ness

Through the kind invitation of a dear friend, I ended up at the Calgary Catholic Retired Teachers Spring Luncheon at the Calgary Elk’s Club the day following my birthday. Thank you to Ruth, Pat and Emelia for the gracious planning.  I felt so blessed by the renewed connections and the warm embrace of the educators in my circle.  It was an absolutely magical afternoon.

Sitting on my right, was Joan.  In 1979, weeks after the birth of my first child, I took a bus from Lethbridge to Calgary, to interview with this person.  Little did I know, at that time, what a powerful inspiration Joan would become, in my teaching, but also in my way of seeing life and the world…visually…but, in so many other ways.

Last Tuesday…she gave me something more to think about….IS-NESS…the experience of being completely present in this moment.  It’s common to talk about the optimal state of ‘being’, living for this moment only.  There are many ‘gurus’ among us. “There is no past.  There can be no future.  There is only ‘now’.” These run the risk of becoming mere platitudes.  I think we all know what’s really going on…and it’s what the world is telling us is important, not what we know to be important. (sorry to be speaking for all of us here…maybe I’m wrong)

During my life, I’ve driven forward more than anything.  In youth, I thought that I needed more.  I set huge goals for myself. The wheels were in spin and forward I drove!  (when I type the word, DROVE,  an image comes up for me…a huge wind pressing at my face and the full weight of my body pushing against it). I dedicated myself to the work of that…the industry of that.  I taught full days, but didn’t wind down, painting well into the night and rising early in the morning.  I tasted what the FUTURE might be, but never really grasped it.

At some point, I opened the door, and rolled out of the speeding vehicle that was the life I had created and landed safely beside the freeway traveled by all of those around me. For the first time, I noticed what ‘other people’ were doing while I was painting, teaching and raising three children. I looked at my life through the rear view mirror and came to a lurching halt. I saw, for the first time, what it meant to stop….not to slow down, but to stop.

I am not writing this post, in judgement of my choices in youth.  If one looks at the accomplishments of ‘the greats’, one knows that their achievements came to be through commitment, dedication and mostly, sacrifice.  It is no wonder that I spent most of my life seeking success, recognition, accomplishment, production, money. These are the false promises of the human construct.

I am listening to Chris Cornell’s album, Higher Truth, as I type.  I just listened with a new ear to the song, Dead Wishes. While it is not for me to question why, at the age of 52, he took his life, it is for me to explore what it is in this human heart…every heart…that aches, struggles and seeks to be MORE.

One blessing of my life was to sit down with my children and gather for Sunday dinner; another, to seek to communicate and connect. I was rich for the opportunity to see, write, learn and experience art, music and performance…for the opportunity to be still with nature, make observations through all of my senses.  Joy came with walking my dogs, Max-man and Laurie-dog before him.  It came with sitting in the church when it was quiet.  Gratitude came with writing a poem. Magic was to hold my mother’s hand when she slept, warm under her blankets, her Buddy-dog curled into the circle of her back.  Freedom was and continues to be to turn on my favourite music and to paint in my studio, in the same way that the other might dance, with no one watching…for me alone.  IS-NESS….articulated by a dear friend.

(of course, I came home and looked through my documentation of years gone by…the photographs, mere snapshots of times shared…so much wisdom and joy contained in the flashes of light)

I was hired on with Calgary Catholic School District #1 in 1979.  My experiences for the following nine years at Holy Cross Elementary/Junior High were life changing.  This is where I learned the value of the person, above program.  To nurture a love for reading, learning, creating and self ultimately leads to enthusiasm for content, practice and consistent attendance.  I was blessed when opportunities in my career, led to both St. John Fine Art’s School and the Fine Art’s Center (in two different locations).  There, I met some of the most amazing people…educators who fearlessly impacted the district with the truth of the matter…and that is that experiences of art, music, drama and dance teach the brain in new ways, enhance all learning and create well-rounded human beings, prepared for a world that requires problem solving and new ways of seeing!  I went on to take everything I had learned to that point and participated in the opening of Cardinal Newman, a school in the deep south.  There, I continued to work as an advocate for the fine arts and to dream that they would be honoured within the curriculum.

In the following photographs, I’ve captured just a very small sampling of those educators, my mentors and friends. As Alberta is deliberating about and writing new curricula, I’m pleased to recall that I participated in the implementation of the art and drama curricula all those years ago.  It was wonderful to meet up again, with friends, and to share some stories…to speak of life and art and books and Is-ness.  Thank you.

Today’s Birds: May 13, 2017

I should be out gardening.  I am typically well ahead of the neighbours, but with owwies in the elbow this year, I’m lagging.  That doesn’t stop me from feeling fired up, however, as I listen to the sound of the neighbouring trimmers, lawnmowers and the stchhhh stchhhh of their sprinklers.

It’s pretty nice getting outside for long hikes, without the lawn work, I’ve got to say.

Here are today’s birds…all at Frank’s Flats.  I continue to hope that the pond on the other side of the chain link fence isn’t drained until the fledge happens.  We’ve a lot of nesting water birds at the moment.  We have one widowed Goose (female, I think), as well as a widowed Mallard (male).  They were hanging out together for quite a bit today. However, as I snapped a photograph, the Mallard flew out of frame.

No smiling at the pond these days!  If I smiled, I would eat my weight in bugs.  Must be the reason for the excitement on the water.  The gulls, laughing in a wild frenzy, are annoying the other birds.  The Yellow-headed Blackbirds seem to be pecking away in the huge batch of blooming dandelions.

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Giving me the Stare Down!

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Female Blackbird

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Female Blackbird

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Black Headed Gull

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More than a few…and Noisy!

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One of the Male Grebes Having a Float

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Overseeing his possibilities.

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Female Blackbirds checking out the Men. So many visible, while for weeks, the men were out there doing the soft shoe on the cat tails on their own.

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Cranky Pants

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Widowed Two Weeks Ago

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This must be my O’ Canada Photograph

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Looking Up

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Chain Link Fence and Wigeon

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Gadwells and Gull

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Savannah Sparrow

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Male Red-Winged Blackbird Giving a Shout

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One Photograph was edited today. Guess which one? (Not this one)

Today’s Birds: May 10, 2017

I took my camera to my birthday brunch, thinking I would snap some family photographs, but once there, I didn’t really think about taking photographs.  So, for today’s post, I won’t have any accompanying images.  Well, I can share this one.

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Today’s a good day.

Instead of going to Frank’s Flats, this morning, I decided to take Max over to Sikome Lake and check on the status of the female goose on the Osprey Platform.

She finally broke her brooding silence and was honking away and very active on her nest, after about four weeks of stoic waiting.  This could only mean one thing.  And, sure enough, before leaving, I witnessed the tiny bobbing heads of some of her offspring.  As a result, my own motherly defenses surfaced and I got on the phone as soon as I got home, feeling very powerless and somehow, invested.

First, the Fish Creek Park Conservation Officer (didn’t get his name) returned my call and answered all of my questions, patiently, but also, firmly.  I felt huge confidence after he made two things clear to me, 1. it is a criminal offence to mess with nesting birds or wildlife under Provincial jurisdiction and 2. Mother Goose is doing what is natural to her, or she wouldn’t be there.   So, after saying good-bye, I decided that I was going to let go of my fears and upset over the potential loss of life and to accept that all is happening as it was/is meant to be.

Second to this interaction, I received a lovely and informative letter via e mail from Alison Anaka, the Environmental Specialist for Enmax, the company that is responsible for the maintenance and establishment of almost twenty platforms around the city. Alison has given me permission to share her information with my readers…communication that might be appreciated by my friends living, here, in the deep south.

Being a Champion for Osprey!

Of course!  The Osprey are on my mind these days, so let’s see what Grade Three can pull off!  I shared, with the students, a few of my own photographs of Osprey.  We talked about the similarities and differences between Eagles, Hawks and Osprey because, even adults, get them confused with one another.

Earlier in the day, the students had discussed, with me, the aspects of a champion.  I told them that I am a champion for nature and always will be.  They told me stories about their champions and then went to their seats to write a couple of paragraphs about someone they consider to be a champion in their lives.  During art, we would be champions for nature, by talking for a while about how Enmax has built platforms throughout our city in order to help the Osprey out and to protect them.

Then, the students would use their artistic practice to be champions, by making art that would teach others about the Osprey.

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Kath's Canon September 2, 2015 Osprey, Franks, Stinky Max 061Kath's Canon September 2, 2015 Osprey, Franks, Stinky Max 005Kath's Canon September 2, 2015 Osprey, Franks, Stinky Max 025Kath's Canon August 16, 2015 Osprey 010

David Allen Sibley is an American ornithologist. What better person to demonstrate some real basics of the form involved with drawing a profile view of an Osprey?  The students made three sketches in their visual journals.  YES!  Three!  Practice practice practice!  If my readers want to see how challenging it is to draw the beaks, the form of the body and the head shape, try to draw along with David Sibley, here.  While I wanted to do a small composition with the students in chalk pastel, I also wanted to prepare them.  The practice was invaluable and the compositions ended up fantastic!

I recommend that you put this video on silent as the music is very irritating…however, I wanted to give the students practice drawing the Osprey looking the other direction.  Most chose to incorporate this posture for their composition and worked from their own drawings, as references.

Here’s some of what the students accomplished.  Thank you for your class, Jenn.  The students were absorbed and determined as they produced their compositions.  Having the practice under their belts, the chalk drawings took a little over 30 minutes…no pencil was used in the compositions.

Pencil sketching from projected Youtube videos…

Students used white chalk to block in their simple contour lines to define where their Osprey would be placed in the composition.

With a foundation of Reflection and Depiction, the students then had opportunity to Compose and Express, using the media.  They learned to leave bits of the ground (green paper surface) exposed…to turn their chalk pastels onto their sides and on the tip, for different mark making.  A very absorbed activity.

When all was said and done, some of the students shared with me that when they were in Grade Two, I spent a class drawing Eagles with them.  I showed them a Live Eagle Cam from Duke Farms.  No eagles showed up to nest at Duke Farms this year.

I think that it’s a very cool thing that some of these students have studied the Eagle and now, the Osprey.

Show Grade Twos a Nest, And They’ll Draw It!

All That Jazz!

Words spill out.  I use the word beautiful a lot!  I mention, too often, how grateful I am or how blessed I feel.  Writing helps me to take pause, to slow down and to take real measure of how truly fortunate I am. I seem to be a more positive person when I write. However, in that part of life away from the keyboard, I can become anxious, worrying and temperamental. I thought about this last evening, after an experience of improvisational jazz music that was both rich and compelling.  I’ll make a connection between words and jazz in a moment.  Readers, bear with me.

I always think of Wendy as a connector, but more than that, a dear friend.  Out of the blue, she invited me to join her for an early evening of improvised jazz.  The musicians, percussionist Robin Tufts and trumpet player, Andre Wickenheiser, created such magic in musical dialogue, that tonight, even as I write, I get chills.

We entered through the front doorway of the ‘yellow house’ and stepped into the warm light of new friendship.  Everywhere, interesting objects told stories of inspiration and the arts. Wonderful aromas wafted from the kitchen.  Introductions were made and Pat steered us toward the two pots of stock heating on the stove top.  Hanna turned meatballs in the fry pan.  I began chopping up beets on a wooden cutting board and the conversations seamlessly wove over and under and through the lovely gathering.  The only time the words stopped, was at the invitation to gather for the music.

Words stopped.

Taken from page 107

The Power of Silence: Silent Communication in Daily Life By Colum Kenny

What was about to take place was the ‘touching of a mystery’…a silencing of words.

Andre and Robin took their seats before us and Robin invoked a minute of silence.  It was heart breaking, the silence was so beautiful.  And…out of that silence was born the most remarkable improvised jazz sound.  I was transported or emptied or released…I haven’t decided which.  I relaxed.  Words left me.  I didn’t ‘think’.  It was a wonderful experience to focus on a weeping trumpet, a laughing trumpet…a percussive response; a light bell, wood, metal, skin….a cry, a gasp, a retort.  So complex, and yet so immediate and natural.

I was a little disappointed when the music came to a peaceful close.  Words, again, flowed throughout the room.  Conversations. Reactions. Circular sifting through spaces, hot bowls of soup…bread…desserts.  A glass of wine.  It was a genuinely ‘magical’ experience.

Thank you to Pat,  Robin and Andre.  It was good to meet you; Hanna and Roberta, Jaqueline, Rayne, Claudia…

Wendy, as always, thank you.

 

 

Yesterday’s Birds: April 28, 2017

Calgary weather has been less than cooperative, this past week, for anyone trying to grab a photograph of birds.  Rain and snow and biting wind. What happens with grey skies and water and birds?  Everything becomes soft-edged.  New birds making their appearances:  Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Night Heron, Eared Grebe, several more pairs of Red-necked Grebes, many Red-Winged Blackbirds, Wigeons, many more Redheads, Lesser Scaups and Coots.  The pond is alive with activity.  The Common Mergansers feel the most regal and demanding of attention.

It amazes me that in a single pond ecosystem, over six years, I’ve learned and experienced so much!

Yesterday, after teaching grade twos for the day, Max and I enjoyed short breaks in the clouds and hope for a blue sky today.  At one point, a very cold wind and system blew in, but left just as quickly.  I was finally able to get close to a focused image of the Grebe.

But first, the reading of some Eric Carle.  We read the lovely book, A Very Tiny Seed…but, I spoke to the students about my memories of A Very Hungry Caterpillar.  (same story, really) A book about how one transforms, changes, grows…

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The birds…

I chose to photograph the female goose who has settled into a particularly public place because she was so different, from the back,  from the male and looks as though she’s ready to burst!  I continue to make efforts to get closer to the Buffleheads, Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers, but they are all camera shy.

Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

It continues to be my goal to read the books of as many indigenous authors as possible this year…and to read content that will increase my knowledge, leading to better understanding of issues related to our Canadian indigenous peoples.  I have a desire in my heart to be a part of the mechanism that contributes to change, following a formal Truth and Reconciliation process.  The formal process is a mere stepping stone…the work, by all Canadians, is yet to be done.

I am grateful to have connected with author, Sable Sweetgrass, through an on line book club that Sable established and then on to a group book circle at the Forest Lawn Public Library once a month, with the gathering, Chapters and Chat, sponsored by the Aboriginal Pride and 12 Community Safety Initiative and led by Michelle Robinson.  Books offer inroads to powerful ways of viewing the world and understanding, whether non fiction, fiction, theater or poetry.  We owe it to ourselves to become educated.

This month’s read, Wenjack by Joseph Boyden, was selected as much for the weight of issues surrounding its author as for any other reason.  We decided we really wanted to have an honest discussion about appropriation of content.

The aesthetic of the book is beautiful…lovely paper, interesting and welcoming format, gorgeous illustrations and attractive associations with the natural world.  Based on the historical events of a young boy, Chanie who, in fact, was forced into a residential school system and as a result, died,  the discussion about the issues surrounding the writing of the book became a many layered, and at times painful, conversation.

I was unaware of Joseph Boyden’s reputation as an author, given that this was the first time I have picked up one of his books. Highly successful and recognized as an award winning author, Boyden’s connections with indigenous culture and appropriation of indigenous narratives has been called into question in various ways over many years.  His response has been anything but straight forward and the topic has been explored all over the internet.  An example of one such article can be found in the National Post.

I love books and I love the act of reading and it is for me to be discerning around my selection. As a visual artist, I have had to consider ethical boundaries as I explore certain topics in my paintings and it is important that appropriation is considered as I set up these boundaries.  While I am not fond of censorship, I do think, as artists, there is something refreshing about being true to our own stories.  I found our shared discussion circle to be invaluable as it contributed to expanded knowledge, in a very thoughtful way.

wenjack

 

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

I was down at Shelf Life books, listening to a wonderful double book launch by  German Rodrigues and J. Pablo Ortiz.  It was a very unique evening of spanish language literature, celebrating the launch of German Rodriguez’s The Time Between His Eyes (El tiempo entre sus ojos) and J. Pablo Ortiz’s Open Sea (De mar abierto). It was an excellent event and I was happy to reconnect with Pablo and to hang with his partner and my longtime friend, Brian. After the reading, I set about looking for the book, Birds Art Life because I had heard an interview about it and knew that it would affirm my experience of the pond, the discovery of birds and the resulting experience of art-making.

It was a bit of a search, but before I left, a copy of the book fell into my hands.

Very linear in my approach to books, I finished the McCullers title, before snapping up this beautiful object of my obsession.

I rushed through my earlier two reviews, books I’ve read in the past month, so that I could get to this recommendation, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear.  In this book, I found something kindred to everything I have become in retirement and in the past six years of loving a single ecosystem, a pond environment within the boundaries of the City of Calgary.

I kept putting the book down, and lifting off of the sofa or my bed or the bench out in the back yard, in order to pace and whoot and say, out loud, “YES!”  Since reading The Diviners so many years ago, I have not had such physical reactions to what I am reading.

Here is an extract from the book that speaks of my philosophy and experience, very clearly.

I discovered, through the book, that my ‘SPARK’ bird, was a sparrow, more precise, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, some eight years ago.  Hardly romantic or colourful, strange that my true attraction to birds was discovered looking out from my kitchen window, across at the open vent of my neighbour’s kitchen…several nesting seasons…widowing…lost youngsters…and determination through all sorts of weather conditions.  I began to watch. I took out the camera, for the first time, to take photographs of sparrows.

Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 006

From that kitchen place, my exploring began at a pond environment that I call Frank’s Flats, named after a homeless man who most evenings, watched me gather up litter into a bag a day for several years.  He drank six beer in the time it took me to fill a bag with plastics, straws, newspaper flyers and other human garbage.  He chatted with me, thanked me and visited at the end of most evenings, as I put my collection into the bin, near his viewing spot.

I think that the first time I really noticed the birds, I was drawn to the red winged black birds because of their determined mating calls.

Facebook 40 Male Blackbird

My experience of the pond has, since discovering birds, coyotes and little field mice, become magical.  The lessons I have learned about compassion, care, art and writing, have been many and profound.  I am so grateful for the number of stories and discoveries that come my way because I am always looking for the little miracles.

Kath's Canon, September 22, 2015 early aft Frank's Flats Heron 038

Facebook 7 Black Capped Night Heron

Kath's Canon September 2, 2015 Osprey, Franks, Stinky Max 062Kath's Canon August 29, 2015 Osprey, Hawk, Kingfisher 141

If you are looking for a way to deepen your experience of life and living, pick up this book.  It is a treasure and my new favourite!  It contains countless references to other writers, thinkers and artists…book titles…and the author’s connections with her own story.  I hope that my readers will discover urban nature and hold on to the power of that experience.

Today at the pond…

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My Decade at Old Sun, My Lifetime of Hell by Arthur Bear Chief

This book is very accessible to readers on line.  Download the PDF file through Athabasca University Press and pour over the book, in just a few hours over two days.

Judy Bedford lays down tracks for us in the Preface, exploring the process of actually archiving this personal record and moving through revisions.

“Arthur’s living story will evolve, and so will his written story, which will have its own future. It will reach a far wider audience, and it will affect others in ways that cannot be predetermined. Like listeners, readers have a responsibility not only to approach Arthur’s story with respect and open themselves up to his words but to ponder the relationship between his story and their own lives—to find in his experiences truths about themselves. Readers are also responsible for “retelling” the story by sharing what they learn with others.

In this way, what is written will become oral. It will not be archived. As any story should, it will live and grow—and in that there is hope of reconciliation.” –Frits Pannekoek

Arthur’s remembrances of being a young boy, growing up with his mother near by, being taken from his family and educated in residence at Old Sun, is chilling.  What his section of the book lacks in elegance, is so authentic that the reader can only feel  helpless and sad.  Arthur recalls the sights and sounds of family and home on Blackfoot Reserve # 146.  His initial memories are very tactile in nature and it’s interesting how often he mentions the touch of his mother, throughout.

It is a very hopeless thing to read about a child who is overpowered by adults who are sick, perverse and controlling.  It is made me so angry to read that dearest friends should silence one another in the dark of night, in order to avoid reprisal and further hurt.

The Afterward, written by Fritz Pannekoek is excellent because it puts into a very clear context, Arthur’s experience.  It gives the reader a very strong foundation for understanding the journey of one man in the system of Residential Schools, but also, the frustrating process of revelation…of truth…of trauma…of financial settlement…and ongoing systematic abuse, whether that be physical or emotional.

I learned so much through this book and it causes me to hunger more for understanding of current issues around the Truth and Reconcilation process.  This is a very fragile thing…and readers must understand that without the active engagement of all Canadians, the political process meant/means nothing.  I invite readers to seek out information and to familiarize themselves to the various agendas that are out there.

Thank you to Jess, for the invitations to further my study. Thank you to Sable Sweetgrass for the awesome efforts via social media.  I’m really enjoying the book suggestions and on line discussion. Thank you to Michelle Robinson and the Community Safety Initiative: Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI.

One child’s heart…forever, changed.