I Didn’t Cry at the TRC

I didn’t cry at the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in Edmonton this week.

Don’t get me wrong – I was moved. I welled up, from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I wanted to cry. But I didn’t; the tears wouldn’t come.

I wish I’d shed them while I was part of this historic event. That I could’ve added my tears, and the tissues they were dried on, to the Sacred Fire like so many other participants did. That I could be part of such a beautiful and sacred ritual.

But the tears wouldn’t come.

I think it was partly from working throughout the event – from constantly taking photos and videos, sending tweets, writing Facebook posts, and recording notes so that I could write further, thoughtful reflections after the fact. Reflections like this.

When I’m in “work mode,” I put up a wall around me. I don’t let the emotions get to me, because I feel I need to be objective and rational and record the stories, and to get emotional would be to do a disservice to the people who’s stories I’m recording. I know this is likely flawed thinking, but it’s what I did when I was researching both my undergraduate and graduate dissertations – on the use of rape as a tool of war, and the rights of children conceived through rape during the Rwandan genocide, respectively.

I think, overall, it’s for self-protection. I numb myself to the stories. I take them in, I preserve them and protect them inside of me, and then I set them aside for another time. For when I feel that I can truly feel them.

And I know this is probably a very “White” way of dealing with emotion.

But the stories never leave – even while I continued working, they remained with me. Just below the surface.

And I don’t want them to ever leave.

I want to constantly be reminded of what my country, my church (both the one I was born into and the one I now consider home), and my people did to an entire civilization of numerous, diverse, and amazingly rich cultures.

I want to always remember the Métis woman who told the story about a relative who could only whisper “It wasn’t very good” when asked about the residential schools.

I want to remember the woman whose grandmother left school with a Grade 4 education, had a mental breakdown, and spent the rest of her life in psychiatric hospitals.

I want to remember the countless survivors, men and women alike, who told of returning to their communities, where 95% of the population had become alcoholics to deal with the trauma of having their children literally ripped out of their arms.

I want to remember the countless stories I heard of abuse – physical, mental, sexual and spiritual. Of the many rapes. The forced sterilizations. The neglect. The humiliation. The loss of language. The forced feeding. The shame.

It’s that shame that really hit me hardest. The shame that survivors said they felt, about everything that happened to them. The survivors who said they were dirty, unworthy, after being raped. It’s that shame – that second dose of victimization that perpetrators impart – that adds to my anger.

I know the tears will come. Maybe not today, but soon. Most likely when I find time to sit alone, to really look at the photos I took and truly watch – and listen to – the videos I shot. To listen to the testimonies I didn’t get to hear.

As I heard numerous times throughout the TRC, tears are nothing to be ashamed of. They are meant for healing, a way towards healing.

I don’t know if I’m ready for healing yet. I think I need to feel some of the pain first, to hold some of the shame and guilt and atrocities that my people perpetrated, if only so that I feel a need to constantly tell other people about it.

To convey what we did, so that it will never happen again.

Maybe then the tears will flow more freely.


About kbardswich

Writer. Photographer. Activist. Lesbian. Feminist. Traveller. Voracious learner. Part-time shit-disturber.

Posted on April 1, 2014, in Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Lorna Standingready

    You have a good way of working my girl. It is your job and you did well for us the survivors. Meigwitche (thank you) May the Creator be with you always.

  2. HAI HAI Kaitlin!! Charlene & Russel Burns & Jenny & Jacob

  3. I’m very moved by your deeply personal reflections. Each of us has our own unique way to be involved in exposing the terrible things that we human beings do to each other. But as we realize that it’s “WE HUMAN BEINGS” who do this we can set aside righteous indignation and connect also with the wondrously creativity that we human beings also do. We can subordinate moral judgment to loving, providing those who traumatized us with a context for remorse and reconciliation as we grieve together. My own traumas were as an infant within my own family, and it as taken decades for reconciliation to take place. But the more public
    processes of the TRC resonate powerfully within me.

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