A book-to-put-on-your-2022-Christmas-list special feature
Names are important. As a parish priest I have always tried to learn and remember the names of congregants and community partners. As I age, with more names to remember along with a slightly wobbly memory, the work becomes increasingly difficult. I still try however. Names connect with people and personalities. Names not only identify persons; they encourage the deepening of relationships and friendships. It is lovely to remember people and to be remembered by people, often with affection and thanksgiving.
Namwayut is a core value.
Namwayut is a kind of magic.
Namwayut is who we are.
Names and titles intrigue me, no less so than with Namwayut, the title of Chief Bobby Joseph’s recent memoir: Namwayut: We are all One: A Pathway to Reconciliation. First on my 2022 Christmas suggestion list, Namwayut is a hopeful, truth-telling saga of both human survival and flourishing. We are spared no detail of a young child’s abandonment by his mother to the malicious hands of St. Michael’s Residential School teaching and support staff. If there are still some who think for a moment that such things never happened – unexplained uprooting from home and family; brutal punishment for speaking any language but English; physical and sexual abuse in dormitories and basements; starvation and denial of so many of the necessaries of life — then read on; the ugly truth is now before you. Without sensationalism, the stories unfold in almost real time, day after day, and night after night.
In every way, Bobby Joseph and tens of thousands of Indigenous children were repeatedly told they were of little or no value; they were substandard human beings who needed to be separated from family, community, language, culture and tradition. They were anything but equal with other Canadians. The truth appears, page after page, as Chief Joseph contradicts these colonial assumptions and assertions, as he has for decades, with increasing confidence and effectiveness:
Namwayut is a powerful word that calls us to our highest self in just a small moment of quiet, and in our big, noisy, boisterous, significant moments. Even so, every time that word is conjured up, we are reminded that we are one in this universe, and we are one with the universe.
We learn of Joseph’s own struggles and of the emotional effect of prolonged shaming, distain and sinister character assassination. The affects continued, until Joseph discovered for himself the tradition and practice of the Potlatch.
When I started to see myself as part of a whole, when I reconciled with myself, everything changed for me. I suddenly realized that my well-being depended on my connecting with others, sharing others’ stories, understanding others’ gifts . . .
My first Potlatch was at Gilford Island. I had come back home to where Granny had taught me the most important lessons of my life. Love is the foundation of everything. Love for the universe, for the world around us, for family, for self.
For Joseph, it all comes down to love, to his ability to love and to receive love. Beyond himself, healing and reconciliation come down to his community accepting and demonstrating love, all this despite the abuse and deprivation of colonial attitudes and practices, many still in force today. As a descendent of settlers I tend to think that we are the ones who need to do the reconciling work – and yes, there is work to be done. Joseph argues however that everyone has a responsibility, and opportunity to engage in healing and reconciliation. All of us, Indigenous and Settler alike, will be better people and live in better relationships — with each other and with all Creation — when love is central to all our hopes, disciplines and dreams. Of course he is not the first to say or sing of such ideas. For Bob Marley:
One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One love)
Hear the children crying (One heart)
Sayin’, “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.”
Sayin’, “Let’s get together and feel all right.”
And for Raffi:
One love, one heart
One heart warming everyone
One hope, one joy
One loving filling everyone
In savouring Joseph’s words one beholds a miracle. I still find myself asking how one person, so horribly treated for so long, can be so forgiving. There are no angry words in these pages — frustration, maybe, but not anger. He has named the beast, struggled with it, and moved through its tentacles, a liberation he shares with us readers, hoping for the same gift for all of us. He writes:
For me, the future had to be learning how to let go of this trauma. So much of trauma, and the anger that goes with it, goes unexpressed. It gets muddled up with drinking too much or overwork, or embodying too much emotional or physical control to settle the mind. And in all of this, at the heart of my emergence and my return to the Potlatch, I finally understood that human beings can help each other. Reaching out, being open, being honest, becoming accountable, and telling the truth. I didn’t want to be angry anymore or hateful anymore or uncomfortable in my own body anymore.
Such transformation is a process which emerges and appears over time. It is not a one-time decision. Healing and true reconciliation are learned practices and disciplines, offered through the grace of the Creator.
We are permitted to define the ways in which we see ourselves, in which we see each other, redefining our relationship as belonging together. We are allowed to move through wonder, fear, and grief, remembering and reliving . . . We are allowed to see ourselves as part of a whole.
In line with Thomas Merton who spoke of the true self, Joseph notes that
we are closest to our highest selves when we empty the toxicity out of our lives and let go of the harm it causes us . . . Let us call in our highest selves, our human consciousness, in wanting something bigger, better for all of us. Let us remember that in spite of what we have done to ourselves, we belong and we are loved.
At the beginning, through everything and in the end, love is the foundation of everything: for the universe, for the world around us, for family, for self. Thank you Chief Bobby for the gift of this book, and for all you and Reconciliation Canada do and are.
Namwayut: We are all One
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