In my final year of high school, we learned about one of the most complex and controversial leaders in the early history of Canada, Louis Riel – an influential Métis leader who sought to preserve Métis rights and culture and led two rebellions against the government of Canada to protect the people – the Red River Rebellion of 1869 and the North-West Rebellion of 1885. He was captured, convicted and hung for high treason, and is also said to be the founder of the province of Manitoba, which now celebrates him each year with a public holiday held in February.
It was the first time I began to understand how disconnected human beings can be in their own humanity. Perhaps I was naïve in thinking that we should all be able to get along, no matter our origins, beliefs and daily routines – and embrace each other from a place of love, curiosity and giving rather than from hate, fear and taking.
One of the assignments we had to complete was to write something – e.g. letter, poem, news article, etc. – reflecting what it was like to be living during that time in Canadian society. I chose to write a poem from the point of view of a young indigenous woman, 18 years of age – the same age as I was then.
For reasons unknown, I never gave it a title. But 20 years after high school, I made a pilgrimage to Louis Riel’s grave at Saint-Bonafice Cathedral in Winnipeg, Manitoba to pay my respects. This history has had a profound and deeply rooted impact on me – shaping my core beliefs of inclusion of all and potential in everyone.
After reading my poem the other day to my sparkle and shine sister, Trina Maher – an Indigenous Inclusion Expert and Member of the Mattagami First Nation in Ontario – she graciously offered this title, “The Day They Came”. She encouraged me to publish it, especially now, when Canadian society is coming to terms with, including sharing, listening and understanding, what happened in Indian Residential Schools through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, a component of the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
This federal commission was established to ensure the voices of all residential school survivors are heard and, with their consent, recorded as historical record and needed to develop a reconciliation agenda. These testimonies resulted in a report with 92 recommendations for action which is now monitored by the new National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
To learn more:
What in history has had such a profound and deeply rooted impact on you, shaping your beliefs?
The Day They Came
A poem written by Nancy Fijan on February 6, 1987
~ with the title graciously offered by Trina Maher on March 13, 2018
They came in as gentle rains
Bringing knowledge, God and peace,
They grew food and shelters built
Changing her surrounding home,
They taught from their spiritual books
Revealing an unknown god,
They left by slaughtering her elders
Exposing their true purpose,