So Hubby and I went camping a couple of weeks ago. It was not our best trip. For numerous reasons, some of which have to do with camping, it was an eye-opening trip. Or at least one that triggered changing perspectives for us. Let me explain.
As I said, it was not our best trip. First it rained. It rained on the way up the valley in the truck. It rained harder while we sat in the truck at the campsite waiting for the rain to stop. Then when the rain slacked off a bit, we began to set up.
Let me make it clear that we love camping. And we’ve loved it for a long time. Through various phases and incarnations: small tents, bigger tents, leaky tents, tents in car camping sites, and tents in the wilderness where we had to paddle our canoe and carry all our gear through several portages to get where we wanted to camp. One cool June morning years ago when we emerged from the tent, bent over and achy, we decided to upgrade to a tent trailer. We’re on our second tent trailer now.
Our current tent trailer is pretty luxurious. We have a small gas furnace that can keep off the chill in the fall, and a couple of fans that attach to lights to help create a breeze when it’s hot and sultry. We have a small bench sofa, a table, and a fridge inside. And a gas stove and a small barbeque that we set up outside under the awning. We even have a screened room that can be attached to the awning.
But for those non-initiated, you should know that a tent trailer is not a trailer. It’s not a mini-house on wheels. We can’t just drive into a site, plug into the electricity, and kick back on the sofa, weather be damned. There’s lots of set up with a tent trailer. And the last couple of years setting up the trailer has been getting harder and harder. It takes both of us to do all the work. And sometimes Hubby’s bad shoulder and my bad back don’t make it any easier. At other times poles break, doors won’t slide into position, cranks fail, velcro won’t stick, batteries die… you know. Stuff happens.
Some trips after all the hard work of getting set up, we have a glass of wine and our supper, and then snuggle into bed all cosy and warm. With the windows zipped wide open, we fall asleep with a breeze in our face and the sounds of frogs in our ears. Heaven.
This trip was not like that.
So many things went wrong while we were setting up in the rain that on our third try to get a pole on the awning to fit, Hubby said, “If it doesn’t fit this time, we are packing up and leaving. And the minute we get in the driveway I am listing this bleepedy, bleepedy trailer for sale.” And, folks, in my heart of hearts, I honestly did not know whether to pray that the pole fit this time. Or pray that it didn’t.
Of course the pole fit the third time. But our spirits were bruised. Did we want to do this anymore? This was a question we asked ourselves for most of our trip. Are our perspectives changing when it comes to camping?
Of course, even on this camping trip, we biked as usual. Stopped at the local store for homemade butter tarts, as usual. Sat with our wine by our evening campfire as usual, when it wasn’t raining. What was not usual was our mood. We were pensive. Thinking about the future. A lot. And we were anxious. Unable to detach from life back home. Unable to detach from the cares of the world. Especially as the news has been so devastating lately. We were still reeling from the news that the unmarked graves of 215 indigenous children had been found on the site of a former residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.
The “Indian Residential School” System in Canada (government mandated and church run) has long been notorious for its attempted assimilation of indigenous children, for requiring that indigenous children be forcibly removed from their families and sent to residential schools where they were subjected to countless abuses. Not least of which was the erasure of generations of family ties and cultural identity. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission which tried to dig into the 165 year history of this travesty called the system cultural genocide. And the inter-generational trauma continues.
The rainy Monday that we were away camping was Canada’s first ever National Indigenous Peoples Day. Hubby was off golfing…. in the rain. But I was back at the campsite, reading, writing in my journal, and listening to CBC radio. I listened to one story that moved me to tears. An indigenous elder talked about how it was when the children had been taken off to residential school. The reporter said the woman waved her arm, and asked her audience to imagine a whole community, empty of children.
Such is the magic of radio that in my mind I followed her waving arm and saw small wooden houses and lanes and fields and trees. And no children. All of them gone, many, many never to return. Imagine, if you can, the horror of the taking of the children. Then imagine the aftermath. Imagine the quiet. And imagine the grief of families. It’s unimaginable, isn’t it?
But here’s the thing. I’ve known for years about the evils of the residential school system in Canada. And the horrors to which children were subjected. About the terrible discrimination against indigenous people, not only here in Canada, but in every country that has been touched by colonialism. Many of which we have visited… like Australia, the States, New Zealand, Peru… where colonial governments and churches wrought similar devastation upon indigenous communities. But, you know, I don’t think I ever felt so viscerally the impact of colonialism as I did listening to that elder speak last Monday. I’m not trying to be dramatic here… but it hurt my heart. It did.
The next day we went fishing. We drove for miles, parked the truck, carried everything down to the river, and set off for our day of fishing up the Bonnechere River into Algonquin Park. As usual.
Here’s a short video which kind of sums up our day on the river.
We had a good day. Even though we didn’t catch any fish. I tweaked my back twisting to hang onto branches that smacked into my face and then clip them off so we could proceed upstream. After that Hubby did all the clipping. And once we reached open water we talked. And talked. As we are wont to do when we’re canoeing. There’s just something about the slow pace. The splash of the paddle in the water. The soft clunk as it hits the gunnels. The utter peacefulness of our surroundings. It brings us back to ourselves in a sort of way. And to each other. And what we believe and want from our life together. I can’t explain it. It just happens.
The trees, the birds, the grasses swishing in the breeze. The moose we saw on the road in. And the muskrat as we pushed the canoe into the water. It’s not necessarily spectacular or even beautiful scenery to everyone. But it is a landscape which is so meaningful, and so very Canadian for us. Being in the bush has always helped us to put our life and our problems into perspective.
And because we were in Algonquin Park, part of unceded Algonquin Territory, traditional lands of the Algonquin people, we knew this landscape was even more meaningful for those whose ancestors were here long before ours arrived. And I think that is, in part, what made this whole trip such a journey of changing perspectives. For me. For us.
So Hubby and I are grappling with our future. How can we keep doing what we still love to do? Because our day up the river convinced us that we are not ready to give up this part of our life yet. And we’ve come up with some solutions. We’ll see how they work on the fall camping trip.
But since we’ve come home, I’ve been grappling with how to process my own perspective changing moment. Was it an epiphany? I don’t know. I’ve tried to write this post several times. How to pull everything together in words. The rain, the frustration for Hubby and me that first night, the day I listened to the indigenous elder speak, my emotional reaction, the day in the canoe, and afterwards. When we arrived home we heard of yet another devastating discovery of many more unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school.
I’ve been reading about residential schools a lot since we came home. I toyed with not tackling the subject at all on the blog. But that didn’t seem right. I think part of what has been bothering me is that I am so disappointed in my country. In what I always believed it meant to be a Canadian. Maybe that makes me naive. In fact it probably does.
And I keep thinking about the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. How reporters on American television kept saying, “This is not who we are as a country.” And Hubby became exasperated. “How can they say that?” he asked. “Of course it’s part of who they are.” Denying there’s a problem just perpetuates the problem.
So let’s just agree that the devastation of our indigenous peoples and their cultures is part of who and what Canada is. It’s part of our history, and the ramifications of that are part of our present. It’s part of who we are. I don’t like it, but there we have it. And as we learned from the BLM movement, as non-indigenous people we have to recognize our privilege. To try to be better as a country. And better as individual Canadians.
You know Thursday is July 1. Canada Day. And a lot of people, including some of my friends who have indigenous family members, will not be celebrating as usual this year. Indigenous leaders are calling for Canada Day celebrations to be cancelled. For Canadians to sacrifice this one Canada Day. To make it a day of mourning and reflection instead. To stand with indigenous people, and respect their grief. And maybe spend it learning, and teaching our children, a bit more about what it means to be indigenous in this country.
I think that’s a very good idea.
P.S. Here’s a link to a list of 48 books about residential schools, compiled by Cree author David A. Robertson. Many of them are children’s books or are suitable for kids. The first book is Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese which is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Period. I wrote about Indian Horse in a book post which you can find here.