Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

playgrounds and graveyards May 31, 2021

The elders told you.
Trembling voices.
Feathers clutched for courage.
They told you of their sisters, brothers, and cousins
who did not come home.
Those who crept out at night and
walked through wilderness to return home.
Those who got sick and died.
Those who were beaten.
Those who were broken.
Those who were battered.
So many buried.
The elders told you how truth had been buried, too.


So many lost children.
Now 215 have been found.
Their bones are proof to the elders’ words.
Who is surprised?
Children buried in unmarked graves.
See what is also buried there:
Denial. Shame.
Voices rise in sorrow.
Now what will be done
to bring peace to the children who survived?
Grown with a burden of brokeness. Grief swallowed.
How will the elders’ trauma be relieved?

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This poem references the discovery of the mass grave of 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School. Read an article about it here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/tk-eml%C3%BAps-te-secw%C3%A9pemc-215-children-former-kamloops-indian-residential-school-1.6043778

 

Essay- When is a Basket Not a Basket? November 13, 2019

WHEN IS A BASKET NOT A BASKET?

© Shawn Bird November 13, 2019

Often, when we work side by side with someone, our learning comes not from the task occupying our hands, but with the stories that come along side.

On Indigenous Learning Professional Development Day, the creation of a lovely small pine needle basket was the least of what I took away.

The elder teaching our class told of gathering the pine needles.  How she wept to discover a clear cut where her favourite trees had been.  She told of saying a prayer during the gathering in respect to earth, and how when we were finished with our baskets, the needles left behind should not go to the garbage, as that impacts our own healing, but that they should be given back to earth, with thanks.

Quietly, at our table, she told our group that what one saw as a mistake, was not.  The elder who’d taught her when she was seventeen had explained they were  meant to be there.  I found a connection in that statement, “Oh!” I said, “Like I tell my English students: it’s about the process. There are going to be mistakes, and that’s good, because it’s part of the learning.”

Her eyes down on her basket flashed.  “English!” she exclaimed.  “I tried and I tried and I tried. But everything was always wrong, wrong, wrong.  Finally, I told them what they could do with their English!”

Then she glanced up, alarmed, concerned to have caused offense.  “Oh. But not like that!”

“I understand,” I said.  “Your stories are in your baskets. Not in English.”

She stitched her basket, silently.

And I saw.

I saw a school system that scarred her papers and her soul.  I saw a sense of never measuring up.  I saw frustration growing until giving up was the best decision to preserve self.

I saw how profound it was that she was in our building teaching us her talent and skill, sharing her art, her values, and her stories with us.

I saw that there are many others in my classroom who share her experience.

I am humbled and very grateful for her teaching.

A small pine needle basket on my shelf is full of new, poignant understandings.

 

Here is the Word Document version for easy printing.

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pineneedlebasket

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