By Dean John Osborne
Published on March 1, 2015
The end of last week was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. On Friday morning I attended the opening session of the “People’s Gathering” on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and offered the University’s greetings. I was very pleased that the Assembly of First Nations had approached the School of Canadian Studies, home of our Indigenous Studies program, for assistance in hosting this important supplement to the “round table” with government leaders being held simultaneously downtown, and very grateful to the Director of the School, Peter Hodgins, for taking up the logistical challenge. This is an issue of exceptional importance to all Canadians, but it demands considerable sensitivity, and I was rather worried about finding the right words, particularly given the intense media presence. I wanted to be respectful of the feelings of those who have suffered enormous personal trauma and loss, while at the same time trying to find a way to heal and move forward. Here is part of what I said:
“Universities are places where people of many origins come together, to examine the past and the present, to contemplate the future … and most importantly to share their stories and experiences, to learn from one another in a good way, in a space that is (or at least should be) safe. We know that we cannot change history, but we can attempt to understand it, we can attempt to correct wrongs when these are identified, and we can attempt to chart a better course for the years ahead. … I know that there is much anger in this room, understandably, and much hurt. But there is also much love. And I urge you to channel that love in the discussions to follow. We can’t change the past, but we can and must work together to change the future. This is also the territory inhabited by the spirit of a truly great elder, William Commanda, whom we lost not even four years ago. His spirit name, Ojigkwanong, means “Morning Star” … and I know that this star will be shining brightly over the day ahead.”
The personal testimonies that followed quickly reduced all in the room to tears, and I urge readers of these musings to take a few minutes to watch the most moving statement of personal witness that I have ever experienced.
The following day, by sheer coincidence, was the 14th annual “love in” known as the New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts, as always organized so ably by another member of the School of Canadian Studies, Allan Ryan. And as always it was an overwhelming success, with the usual capacity audience. This was also an occasion for the telling of stories, but this time they were success stories, and we heard from a group of very talented Indigenous writers, journalists, actors and musicians about their work and the life paths which have led them to their present situation. If Friday brought feelings of overwhelming despair, Saturday replaced those dark thoughts with a strong sense of hope. The highlight for me was the musical performance by the Juno-award winning group, Digging Roots, comprising ShoShona Kish (who studied music at Carleton!) and Raven Kanatakta. Not only did they provide powerful music … with the result that the normally sleepy Fenn Lounge exploded into life as the audience rose up to dance … but they also offered powerful words. As Raven put it so simply and yet so eloquently, “At the centre of everything is love”.
I had a flashback to another moment in the Fenn Lounge, in December 1970, when I experienced exactly that same message … but that’s a story for another time.
In the meantime I’ll close with some lyrics from the Beatles:
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
A presentation of the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture
with the support of the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences and the New Sun Fund
administered by the Community Foundation of Ottawa