A Mark, a Body, a Trace, a Grave

Testimony of Irene Favel, 75, attended the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School from 1941-1949[1]

I had a very very rough life
I was mistreated in every way
There was a young girl
She was seven year old
She was pregnant
And what they did
She had her baby
Yet they took the baby
Wrapped it up in nice pink outfit
Took it downstairs
I was in the kitchen with the nuns
Where [we’re?] cooking super
They took the baby into the
What do you call that
Where they make a fire and all that
To heat up the school
[Another voice calls: Furnace room]
They threw that little baby in there
And burned it alive
All you could hear was

*Short, sharp, truncated breath, somewhere between a hiccup and a cry that is instantly cut-off*

That was it
You could smell the them
You know
The flesh cooking
It’s a big mistake when people say we’re treated good
No way
There’s a lot of things that happened in those boarding schools

PostScript: After May 27, 2021, when an announcement was made that an unmarked mass grave of 215 Indigenous children was found at the Kamloops Indian Residential school, action was taken on decades-old survivor testimonies about unmarked graves at the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School. On June 1, 2021, it was reported that the bodies of 35 children were found in unmarked graves at the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School. We do not how many babies were thrown into the school furnace. According to the Eurocentric standards of proof deployed by Canadian historians, that kind of grave leaves no mark. Is an empty hole a grave? An empty room? An empty furnace? If there is no trace of the body, how can it be found? If it cannot be found, how can it be counted? If it cannot be counted, how can it count?

Irene Favel is the mark. Her people are the body. Her word is the trace. Canada is the grave. And in just one month, 1,148 dead Indigenous children have been found in unmarked graves at Indian Residential School locations across Canadian-occupied territories. According to The Economist, this confirms “what many indigenous [sic] groups have long suspected.”[2] But this is not true. It confirms what many Indigenous groups have long known. And it also confirms what Indigenous groups have long reported to us, Canadians, occupiers, killers, who have always walked away with a smirk or perhaps even a tear, saying, with all of our Eurocentric certainty and relief:

“Maybe. But you can’t prove that.”

Irene Favel died on January 21, 2021, four months prior to the report about the mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. She was 8 years old when she arrived at the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School. She lived there until she was 16. But that doesn’t mean she ever left it. Or, rather, that it ever left her. Canada, after all, is simply the Indian Residential School system writ large. Irene was 87 years old when she died. Canada just turned 152.

[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CReISnQDbBE

[2] See: https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2021/07/03/more-graves-are-found-at-canadian-schools-for-the-indigenous

My Son

My son
I want you to stop crying
When you have been comforted
And not
Because you feel ashamed
Of your tears
Feel through
Your sadness
Follow it
All the way
To the end
That is only sometimes
A cessation
And other times
A telos
A revelation

My son
Whether or not you look for it
You will discover much
Please remember
The everything else
The joy
The playfulness
The gentleness
The wonder

My son
I will never forget you
Right now
Beside me
Curled up in the space
Between my body
And the back of the couch
I will never forget
How you smelled so much
Like a boy
Nestled into
His father
And how
This comforted me

What About

What about the butterflies
Who spend their days
Full of regret
Wishing things had never changed
Wishing they were

My Neighbour

My Neighbour
An Anti-Vaxxer
Told me Justin Trudeau
Is the most hated person who
Has ever lived
He saw the study
These are facts
We’re like sheep to the slaughter
But he’ll take
A bullet to the back of the head
Before they force him
To take
An illegal vaccine
No way man
He remembers
This is the land of the free
And they won’t fool him
No sirree

My Neighbour
Grew up starving
Drinking vinegar
From bottles
Left out at diners
Just to change
The way his stomach
Hunger like that
He tells me
Is something different
Something all-encompassing
To be famished
Is to be ravished
By absence and lack
The only time he was arrested
He was fifteen
Stole a bag-full of chocolate bars
From the cornerstore
Spent a few weeks
Thought he was gonna get murdered
But met some pretty nice Gs
Who shared their canteen
His case thrown out
He promised
To never do it again
And he didn’t

My neighbor
Only has what he has
Because his mother died
And because a lady driver pulled out
Without looking
Fucking bitch
He woke up in the hospital
Both legs shattered
A helluva lot richer
So he bought all his friends
Flatscreen TVs
When flatscreen TVs
Only belonged
To rich people
And he got himself a bike
A nice little crotch rocket
And a car
And an old lady
And smokes from the rez on the regular
And food for the raccoons the skunks and the possums
Who come to his window at night
Because nobody and nothing
Should ever go hungry
The raccoons steal his hat and
Last night
The Skunks allowed him to touch their
For the first time

My neighbor is going to
Run out of money next year
He will sell
First his car
Then his bike
And then he will look
For another place to live
But he doesn’t regret anything
He’s felt like a millionaire
Lived a dozen good years
With more than he ever ever imagined
Ever ever having

My neighbour
Misses his mom
Especially during the holidays
And he tells me
To enjoy every moment
Of every day
With my children
Before they grow
And go
And I

And when my neighbour dies
And stands before the throne of God
And God says
What the fuck were you thinking
That was some bullshit about freedom
And vaccine conspiracies
And what’s your beef with women anyway
And my neighbour has nothing to say
In his own defense
The racoons the skunks the possums
Will say
Excuse us Lord
We’ll vouch for him
And everyone who got a flatscreen
Better nod along
And fuck it
I will too
I might as well be neighbourly
I think I’m going down not up
So it’s about time
Someone else listened
To that bullshit

On Refusing Settler Demands for Reconciliation

[The following is a transcript of a sermon I was invited to deliver at Sanctuary London on June 6, 2021. The passage from the lectionary was Luke 1.39-56, but I was also asked to speak to the topic of decolonization in light of the recent revelation about 215 Indigenous kids (some as young as 3) being found in a mass, unmarked grave on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. This is what I said.]

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May Reviews

Discussed in this post: 8 books (In the Ruins of Neoliberalism; Between Realism and Revolt; Cops, Crime and Capitalism; The Last Refuge; Having and Being Had; Entangled Life; When My Brother Was an Aztec; and Feed); 8 movies (Somewhere; 24 Frames; Aniara; Salt of the Earth; Elena; Cat Soup; The Invisible Man; and Freaky); and 7 documentaries (Mayor; Sasquatch; Athlete A; The Devil Next Door; Grey Gardens; Above and Below; and Allen v. Farrow).

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Deshkan Ziibiing

The river flows
Not as it has always flowed
But still
It flows
Brown and frothing
Where it falls

In 1824 a European
Describes sturgeons
Of an immense size
Seven feet long
One hundred and fifty pounds
In this river
In 1821 another European
Described the river
As delightfully transparent

Today the settlers
Whose houses line the banks
Describe the river
As peaceful
Oh so peaceful
But I remember
May 24, 1881
And the steamboat
SS Victoria
Her boiler torn loose
Scalding some to death
Crushing others
On the way down
The upper deck collapsing
Onto the people below
And holding them underwater
As the ship promptly sank
And this peaceful
Oh so peaceful
Peacefully claimed
One hundred and eighty-two settler lives
On the birthday
Of their Queen

And the river flows
Not as it has always flowed
Emptied of sturgeons
Filled with sewage
And pesticides from local farmlands
Fields that once were forests
Around this
The Forest City
Brown and frothing
Where it falls
It bides its time
And waits

On Grief and Comfort

A still from Eiichi Yamamoto’s 1973 animated film, Belladonna of Sadness.

Grief takes ahold of you. It overpowers you. You do not get to decide when you have had enough of grief. You will want to stop grieving. You will want to move on. You will wish you could process things faster or better or “more like other people,” but you will find that the precise amount of grief that is allotted to you is yours and yours alone. You do not get to say when you have grieved enough. It is grief, itself, which determines when it has had enough of you. Grief works from its own timeline, not the one you bring to it. And the timeline grief has for you is not the same as the timeline grief has for other people. Other people telling you that you’re taking too long to work through your grief is just as useless as you trying to tell your grief you’re done with it now. They don’t get to make that call. And neither do you. You must grieve your grief through all the way to the end uniquely set aside for you, wherever and whenever grief determines that end is. You must grieve passionately which, as with any passion, is something that requires endurance.

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April Reviews

Discussed in this post: 9 BOOKS (Genome Editing and Engineering; Security, Territory, Population; We Do This ‘Til We Free Us; The Tragedy of Heterosexuality; Work Won’t Love You Back; Heart Berries; Mountains of the Mind; The Taiga Syndrome; and Tenth of December); 5 MOVIES (About Endlessness; Gretel and Hansel; Relic; Saint Maud; and Midsommar); and 3 DOCUMENTARIES (A Survivor’s Guide to Prison; This Way of Life; I’ll be Gone in the Dark; and A Glitch in the Matrix).

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In Memoriam

We are wrong when we say of the dead
They are no longer with us
Because the room where she lived
Is full to bursting
With the presence
Of her absent self

I don’t blame the heart
That decides
It has suffered enough
And refuses
To start beating again
The lungs
That refuse
To start breathing again
The brain that refuses
One more minute
Of fear
And loneliness
I don’t blame the one
Who lies down
And never gets back up again
I’ve longed for that moment
Often enough

I knew her for exactly
Sixty days
But what does it mean
To say that my knowledge of her
Is in the past tense?
I still know her
And she still is
The only one of her
That ever was
Or is
Or will be

It’s just that
The days in which I came to know
Are no more
I will not have another day in the presence of
Her voice
Her mannerisms
Her weeping and laughing
Just sixty
Only sixty
No more

And now begins
The long count of days
In which I do not
Her voice
Her mannerisms
Her weeping and laughing
And onward
Until I too
Am only present
As an absence

She lost consciousness on Sunday
Machines kept her breathing
Until Wednesday
And then they didn’t anymore
Wednesday was her move-in day
Her end to homelessness day
Her welcome home day
And I had to call her housing support workers
Oh no
I had to tell them
Good god
I had to tell them
I’m so so sorry
I had to tell them
She is dead