Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

September/October 2016: Robi Botos

Stepping Up

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I learned a lot about life when I was parenting toddlers. They have no filters—they laugh when they’re delighted, they spit out food they don’t like, they whine when they’re tired. They’re noisy, bossy, fearful, playful, sensitive, arrogant, curious, affectionate, impatient, kind. Their lives are on sensory overload. It’s not easy being a kid.

When my kids were young, I was dismayed by how frequently I encountered the toddler in myself. I began to understand how hard we all work, all the time, to manage change, disappointment, frustration, insecurity. I saw more clearly how natural it is to take what we want, how challenging it is to accept responsibility when our actions infringe on others. It’s not easy being a grownup.

This summer, I took a cadre of prairie writers to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, one of the world’s largest with something like 800 writers from all over the world. This year’s focus was settlement and migration, referencing both the Scottish Clearances two centuries ago and Europe’s current migrant crisis. As I saw in session after session, history hums in our present moment more often than we’d like to admit.

I listened to stories and conversation about displacement and resettlement. Many were stories of trauma, deprivation, and fear, and about our deep human need to belong somewhere, to connect to our place and our people. I thought about being a young parent with small kids and no safe place to raise them. I thought about being a displaced kid with traumatized parents. I thought about the way the injuries of childhood trickle down generations, and the massive effort and courage required to heal those injuries.

Much of our conversation that week teased out the other narratives all tangled in with displacement and resettlement—narratives involving power, privilege, prejudice. People arriving in a new place are invariably encountering people who are already there. What kind of negotiations take place? What hospitality is offered? What are the impacts on the songlines of the land itself?

From the early settlers to the present-day immigrants and refugees, people arriving in this country have largely been hard-working, determined, and grateful for the possibility of new roots. At the same time, our national story has a parallel and only now emerging narrative of displacement, disempowerment, and outright cultural assault on the Indigenous nations of this country. Those two sets of stories are intertwined, and it will take courage from all of us to expose the injuries, both historical and current, and to address them fully and responsibly.

Writers are expert guides. Right here at home, Rosanna Deerchild’s new book, calling down the sky, is a powerful and personal story of the residential schools. Katherena Vermette’s new novel, The Break, evokes the terrible reality of missing Indigenous women. Track down David Alexander Robertson’s graphic novels or the extraordinary collection Manitowapow, edited by Niigaan Sinclair and Warran Cariou.

The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Senator Murray Sinclair, lists 94 recommendations for repair and equity in our country. It’s a compelling document. This wise and strong-hearted leader is a featured guest at “Talking Reconciliation” on September 24, part of THIN AIR 2016.

We truly are in this together. It’s time for real adult work. It’s time for courage.

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