See The Guardian obit here. Umberto Eco has passed away. I was lucky enough to hear this captivating analyst of culture and mean speak at University of Toronto’s International Summer School on Semiotic and Structural Studies that Paul Bouissac organized for many years (a version continues in Imatra). It was 1983 or 84; the topic was the symbolic power of American film, specifically I belief he spoke on Bogart in Casablanca. He was passionate about language and meaning. The punch line of the talk was, repeated several times in Eco’s heavy Italian accent,
How does one heal a community after trauma? A difficult question, especially after the horrific events that occurred on the afternoon of January 22, 2016 in the small north-western Saskatchewan community school of La Loche where four people were killed and seven were injured by a young boy of 17, who is also of that community (La Loche Shooting, n.d.).
Now is the difficult time, where questions are being asked and a search for someone(thing) to blame begins; the answers do not emerge easily and are evasive. La Loche is a small isolated North-Western Saskatchewan Dene community that has experienced great amount of trauma, and not solely from this incident. It is a community that has been living the intergenerational effects of colonialism; many in the town have been directly and indirectly affected by the legacy of residential schools (Residential Schools, n.d.). As such, La Loche is a community where a people are struggling to find their way back to their Dene cultural and historical roots. It is also a community where: the young are beginning to outnumber the old; there is little hope or opportunities in town for their youth’s future; the social supports and resources are continually lacking and being cut back (Tait, 2016); and, they suffer one of the highest suicide rates in the province (Tait, 2016; O’Connors, Hall, & Warick, 2016; Mandryk, 2016; White, 2016). This community needs to heal in more ways than one.
Where does one even begin to heal?
One proposed way was put forth by Georgina Jolibois (MP for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River) and by La Loche’s acting Mayor Kevin Janvier, both calling for the demolishing of the school (White, 2016; Tait, 2016). Georgina states, “Tear down the building, rebuild the building. There’s so much pain, so much trauma. They need to rebuild. The families are hurting, the youth are hurting, the community is hurting. The north is hurting” (Tait, 2016).
Is this the answer? How can a place hold such power over a community’s healing? A potential response might be found in the newly released document by the Government of Canada, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada‘s (TRCC) report, detailing the injustices of “cultural genocide” (p. 55) committed upon the Indigenous peoples of this country through their forced assimilation and absorption via the residential school system. According to this report, residential schools are responsible for a “loss of pride and self respect” of and for Indigenous peoples in Canada (p. VI). This “loss” and “cultural genocide”, as can be surmised by engaging with this document, is firmly connected to a profound disconnect from place, which consequently led to a disconnect from history, culture, language, and family.
Residential schools that are still left standing remain an imposing fixture (physically and emotionally) in various Indigenous communities. While some have been re-claimed and re-purposed by the community, others lay empty acting as ghostly reminders of a horrific past. These structures are places of great trauma and unsettling memory. They are not merely buildings; rather, they are places that conjure temporal and spatial disturbances for all who are in their presence. The school buildings evoke memories, recall histories or pasts, generate affects (physical and emotional), transform the spaces around them, and create potential becomings (positive or negative) for all who engage with them.
The heart of the TRCC report is regarding reconciliation, not only for the survivors and their families, but also for Canada as whole. It is about developing a mutual respect, reciprocity, and a recognition that we are all interconnected in this process of healing that requires all of us learning from our shared and difficult past. Reconciliation is not just one thing we do to make ourselves feel better, it is something that needs to be adopted into our ethics of how we might engage with life differently. Therefore, one needs to do more than just talk about reconciliation, “[one] must learn to practice reconciliation in our lives” (p. 21).
In terms of reconciling and healing through the tragic events of January 22nd, there is a need to look beyond this single event and realize that it is not a simple fix and it requires a look at the past – no matter how uncomfortable that will be. It is a realization that this community school building is not just a simple building, rather a conduit to the past, present, and future of and for this community. Reconciliation begins with how we enter a place and interact with it. Healing, therefore, might also being with how we choose to engage with this community and respect their path towards reconciling their trauma. Georgina Jolibois, stated “when you listen to the community, when you listen to the youth, when you listen to the elders, and the pain – they will say that [they wish the building to be demolished] also” (Tait, 2016, n.p.). The fate of the building is tied to the community and listening to the community is where one might begin.
Adriana Boffa (University of Alberta)
La Loche shootings: The victims, the town, the school and the tragic tale so far. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/la-loche-shootings-the-victims-the-town-and-the-tragic-tale-sofar/article28368674/
Mandryk, M. (2016, January 26). La Loche shooting tragedy seemed almost inevitable. Regina Leader Post. Retrieved from http://leaderpost.com/opinion/columnists/la-loche-shooting-tragedy-seemed-almost-inevitable
O’Connor, J., Hill, A., & Warick, J. (2016, January 25). La Loche fights to find hope. National Post, In Edmonton Journal, pp. NP1-NP3.
Residential Schools – History of La Loche. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/site/portagelaloche/history/6-residential-schools
Tait, Carrie. (2016, January 24). La Loche turns to forgiveness, healing in wake of shootings that killed four. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/it-hurts-for-everybody-la-loche-residents-in-mourning-after-school-shooting/article28363770/
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved from http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/201/301/weekly_acquisition_lists/2015/w15-24-F-E.html/collections/collection_2015/trc/IR4-7-2015-eng.pdf
White, P. (2016, January 24). La Loche: A beautiful town with a rough reputation. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/la-loche-a-beautiful-town-with-a-rough-reputation/article28367474/