CCS grads Kimiko Karpoff and Alice Watson were among the volunteers at the national Truth and Reconciliation event in Vancouver in September. We asked Kimiko to write a short reflection:
Four thousand cupcakes is a lot of cupcakes. Trays and stacks and boxes of cupcakes, made and decorated by church members from many denominations around Metro Vancouver. They came by the dozen, by the hundred, and even one delivery of 1200. It was a massive amount of cupcakes that represented a lot of past birthdays that had passed, sadly uncelebrated.
One of the first stories I heard at the Truth and Reconciliation National Event in Vancouver, was a story of utter anguish, a survivor lamenting the harm that he had caused to his children. Breaking down in tears he said, “I’m the one who screwed things up for the next generation, my kids. It was a big price to pay for an education. . . One thing I didn’t have was caring and loving. . .I didn’t know. I was there for 13 years. Never got a hug. Never celebrated a birthday. When I had kids I didn’t know how to love them.”
In a week filled with stories of deep hurt and pain, one common comment was this lack of being celebrated, of never being acknowledged through a ritual that is so common to us, a birthday party. Amidst stories of fear, abuse and loneliness at the Churches Listening Circle, this lack of being seen, being recognized, seemed to hold particular pain.
And so at every Truth and Reconciliation event, they hold a birthday party and make sure there are enough cupcakes for every person there. Every person got a cupcake and a glow stick. In fact there was enough that you could have two cupcakes if you wanted. An Elder in a beautiful Haida hat laughed as she showed me her cupcakes and told me that it was the first time she had celebrated her birthday. Her smile made her glow.
Up at the front, youth from across the Lower Mainland held up signs that spelled out Happy Birthday. (My son, Finn, is holding up the second P. Orange poster, orange shirt, orange hair.) And we sang. We sang “Happy Birthday to You” in at least a dozen First Nations languages from across North America, plus English and French and maybe other languages that I missed. At every one the crowd burst into cheers. It was, indeed, a celebration.
It happened that we celebrated the survivors of residential schools, on the same day that the Centre for Christian Studies and the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre celebrated the Feast for Friends. It seemed apropos. We even had enough cupcakes for you.
The Truth and Reconciliation event held another layer of poignancy for me. Hastings Park, where the event was held, is also where people of Japanese descent were interned during World War II. A reconciliation group that included people of First Nations, Japanese, Chinese and Jewish ancestry had created a walk on the grounds to acknowledge these spaces where women, children and men were housed, separately. As a toddler, my mother lived with her mother and older sisters, along with hundreds of other women and children, in the Livestock Building. This week I listened to stories from survivors of residential schools in the Forum and the Agridome which had served as the men’s dorm and the school. A friend and I walked the grounds to all of these places, remembering the story of my people as we held the stories of First People who were residential school survivors.
Since this reflection has already expanded from cupcakes, I want also to note that this week also held much laughter. In my volunteer role as someone who greeted and directed people, I shared many conversations and many of those were filled with laughter, stories of healing, stories of love and gratitude. It was a rich week.
As Finn and I left the birthday party, we stopped at the Sacred Fire where another ritual was taking place, more sparsely attended but equally potent. Throughout the week, tissues of tears had been collected in paper bags from every story circle. As we sent prayers to the Creator with offerings of tobacco, the tears were placed on the Sacred Fire. It was a reminder that reconciliation is a process that begins with truth told in stories and includes tears and prayers as well as cupcakes. Reconciliation is a continuing journey. May the Great Creator be ever present with us on this path.