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  • Alisha Grech

Come Together: Resistance, Remembrance, and Assembly

Every morning, I start my day off the exact same way. I'm a Virgo—I like structure and normalcy (perhaps a bit too much).


I wake up, I feed my dog. I brush my teeth, wash my face and try to make my hair somewhat workable. On my way out the door to take her to the same park that we go to every morning, I put in my headphones and turn on a podcast.


This particular morning, I turned on CBC Front Burner: "What's Next for the Victims of the Kamloops Indian Residential School?"


This episode started like any other until I heard the call of protesters screaming: we are still here.


I paused going out the door.


I had shared social media posts, downloaded resources, read, donated, and tried to stay informed of the findings of residential school victims and their survivors—but I had never taken a minute to even consider those words.


We are still here.

Wanting to be seen.

Wanting to be listened to.

Art by Maxine Noel


That morning, I didn't end up going to our usual spot. To Leia's dismay, I just kept on walking, bypassing the park and our regular route. I was enthralled by the words of Angela Sterritt as she recounted her experiences as a journalist and as an indigenous woman. During her conversation with Jayme Poisson about locating Indigenous children on the site of residential schools, Angela Sterritt pointed something out: the Indigenous communities of Canada always knew the bodies were there. They were never discovered. They were found. But people will never believe people's memories—the memories of survivors and families impacted by residential schools as they will science. Science has legitimized the experience of many—as if their memories alone were not legitimate.

And they weren't.


The rest of the country did not see them or their stories. I don't think I did either.


Their memories were viewed as rumors, gossip, or ghost stories.


This refusal and negligence (I think) is a form of systemic violence in its own right. In the book Violence Against Indigenous Women: Literature, Activism, Resistance, Alison Hargreaves writes: "Violence against Indigenous women is an ongoing crisis with roots deep in Canada’s colonial history. The Canadian nation-state is premised upon historical and ongoing invasion, settlement, and expropriation of Indigenous lands—the result of which has been the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from ancestral land, language, and identity" (2).


The systemic disbelief, prejudice, and violence present within this issue come from a deeply catholic and settler-colonial mindset that negates the experiences of many marginalized communities.


In Homophobia in the Hallways, author Tonya D. Callaghan discusses the pervasive homophobia and transphobia present in Canada's publicly funded Catholic school systems. Their book features twenty interviews with students and teachers who have faced discrimination, prejudice, and violence within the Catholic school system in order to interrogate the harms of the Catholic educational model.


The experiences of persons in contemporary Catholic school systems cannot (and should not) be held in an experiential relation to the mass trauma caused by residential schools. The purpose of bringing up these two separate instances in succession is to point to the overarching chokehold that a white, heterosexual, colonial mindset has on this country.


This white-colonial-heterosexual-systemic mindset (I need an acronym for this—really, I do) reinforces specific manifestations of power, privilege, and dominance that exist to control and erase persons who do not wish to conform to their ideals (Callaghan, 24).

I bring all of this up because I feel like this WCHS mindset (see, I came up with an acronym), is seeping out at every corner of the Canadian map.


Weird reference—but I think this really exemplifies what I'm trying to say.


Have you ever seen Ghostbusters 2?


A big part of the plot of Ghostbusters 2 is that there is this disgusting, ghost-trapping ectoplasm gathering under the city streets of New York. It begins to bubble up (from what I feel like is the fiery pits of hell) and threatens to destroy the lives of the people above.


I feel like this ectoplasm is the WCHS mindset. It's always been there, quietly bubbling underground. Most people above are blissfully (and ignorantly—much like me) walking around, not thinking about the toxic sludge that is beginning to seep up through the storm grates. And when they do notice it, it almost feels like it's too late.


In this case, there are no Ghostbusters. Instead, we're all trying to take a good, hard look at the grossness that our entire society has been built on, together.


Unfortunately, Ghostbusters don't exist. But something better does:


Bodies standing in resistance.


Bodies standing in alliance.


In Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, Judith Butler writes: "Amassing in public together [gives people the opportunity] to be seen and heard as a plural political presence and force. We might see these mass demonstrations as a collective rejection of socially and economically induced precarity. More than that, however, what we are seeing when bodies assemble on the street, in the square, or in other public venues is the exercise—one might call it performative—of the right to appear, a bodily demand for a more livable set of lives" (24-25).


Once again, I am reminded of the words shouted by the Tk'emlùps te Secwépemc first nations peoples:


We are still here.


I want to keep digging into assembly, community, and appearance through resistance, especially as it pertains to activism work in Canada.


I am in the process of developing a shortlist of organizations and activist groups that focus on mobilization and assembly in order to establish, fight for and protect marginalized communities in Canada. I would like to keep looking into these organizations, and hopefully draw them more into my work. This list is a work in progress, and should you know of any organizations I should add to it, I would greatly appreciate the correspondence.

  • Indian Residential School Survivors Society

  • The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity

  • Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc

  • The 519

  • Black Women in Motion

  • The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund

  • The ArQuives

  • Black Legal Action Centre

  • Legacy of Hope Foundation

  • Egale


Sources

Butler, Judith. Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2015. Accessed May 19, 2021. ProQuest Ebook Central.


Callaghan, T. D. (2017). Homophobia in the hallways: heterosexism and transphobia in Canadian Catholic schools. University of Toronto Press.


Hargreaves, A. (2017). Violence against indigenous women: literature, activism, resistance. Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

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