By Shaun Henry
This piece first appeared September 18 in Shaun’s blog – I Q’d
I am writing this now because I am sad and angry, and frustrated, but motivated. I am sad because in Ottawa an Indigenous woman from Nunavut, named Savanna Pikuyak, was murdered. Her life suddenly cut short as she pursued an education in nursing. Finding her own way, she was slain trodding her own path. This tragedy has been repeated for Indigenous women and girls across Canada for decades and the truth is we have barely taken note. I lived for years very close to, and at one point directly on, BC’s notorious ‘Highway of Tears’ and the sadness I feel now is not unfamiliar. Indigenous women, communities, families, survivors, experts and allies have worked for decades to shine a light on the horror that is the murders and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls and demand accountability. Yet, nothing seems to change despite a national inquiry (MMIWG) and a final report with 231 calls for justice! I am sad for the families and loved ones and communities that will grieve Savanna and try to make sense of the senseless. I am sad that this tragedy keeps repeating itself and I am sad that eventually the news cycle moves on and so do we. The truth is, I am experiencing this sadness differently, more personally and deeply because I can look back through pictures of her biological son, Kalluk, in my back yard in Dawson Creek, playing at my son’s birthday, or crawling across the living room floor. I can see Kalluk’s face peering up or down at everyone with deep curiosity. I recognized his smile when I saw Savanna’s face on the front page of the newspaper articles his adoptive mother, my good friend Leesa, shared with me. I’m so sad that Kalluk will only know stories of Savanna, and that this was never their plan.
I’m frustrated with myself for only realizing this profound sadness and outrage because it is close to home, because it has direct connections in my life. I have not felt this way previously, even as such tragedies shaped the roads I’ve traveled and communities I’ve lived in. I feel compelled to do better and demand more of myself. I want to express how Savanna’s death and the ongoing victimization of Indigenous women makes me angry. I am committed and determined to turn these feelings into something productive, hoping to make a difference somewhere. In speaking with Kalluk’s adoptive mother, she said “Savanna will not be just a stat.” No human being should be “just a stat” and the fact that we think in these terms when it comes to Indigenous women and girls shows just how much work there is to do in our society to ensure the well-being and safety of marginalized and vulnerable people. We hear a lot about truth and reconciliation these days. The truth is there is no reconciling senseless violence. There is no reconciling what happened to Savanna. There is no reconciling the hole left in the lives of those who loved Savanna. The truth is that we shouldn’t have to feel or be directly connected to a senseless tragedy to be motivated to do better. Savanna’s death affects us all. Her hopes and dreams and hard work and sacrifice are reflected in the values we say our society holds. If we hold the values of equity, security, health, education and justice then we must do more and work harder to ensure these values are applied universally. We must have these expectations of our society, of those leading us, and ourselves.
I am asking myself now to do more to bring our society forward to a time when a tragedy is a tragedy and if it affects an Indigenous person, we no longer characterize it with the stats. That we will only think about the person and not the ongoing challenges that face Indigenous people or the underlying history of violence and oppression. I believe this is reconciliation. We can all do something for reconciliation, it cannot be apart from us, it must be a part of us. It need not be tragedy that makes it a part of us. What we accept currently, is unacceptable. From what I do know of Savanna, I know this; we can learn more, so we can do better.
Life is a narrow edge
Voices around us In our heads
Send us in one direction
A mother cries in the silent night
Her baby’s cry distant as time passes
Strength beyond Called upon and called upon
And called away
From time to time the narrow edge flattens
The sharpness always returns
Together we may in turn
Decide what is enough
Letting us walk peacefully