Reflections about “The Great Hurt”

November 16, 2020

each alone yet with others on the stage
masked, dressed in black, seated
in a darkened auditorium
in appropriately physically distanced chairs
the present-day requirements for COVID-19

scripts in hand – readers of others’ stories –
ready to share the painful journey of our ancestors
through times of death and suffering
to help ourselves and others
better understand the forces that molded us
centuries before we were born

through the legacy of suffering passed on in our DNA,
the inferior social status, powerlessness, and social institutions
forced on our ancestors by newcomers
who saw us as savages and heathens
because they knew nothing about our ways

it’s a heavy burden we’ve carried for a lifetime
but we’re learning that our ancestors’ legacy
provides a road map of tenacious resiliency
that can help us face the sometimes overwhelming grief
over what was lost as we strengthen our connections
with each other and the earth to heal the past
and breathe life into new possibilities

I chose to be present to learn and share
despite the frailty of my aging frame
bones cold and aching in the chilly auditorium
stiffly walking to the podium with my heart glowing
resolved to share words of suffering and healing
from the depths of my spirit for the sake of all my relations
of the past, present and future…



Acknowledgements

On November 14, 2020, The College of St. Scholastica’s (CSS) Department of Social Work presented “The Great Hurt: A Readers Theatre” produced by renowned Ojibwe artist and historian Carl Gawboy. I was privileged to be among the nine readers who shared historical accounts of the American Indian boarding schools in the United States.

Although there were only three CSS personnel in the audience and a reduced cast of readers because of the accelerating spread of COVID in our state and county, the performance still had a profound effect on those who were present. This poem is my way of thanking Carl Gawboy and the two coordinators of the event, Michelle Robertson and Cynthia Donner (both Assistant Professors at CSS), for their continuing commitment to raise awareness about the legacy of historical trauma that has touched the lives of Indigenous survivors of genocidal policies for centuries in an effort to promote healing of the soul-deep wounds survivors still carry.

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23 thoughts on “Reflections about “The Great Hurt”

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      1. I liked the poem, Carol. Our ancestral past and past decades of our own lives often stretch before us like a tale of woe and suffering, punctuated by resilience of spirit. Which is why we are where we are. Our current times must derive the strength and inspiration therefrom. Lao Tzu it was, who pointed out that the depressed lives in the past, the anxious in the future, and the equanimous in the present with the steady, conscious realisation of reality’s transience. Please continue to be as involved and engaged as possible, investing all your energies in the presently available moments. Ben Stiller, the famed Hollywood actor, was once asked what he would write if he was given a billboard; and he quipped “be here right now”, holding it up as his life’s guiding principle.
        Even if success was often not the outcome, one’s past is mostly sweet-scented and invaluable as a reference point; it must serve to energise the present instead of emptying out its joy.
        Happiness is not something that can be postponed to the future or stashed away for a later purpose. Happiness is a state of mind designed for today. And it happens with one’s commitment to the here and now, totally dedicated to today as if tomorrow does not exist.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s always such a gift to hear from you, Raj. Thank you so much for your kind words, and for sharing your profound, eloquent insights. Sending my gratitude and best wishes. 💜

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  1. I donate (now and then) to St. Joseph Indian School for Lakota children, and after watching Upstander’s “Dawnland” on MPBN the other night (where I also heard from my Mi’kmaq folks), I wondered if people like me are unknowingly enabling — if not trauma — someone else’s genocide by assimilation. Indeed, we have to look into all these things. I’m troubled, but so glad this all is coming forward. Yours are beautiful words above.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughtful comments, Relax. It is often hard to tell if those things we do to help others can also be harmful. I’m not sure if we will ever know for sure. It’s complicated. When I reflect on my mother’s experiences in a Catholic Indian boarding school, I can see both harm and gifts. Her life was never easy, but she left an important legacy – a health center – in the tribal community where she was born. She might not have done so if she hadn’t been removed from her family and community.

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      1. Wow, an amazing insight. Yes, it is complicated, like today (Thanksgiving) — half of my own blood (so to speak) is represented at that table, and it wasn’t the white (Irish) half, although that’s how I’d always celebrated it, not realizing the whole truth for so long..

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Andrea. It was a transformative experience for all of the readers and participants, though few. Even the technician who ran the lights and projector commented on the power of the experience, adding that he wanted to be the one who ran the equipment the next time “The Great Hurt” is performed.

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  2. Carol, this is amazing, beautiful and deeply moving. There is something about speaking our deep truth, and with those who hold the space as only those in that room could do. I hope that in addition to all of the emotions safely expressed there in stories, another level of healing and reclamation can ensue. Sending you blessings for safety and good health. 💖

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    1. Thank you for you kind words and thoughtful comments, dear Carrie. As you often point out in your profound reflections, healing is a life-long process at ever deeper levels. The fascinating part of this particular script and performance is the inclusion of different voices – oppressors, oppressed, and allies – and the inclusion of readers from different ancestries. Many came away with a deeper understanding of history and the legacy of suffering we are perpetuating with our nation’s treatment of refugee families and children. It is a powerful re-wounding for those who live with the legacy of historical trauma.

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  3. Carol, thank you for sharing your lived experience of the ancestral trauma of indigenous peoples. So many soul-deep wounds to our body politic make healing essential for the well-being of us all. Will we ever rise to the challenge?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Rosaliene. I wish I had a hopeful answer to your question, but with each passing day as the bully and his base continue to foment hate and divisiveness, I wonder if it will ever be possible for all wounds to heal.

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  4. That sounds like a wonderful honor to be there and present your poem. So many lives and histories were mutilated, ruined, and snuffed out by the “newcomers,” as you put it, people who were, in my opinion, blind to all but their own perception of reality. To summarize such a thing with words of comforting beauty and altruism takes immense inner strength and wisdom and philanthropy. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Sorry. This was a thank you for being able to talk about American Indian boarding schools. I see that it came after you had already spoken at the event. Either way, still enjoyed it. Kinda hesitant to click into the actual link about the boarding schools, ’cause I’m sure I’ll get all riled up, lol …….

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    1. There’s no need to apologize for kindness. It was an honor to be a reader, but also a challenge. One of the stories I read was written by an Ojibwe man who recounted his experiences in boarding school. When I first read the story silently, I knew it would be hard for me to read it aloud without crying. It could easily have been my mother’s story. In the final performance, I made it through the story with the power of tears in my voice conveying the depth of grief over the loss of language, culture, and community. They were both just children, taken from their families and communities and indoctrinated in prison-like institutions. In the next story, I read the part of the coordinator of a project to heal the trauma. That one was much easier to do.

      Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments, Stacey. 💜

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