Poetry with Purpose

I am grateful and honoured to live, work, and play in the water, on the land, and through the forests that are the unceded traditional territory of the K’omks, Eiksan, and Pentlatch people.
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Little Shoes on the Steps of the Legislature

Little shoes quietly appear on my government’s doorstep.

Little bare brown feet silently walk through foreign halls.

They gently haunt the House of Laws that devalued them

and callously confined and assigned them to a tragic death.

Long black hair that flowed in the wind as they ran,

lies condemned and chopped as dirty and infected,

abandoned on cold wooden floors.

Little hands stripped of their possessions,

the sacred symbols of their people,

hold on to empty promises.

Little brown bodies stripped and scrubbed,

sanitized by sincere but harsh holy hands,

lose their otherness.

Little brown bodies in white shirts and blue pants

sit wordlessly in hard wooden desks

and feel naked.

Little brown minds that knew how to laugh and play,

learn meaningless facts in a foreign tongue,

and grow silent.

Little hearts stripped of their source of love,

and scrutinized in distain by foreign hearts,

sense only hate.

Little brown souls racked by white disease

without the healing power of their traditions

lie quietly dying.

Little bodies that lie buried in unmarked graves

a thousand miles from home

cry out in silence.

So many little shoes sit on the steps of the house of my forefathers.

For a sacred moment I am able to feel the anguish of little souls

that once walked these sacred ocean shores and forest paths

of this blessed land we both have shared, cherished, and loved.

We have come to a point in our evolution as Canadians, as people of a world that needs our sense of fairness and being, to stop and take an honest look at our past so we can make changes for a more just and prosperous future for all Canadians. We have come to a moment where we have the opportunity to become a conscious society of people who strive to know and understand each other. This situation involving our indigenous communities has gone on long enough. It is time for us to face the reality of our sordid past, understand it, embrace it, and do what we have to do to make it better. This is not about blame, guilt, or restitution; it is about becoming conscious as individuals and as a nation so that we can all share in the beauty and sacredness of this precious country of ours.

There are several levels of consciousness. The first level is knowledge. Thanks to new technology we are now able to see the facts ­- all the bones lying in unmarked graves. The indigenous people of this land have taken on the responsibility of helping us gather and face the fact that there are literally thousands of little bodies that have been buried outside the residential schools of our nation. The fact that the graves are unmarked is telling. These children did not even warrant a spot in the churchyard with a cross and a name. Their deaths were treated as insignificant. This is a hard set of facts to face and digest, an injustice waged against the innocent. It is hard to accept that our own government engaged in policies that amounted to ethnic cleansing.  Perhaps now that we have been exposed to the facts, we can collectively break through the shell of our self-imposed blindness and embrace the reality that our indigenous people have faced and are still facing today.

Lawrence J.W. Cooper

Comox Valley Poet Laureate