Ladies and Gentlemen
There was a demonstration on the streets of Winnipeg. I don’t want to get into the size of it. I want to get into the message of it. One of the messages was that the people working on finding missing women in Winnipeg, specifically Tanya Nepinak, aren’t trying hard enough, aren’t working hard enough, and aren’t caring enough, because of systemic racism. Which is code for the White People don’t care about Aboriginal people, don’t care about whether they were alive or dead. And the white system is guilty, endemically, and deliberately, and systemically, because it is White. I say it in this way because that’s how feelings talk. That’s what the feeling is around those people who promote this message.
I understand where the feeling comes from. I understand what racism is. I understand what racism did to many members of my extended family, incinerated in the fires of racism. I understand why some people over the years have tried to convey the message to me that every time I have had misfortune or mishap in my life, it was because the person doing me dirt or the company doing me dirt was motivated to do so, not because of any actions I took, but because of my bloodlines. It was professional. It was racial. And I understand how hard it is for some to push back on that message and say what my feelings have said to me when someone tries that on me – “Don’t F with my feelings!” Don’t be telling me that I am less than because of heritage or that there is only so much I can achieve, only so much I can do for my family, for other families, for this community, for this country, because somehow I am tainted and branded and because the forces of darkness have conspired against so many members of my tribe, my God given potential is limited.
I don’t believe in limited Ladies and Gentlemen. I believe in unlimited. I don’t believe in those who try to bring me down by putting me down as a descendant of victims therefore permanently victimized. I don’t believe in that message because it lifts up nothing that is good in me and destroys everything that could possibly emerge from my life and my mind and my capacity to my job, not as a journalist or a broadcaster, but rather my most important job, which is to be a decent human being.
I think the victimization stigmatization business should be put out of business, not by the force of law, but by the individual will of human beings to reject it. I call on my fellow human beings every day to reject those who are trying to bring you down, and not because they don’t love you or even like you, but because they have chosen to believe a message that says you were born a victim and you will die a victim, and in between birth and death is very little except for struggle and misery and pain. Those voices say that you and your children and your children’s children will experience very little that is good, because the system is stacked against you, because the system, to the extent that they tolerate you, wants to see you fail.
This is the week that we commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of a man who made my mother cry.
On Friday I will tell you more about JFK and November 22nd and my mother. I was only 9 when I saw for her like I had never seen her before, when I saw her crumple up and sob because of this hole in her soul that seemed untreatable and incurable because of the hole that some bastard with a rifle put inside the young handsome head of somebody she believed in. On Friday I will you why she believed in him and I will tell you what else she believed and what she passed on to me on November 22nd of 1963 when I was only nine.
Today at the age of 59 I can safely and confidently tell you that you have unlimited potential regardless of the colour of your skin, or the religious heritage of your family, or the neighborhood that you come from. And anybody who tells you otherwise is doing you absolutely no good. I am not saying they want to hurt you. I am guaranteeing you that you will hurt yourself when you convince yourself that the world is out to get you, when you believe that you are the lobster in the pot that’s never getting out. I am not interested in treating you like a trapped crustacean. You’re a human being and while I cannot see you, cannot physically see you; I know that you can see me. And I know that what you see is someone who wants you to be proud and confident of whom you are.
I don’t see the colour of your skin. I imagine the colour of your character, and I imagine you to be a decent loving human being. And if I did not have the capacity to imagine it and believe it, I would be of no use to you. NONE. You don’t need one more person in your life doubting your humanity. I am not here to doubt you.
I am here to respect you and in a moment I want to introduce you to a person I respect, retired Homicide Investigator James Jewell, who has spent his entire career serving and protecting and respecting real victims of crime and of tracking down those who have committed crimes against them. I think he thinks a moral crime was committed this week when the message on the street was the system doesn’t care about the death of Tanya Nepinak because, to quote the messenger, “She was just another dead Indian”.
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Woke up with those words this morning I just wanted to find a way to let people know that we can never break faith with those who die in service of this great country. Never.
Without them, we have no Canada – and no opportunity to share what we do every day. I was tweeting about this on the weekend after reading a tremendous piece by Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press. He wrote about an old vet, the last remaining World War II vet in Winkler. The piece is called a Soldier Shunned. Can you imagine what it must have been like in the 1940’s in Winkler, Manitoba where almost everybody was a church-going Mennonite, where everyone was instructed to believe that being a warrior was breaking faith with God. Even in a war that was to end all Wars. Even in a war that was in defense of freedom. Look, I am not here to cast stones upon anybody’s religion. But can you imagine the feeling of isolation you have in a small Manitoba town when almost everybody in town sees you as unworthy, when everyone wants to shun you, turn their heads away from you because you have chosen to serve your country? Today we do not break faith with those who die. We keep the faith.
Last week on the show we aired, as I do every year, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, which is to some an anti-war anthem written by Ireland’s Eric Bogle. I don’t play it to diss Remembrance Day but rather the opposite – to honour the physical, psychological and spiritual pain that many young men suffered. In this song Bogle writes about a young Aussie who serves his country, serves the British Empire in the Great War. The Turks are on the other side of history. They’re allied with Germany, with the Kaiser. A great battle takes place in Gallipoli where the Aussies are in the words of the writer, butchered like lambs to the slaughter. The soldier writes about the pain of surviving the slaughter:
And those that were left, well we tried to survive, in that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive, though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head, and when I woke up in my hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead. Never knew there was worse things than dyin’.
How can anything be worse than dyin’ we ask. And the soldier answers by talking about a different kind of shunning than took place in Winkler. Not shunned because he served, but shunned because of his horrific wounds. He talks about the crowd of Aussies turning out to welcome home their heroes, but turning their backs on some of the soldiers whose wounds were too ugly for the naked human eye. This shunned soldier says:
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay, I looked at the place where me legs used to be. And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me, to grieve, to mourn, and to pity.
As we say the words Lest We Forget and while we listen to “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row, that mark our place: and in the sky the larks still bravely singing fly, scarce heard amid the guns below,” we know that there are many who don’t get it, who don’t understand the pain of sacrifice.
We live in a world where it’s all about immediate gratification. We want to be able to push a button and see something beautiful. We want to pop a pill and feel something pleasurable. We want what we want and we want it now. Immediate gratification. The people we honour today weren’t looking to experience beauty. They were doing their duty to country. Our country. There was no gratification.
Those who oppose what we do today, say we are glorifying war. We are not glorifying anything. We are respecting the dead in Flanders Fields and all the fields where they lay. We are not glorifying violence. We are honouring tolerance. We fought the intolerant foe, not once but twice in the World Wars, and we fought in Korea, and we fought in Afghanistan, and we fight today for the dignity of all men and women and boys and girls, no matter their creed or colour.
Our heroes weren’t looking to conquer land or people. They weren’t looking to enrich themselves. They were serving a cause greater than their individual selves. Were they better than us? In many ways they were. Let’s just be honest about that, and honour our betters, our warriors, our veterans.
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Let us never break faith with the most loyal friends Canada has ever had.
Lest we Forget.