i hear them calling


memorial at the vancouver art gallery honouring the 215 indigneous children whose remains were discovered at the kamloops indian residential school in bc (photography by ben nelms, courtesy of cbc)

this soil is drenched in blood
that runs across highways of tears 
and scorched pavements 

beneath the trenches of this land 
hear the whimpers of an ailing mother earth

her children
their bodies discovered 
by dragging knuckles 
across unmarked mass graves 

dousing gasoline on flames and traumas 
that devour smoke
and entire nations 
like a furnace 

piercing shrieks 
rumble partition walls 
thundering,
between shriving pews

that hold pages of gospel
pressed between the blood-stained hands 
of priests
and rosary beads 

bear witness to the bones
and scattered ashes
the silence 

there’s nothing your half-mast symbolisms will do
to reconcile the wreckage 
you’ve unleashed on young spirits

i hear them calling 
hushed whispers
asking to come home 

if the root of oppression is the loss of memory
then is remembrance the threshold to justice?

an open door
towards a mosaic of truths 
a balm for healing

a tender loving softness
against these hardened plastered walls
built on genocide and theft 

oh, little ones
you deserve more than
empty apologies 
and hollow promises 

you deserve more than 
candlelit vigils and teddy bears

you deserve to be seen
to have your names and stories released
from these secret shrines

to finally put to rest everything that has ever hurt you 
you deserve justice 
we will keep fighting 
for you.

dedicated to residential school survivors and their families

lh
june 2021

last words of the unarmed

ghosts from the recent past’ exhibition at the irish museum of modern art in dublin, 2018.

on most nights
if you listen close enough
you can hear the echoes of the last words of the unarmed
whose names reverberate the chants of movements
that mattered long before they were cool

i stand on the shoulders of giants and freedom fighters
from bds to black lives matter
born of legacies before my time:
civil rights, decolonization and anti-imperialist struggle

are the reasons we kneel
we bow
prostrating
before god

we the people
from ferguson to gaza
south africa to kashmir

take up our grief in the streets 
light the establishment on fire with our fury
shout prayers into the night skies
wage a holy war against a system that claims to serve and protect 

the
people 
over profits
has always been profits 
over people

you say they’re just a few bad apples
but how could that be 
when one is known to spoil the bunch
and the rotten fruit kills 

don’t be deceived 
you see
george zimmerman, darren wilson, and amy cooper
were deliberately placed there

like a perfect game of chess
strategic and intricate in design 
to keep the emmett tills and trayvon martins of this world in their place

i can’t breathe
birthed a national slogan 
in legacy and death

say his name
no justice, no peace 
#ericgarner 

left for dead on the scorching pavement in july 
fo(u)r hours 
hands up, don’t shoot

say his name
no justice, no peace
#mikebrown 

failing to signal
is not a death sentence 
but apparently sleeping in your home is

say her name 
no justice, no peace
#sandrabland 
#breonnataylor

mental illness is not a crime 
and a child’s imagination 
wielding nothing but creative playtime energy 
is not a threat 

say his name 
no justice, no peace
#abdirahmanabdi 
#tamirrice 

if taking a knee
makes you a patriot
then what does it make you when you kneel for…

8 minutes and 47 seconds
on our necks?

#georgefloyd 
takes the world by storm
all smoke and mirrors, 
no fire this time

say his name
no justice, no peace 

more than 2000 still missing and murdered 
never forget
#tinafontaine was only fifteen 
verdict of yet another white, male assailant: not guilty 

say their names
no justice, no peace 
#nomorestolensisters

there is no just-is
when the ahed tamimis stand defiant 
against the unwelcomed presence of idf soldiers 
at the doorsteps of their homes 

brave and steadfast
feet planted, palms shaking 
they strike blows in the face of zionist invasion 
and resist the plunder of their birthright to exist 

i once heard that real justice is what love looks like in public 
it’s #rachelcorrie 
rising from the rubble in rafah

her memory bigger than 
a fleeting moment 
 of solidarity 

before the bulldozer that demolished homes
and dreams 
and the barrier between two worlds 

the privileged, the american 
and the underclass
the occupied 
the marginalized 

she knew this well 
before she died,
she wrote:

“i have a home.
i am allowed to go see the ocean”

spineless political class of the 1%
lie to us between their teeth
with clenched fists behind their backs

and media moguls spin a narrative 
where muslim is synonymous with terrorist
black with criminal
mexican with illegal 

our protesting becomes looting 
and they claim israeli airstrikes are in self defence 
against hamas rockets

we are the collateral damage
that no one cares to fit into sound bites 
memorializing through hashtags
will not bring them back 

whiteness reigns supreme
claims colour blindness as alibi 
while bombs rain down on baghdad 
and chokeholds tighten around the hearts of childless mothers everywhere 

on most nights 
when i shut my eyes tight
transported into the belly of the underworld

i imagine
an alternate universe 
where the echoes of the last words of the unarmed
reverberate a promise 

handwritten from the future 
sealed and signed 
by working class poets, artists, thinkers and healers

whisper,
we’ve already won.

lh
sept 2020 / feb 2021

From Canada’s Indigenous Youth to Parkland’s Students: The Power of Youth Activism

Photo: Nicole Brumley

Recently, I had the great privilege of attending the Tina Fontaine Rally in downtown Toronto. In the spirit of solidarity, I showed up to honour the life of Tina Fontaine – a teenaged First Nations girl who was made missing and murdered in August 2014. People in major cities across Canada gathered to protest the jury’s decision to acquit Raymond Cormier, the 56 year-old-year man from Winnipeg responsible for her death. The verdict came less than two weeks after Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley was found not guilty in the murder of another Indigenous youth, Colten Boushie. Considered among the high number of Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S people made missing and murdered in this country – a national crisis that’s been unresolved for decades – her death renewed calls by activists for the government to conduct a national inquiry into the issue. On that Saturday afternoon, I was pleased to see a large show of support and solidarity by allies from all over the city. The square soon became enamoured with so much love and unity. As thousands joined hands, strangers quickly became friends. The exchange of smiles and greetings were both familiar and comforting. It reminded me that community spaces like this give us the permission to mourn, cry, and heal – together. But more than anything, it left me feeling a great sense of pride and inspiration. The event was organized by Madyson Arscott, a 16-year-old Ojibwe student. Madyson, one year Tina’s senior, was the primary organizer of Saturday’s rally, and used her voice and platform to remind other young Indigenous people that their lives are valued even when faced with discrimination and violence.

“You show more courage walking out the door in the morning than the ones who are trying to silence you their whole lives…there’s resistance in your simple existence…if all you do today is breathe, that is enough.”

– Madyson Arscott

She continued on by saying that the death of Fontaine hit very close to home, which inspired her to action. As her words rang in my ears, hope swelled in my chest. She reaffirmed my belief once again that youth are the true champions of change. Madyson, to me, exemplifies the many youth activists and change makers who are politically and socially engaged in ways well beyond their years. But the truth is, youth are embracing activism across borders, and have been for a long, long time. In the weeks since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that took seventeen lives, a remarkable movement has gathered momentum. Students who survived the shooting are raising their voices to demand greater safety in schools. Conventional wisdom says grown-ups spark social change and the kids merely follow. But if you read between the lines of history books, the opposite is often true. Our youth are the ones organizing, and it’s the adults who are simply following their lead. In fact, young people have been key actors in nearly every major social movement in modern history. At the forefront of these movements, youth have played a central role in influencing their widespread mobilization and success. 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, for example, was the first to pave the way for many during the civil rights movement era. She had refused to give up her seat to a white person on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, nine months before Rosa Parks had. Young activists helped raise awareness of inequality during the Occupy Wall Street protests. Young people drove the Arab Spring protests that toppled dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. And young people were the ones to take to social media spawning the Black Lives Matter movement. Madyson made me think of the many young people in Parkland and across the U.S. presently speaking out and doing the work: writing op-eds, planning walk-outs and teach-ins, talking with journalists and lobbying elected officials, and organizing a nationwide demonstration pressing for American gun law reform. It’s no coincidence that students are leading this outpouring of activism: as young people who have grown up with the fear of mass shootings and regular school lockdown drills, they are at an age of dawning political awareness but not yet cynical about the possibilities for change. As an added bonus, they also understand how tools of mass communication like Twitter can amplify an individual voice. Students are the ones making the bold and brave choice to participate as upstanders and civic agents.

Madyson also made me reflection on my own experience with the youth I work with each and every day in schools. The connection I have with youth is always a refreshing and energizing experience. They openly and generously share their lived experiences, often with so much vigor and emotion. Their stories resonate with me. They are enriching, insightful and profound. Their pain is my pain. Their anger, my anger. Their trauma and brokenness, my own. Their incredible liveliness to bring about change is promising. They thirst for knowledge, and hunger for change. The energy they exude could very well power an entire city. Youth truly are a faithful testament to the powerhouse of resilience in which they wield within. Charged with so much optimism and passion, they make me feel alive. When my energy supply runs low, they refuel my fire. As someone who’s been working with adults within the taxing industrial complex of non-profit organization for some time now, I can honestly say that it dims your light. Luckily for us, youth have the power to give us a much-needed spit-shine from time to time. Youth, unknowingly, guide and motivate me to fight the good fight, and keep on striving. They nourish my will to keep going. Crossing paths with these young individuals is a God-sent. I always look forward to joining them on their journey of embracing their truths, and being true catalysts for change in their schools and communities. Doing this work has taught me the value in supporting our youth. Despite having to face the fact that society continues to fail them (e.g. continuously being wronged by the adults responsible for their wellbeing), I’ve learned that youth also have an unwavering ability to forgive and move forward. They are so forgiving. So, I believe that we owe it to these kids (our future) and to ourselves to do better, and to do right by them. We need to continue investing our time and energy in uplifting their voices. Think about it this way: if we can uplift youth activists like the Parkland teens and praise them for their vision and courage (as we should), then there’s certainly no reason for us not to uplift Indigenous and racialized teens as well, like Madyson Arscott, and so many others just like her.

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