I am grateful for Garnet Angeconeb.
I was thinking of heroes the other day while I was walking in the snow. Mighty Mouse was important when I was little. He was a good guy, as most flying mice tend to be. He was always ready to save the day; he even said so in his theme song, if you remember. Tonto and The Lone Ranger qualified as heroes, if for no other reason than the fact that a horse was their preferred mode of transportation and I so desperately wanted a horse like Scout, Tonto’s horse. It goes without saying that Annie was always my hero and always will be, for an abundance of reasons.
We all have a list of people who inspired us, left their indelible mark, altered the trajectory of our life in a positive way, became an oasis, a resting place from which to start again, people whose contributions to our life is forever sealed within us, and all too often those individuals never know of their hero status.
I met a hero this past summer, a hero new to me, but certainly not a newcomer to heroism. His photo sits on my desk, a photo I look at each time I sit down to write, to inspire me, but more than that to draw strength from when I am filled with self-doubt, a writer’s constant companion, and to feel hopeful when despair is lurking. He is Garnet Angeconeb.
Garnet and I were born the same year. While I was attending Alberton Central School, Garnet was taken from his home at the age of seven and placed in Pelican Residential School, forty miles from his home, where he ceased being Shebagosh, his Anishnaabe name meaning “rebirth under the leaves”, and became instead Number 22.
Garnet and 150,000 children like him were forced into Residential Schools in this country between 1840 and 1996. These children were in greater risk of death (1 in 25: CBC News June 2015) than Canadians killed in World War II. It took us 150 years to come to our senses, but not before generations of families had been decimated, language and culture lost, childhoods forever interrupted.
I often hear Canadians from both sides of the story saying things such as get over it, it happened a long time ago. But how exactly does one “get over it”? How would any of us get over the loss of our childhood, the loss of family, the loss of the very essence of who we are. Most of us wouldn’t. Garnet Angeconeb did and like every wound that goes to the very core of us, he will continue to get over it as long as he is breathing.
The details of Garnet’s life can be found on his website www.garnetsjourney.com in the form of a video memoir, a moving and thoughtful tribute to the truth of his life and how he continues to search for healing in his own life, as well as healing for those he encounters in his work, work that earned him a place with The Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, but most importantly has earned him the recognition of himself, that he has resilience, that he is proud to be Anishinaabe despite the years of a system that tried to educate those very qualities out of him.
Garnet is gentle, speaks quietly, with a laugh at the ready. He is kind. He welcomed me into his home to hear his story, an honour for me. The battle is long and wearying, it takes its toll but Garnet continues, not with a voice that flings blame, but rather one that points to the truth and says this is the way to reconciliation.
Garnet wonders at times if anyone is listening. I would say to him: Many are listening. I am listening. I am proud, so very proud to be his friend.