This is My Pledge of Resistance

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nichole forbes -my pledge of resistance-3

There is a church by the river in my city. It was once a cathedral, but now it is just three stone walls at the far end of a cemetery. Fire claimed the hand-carved pews, the ornate stained glass windows and the heavy timber beams long before I was born. The façade stands as a reminder of what was, but the truth is, everything has changed.

In university, I wrote a paper about Louis Riel entitled, ‘The Hidden History of The Metis Man: A Second Look at Louis Riel.” I remember feeling brave and dangerous and nervous as I penned this 3,000 word essay on the controversial Metis leader. I remember crossing my fingers and hoping for the best as I set my essay on my professor’s desk. The assignment was to write an essay on the collaborative effort of colonialism on the Canadian prairies. My paper fell slightly outside of the parameters in the course syllabus.

I had learned about Louis Riel when I was in high school. He was a Metis man who led an unsuccessful rebellion against agents of The Hudson’s Bay Company and was hanged for his troubles. He was a traitor to the crown and a murderer of the king’s men. In a time when our country was being settled and civilization was being brought to the wild western frontier, he set out to sow seeds of discord for personal gain. Also, he was most likely insane. That’s what I was taught. That’s what my history books said. That’s what was accepted as truth in our nation.

As I began to do research for my university paper, this truth began to unravel. I found a thread at the frayed edge of history and when I gave it a gentle tug, this tightly woven truth became untangled. I found a handwritten note in the margin of a textbook in the library that referenced another book. In the bibliography of that book, I found reference to an essay and in that collection of essays, I found more academic writings that created a parallel, yet entirely different, version of history. And that’s the history I told in my essay.

What I discovered, was that Louis Riel was a natural-born leader. He was articulate and well-respected. He was a young man of strength and passion and character. As colonization moved west, he saw the writing on the wall and launched a resistance. The culture, language and livelihood of his people was being threatened by this tidal wave of “civilization” that was rapidly sweeping towards them from the east and he knew something had to be done. He formed a government with the sole purpose of preserving the indigenous way of life in the area.

For that resistance he was vilified and murdered.

Others have pulled at the same frayed edges of our Canadian history and now this is the history—the truth—taught in schools. As the truth of colonization in Canada started to become disentangled, other truths were revealed. The truth about Residential Schools, stolen lands and resources, the forced removal and subsequent adoption of Indigenous children, contaminated water on reserves from outside industry and countless unsolved cases of murdered and missing indigenous people. And these are just the hidden truths of the indigenous people.

There are other histories, other truths, which need to be uncovered. There are other stories that need to be told. There are stories of ill-used Chinese rail workers in the west, mistreated former slaves in the east, the abuse of those held in internment camps during both World Wars—all those who came to Canada for freedom but only found the heartbreak of oppression and so many other glossed over tragedies in our history.

There are countless stories of unsung heroes. People of deep conviction and courage. People who stood in the face of injustice, who fought for rights for the oppressed, who broke down societal barriers and charted a new course for others to follow in their wake. There are stories of women who demanded the right to vote and be educated equally, of people who fought for the preservation of their language and culture, of politicians who battled for healthcare for all and of workers who leveraged their power for fair pay. There are many silent, unnamed heroes of history. Their stories need to be told, too.

I love my country. I really do. I’m grateful for the privilege to live in a nation of freedom and safety and opportunity. I am loyal to this land of diversity and strength and hope. But I am not blind to its truth. I am not content to celebrate the fancy, polished bits of who we are while ignoring the truth of our whole story. I’m not okay with glossing over the uncomfortable ugliness of our past and present, because that’s where our opportunity to grow and do better comes from. We grow as a people when we stand in the fullness of our truth.

It’s in acknowledging our history, even our hidden history or perhaps, especially our hidden history that we see the richness of who we are. We are so much more than the victories of a few. We are the resilience, the resistance, the courage, the brokenness, the healing and the hopes of the many. We are the sum of all of our stories. We are all that is exposed and that which is hidden. We are light and dark. We are a woven tapestry of stories, yours and mine. We are knit together in this shared truth. We are all of the things, known and hidden.

On November 16, the anniversary of Louis Riel’s death, I stood at his graveside in front of the cathedral façade. I felt rooted to the ground, this Metis land that my ancestors lived on and fought for. I felt the strength of Louis’ truth and of my own truth. I felt the power of Canada’s truth as I looked toward the river and my city beyond. So much has passed and so much has changed, but we still have steps to take on this journey. There are so many stories yet to be told and with each telling comes a freedom that has never been known before

And so, this is my pledge of resistance, my commitment to truth.

I will tell the stories that cry out to be heard.

I will tell the stories that have been silenced and hidden.

I will hold the truths, those sacred hidden truths, that whisper to me from my own soul and from the very ground on which I stand.

I will look beyond what I am told and find the fullness of the truth.

I will speak these hidden truths with respect and reverence and love.

I will endeavor to live out my own truth with compassion and authenticity.

I will never stop listening, never stop holding space,

Never stop looking for The Hidden.

__________

Reflection:

Where are you uncovering truth in your world?

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Nichole Forbes
Nichole is just a regular gal loved by an extraordinary God. She believes in community, justice, freedom, reconciliation and the sacredness of storytelling. Her journey to connect with her Metis culture and history has been her own liberation song. She tries to live bravely every day and say the kind words that need to be heard. She raises her three Not-So-Wee-Ones in the middle of the Canadian prairies with her favorite person ever—her husband, Brad. Nichole blogs, writes and speaks on the things that fill her heart and frame her world. 
Nichole Forbes
Nichole Forbes

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Comments

  1. Saskia Wishart says:

    Thank you for your truth telling Nichole – we need your voice.

  2. WOW. just WOW. Your words are contagious Nicole. And Happy Birthday too xoxo

  3. Stephanie Reeves says:

    I know it’s not the point, but I wonder what your professor thought of your essay.

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      Lol. Idelette asked me the same thing.
      I got a really good grade on the paper and we had a chat about why my essay took a turn from the assignment. Although he didn’t agree with my assessment of history he respected that I took the time to research and provide resources for my perspective.

  4. Thank you, Nichole, for words that ring with a challenge.

  5. Shaley Hoogendoorn says:

    So so good. I see you looking speaken hidddn truths in every conversation you have. I adore you and I’m all in for all of this.
    //
    Never stop looking for the hidden.
    //
    I will hold the truths, those sacred hidden truths, that whisper to me from my own soul and from the very ground on which I stand.

    PS love that this post is on your birthday! I just know you will make this year ridiculously amazing! XO

  6. I love how strong your voice has become. BAM.

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