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A Love Letter or Considering Reconciliation in Canada

By Juliane Okot Bitek

This poem was commissioned by Simon Fraser University's Centre for Dialogue in honour of Chief Robert Joseph, recipient of the 2014 Jack P Blaney Award for Dialogue, and was originally presented at Vancouver Public Library as part of the City of Vancouver's Year of Reconciliation.

 

Dear Kas, today Vancouver is as beautiful as ever. It rains sometimes;
sometimes it doesn’t rain.
Dear Kas, talks about reconciliation are happening in the context of young people walking to Ottawa, walking for miles and miles and miles.
Dear Kas, people haven’t remained idle -- they never were; just simmering, like porridge simmering, like thick, thick soup.
Dear Kas, reconciliation walks, protests, drums, tattoos, and this year, marks the coldest winter in memory. A bus ride to Kamloops reveals a landscape in which people were loved.
Dear Kas, spring isn’t a promise, it just is. Otherwise you would be here.
Dear Kas, exactly a month after the funeral there’s a brilliant blue in the sky. A woman in a yellow kimono, at Oppenheimer Park, remembers the murdered and missing women. She releases red balloons into the sky.
Dear Kas, I can no longer depend on dates and times. I don’t know where you are.
Dear Kas, there are at least 20 women missing from the Highway of Tears. I still don’t know all their names.
Dear Kas, here are some echoes. There was a Trail of Tears and the Long Walk of the Navajo in the United States and I only knew of them after you were gone.  Dear Kas, there were children walking in our homeland during the wholesale murder -- sometimes they call it slaughter.  Hundreds of huts spontaneously burst into flames. I think of it as a culling.
Dear Kas, here are some echoes.  We remember and we forget. We remember Gassy Jack and Captain Vancouver and we forget the dispossession and displacement. We remember the murdered and missing women and forget the dispossession and displacement. We remember Hogan’s Alley and Vie’s Chicken but forget the dispossession and displacement. 
Dear Kas, we often forget that we’re guests on this land. How can we reconcile this with the insistence on nightmares and tears?
Dear Kas, we remember tight jeans, cowboy boots, Elvis wannabees and we forget why these are markers for our youth.
Dear Kas, I miss you.
Dear Kas, this crisis has been going on too long. Young people are walking to Ottawa and I’m remembering how your eyes sparkled the last time you said goodbye.
Dear Kas, we may cover the landscape with our bodies and memories but we cannot; we cannot forget.

By Juliane Okot Bitek for Chief Robert Joseph
Vancouver, BC, January 2014

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