Friday, August 14, 2020

A hymn to Tristen Durocher and other courageous, committed voices of protest

 Tristen Durocher is not a household name, in his native province of Saskatchewan, nor in his native country, Canada. And, certainly, he is totally imperceptible around the world.

Tristen Durocher, 24, is a Metis artist, according to the CBC story by Guy Quenneville, on August 11, 2020, “engaging in a ceremonial fast from a teepee site in Regina’s Wascana Park after walking 639 kilometers from Air Ronge to Regina in pursuit of a legislated suicide prevention plan. A fiddler, Durocher has performed at what he considers too many funerals for people in his community who have taken their own lives.

Surrounding the teepee, there were 89 portraits of victims of suicide submitted by families mourning their losses. According to an August 5 story on CBC:

the pictures surrounding the teepee …would account for about 4 per cent of the 2,338 people who died by suicide in Saskatchewan between 2005 and 2019, according to date from the Saskatchewan Coroner’s Service….There were 665 deaths in that same time, recorded as people who were ‘North American Indian.’ Of those death, 413 were men and 252 were women….”Hopelessness in our communities up north knows no age limit. Children as young as eight take their lives in this province,’ Durocher said. ‘We have faces, we have smiles, and we are missed.’

A bill forwarded by NDP MLA for Cumberland, Doyle Vermette, and voted down in the Saskatchewan legislature, would have required the provincial government to recognize suicide as a health and safety priority. If the bill passed, the government would have had to recognize suicide as a public health issue.

From a July 6, 2020 edition of the CBC, Durocher is quoted as saying:

Several reserves across Saskatchewan have declared states of emergency in the past and nothing has been done…they own it to their residents of this province to provide mental health services and we are residents of this province, not some federal responsibility…Some communities the problem is the gang violence, some communities there’s a lot of drugs, some commujnitie4s we have high rates of lateral violence so it can’t be umbrella solutions for individual communities whose needs are different, and it needs to be community-based…..As a child I’ve been in gymnasiums trying to play (fiddle) and console families over the sounds of the echoes of grieving mothers burying their firstborns. I’ve seen too many graves for my young life and /I’ve seen too much indifference and political neutrality and kind of just this really disgusting attitude of not our kids not our problem and that is beyond horrifying.

Currently in a 44-day* hunger strike, Durocher says:

I’m starving in solidarity with our children who are-literally some of them are starving and figuratively they starving for equality…They’re starving for justice, they’re starving for belonging, they’re starving for their culture and this I my way of saying I love you and I’m starving too….(Fasting until the Saskatchewan government passes meaningful legislation) If they don’t, I’m prepared to let my family bury me because this needs to be shown to Canada, to the world, just the depth of our money-minded politicians indifference and heartlessness.

From the August 11 CBC story, more of Durocher’s words:

And Warren Kaeding (Minister of Rural and Remote Health) just told me about Pillars of Life, (the government’s proposal) and the $1.2 million they’re investing…(That money) cannot even cover the travel accounts of five psychiatrists or psychologists for a year and that’s his big plan for the province with the highest suicide rates in Canada per capita.. If they remove my teepee before because of a court injunction, that forces the hand of the Regina Police Service…that doesn’t mean I’ll be leaving. It means my teepee will be gone. I’ll be here until my fast is complete.

This news shower falls out of the television screen, the radio microphone and the digital screen at a time when the world is cowering under the hourly toll of a death rate from COVID-19 that far exceeds our individual and our collective capacity to absorb, digest and cope with the loss. It also comes only a few days after the death and protracted celebration of the life of civil rights activist “for good trouble” John Lewis. And it comes when Jimmy Lai has just been released on bail from jail in HongKong, and Nathan Law is in exile in London. The opposition candidate for president in the Belarus election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has sought refuge in Lithuania, following threats on her family, and also following the allegedly fraudulent election of long-reigning president, Lukashenko. Protests in the streets of Minsk continue long enough for observers to question whether the victor in the election can survive.

Although somewhat trite, and echoed repeatedly over the last seventy-five years, after first being uttered in Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Death of a Salesman, the Willy Loman line, “The woods are burning!” seems more than appropriate. Willy is, at that moment in the play, financially broke, on the verge of losing his job, nervous and exhausted, not unlike the specific and collective state of millions of people in America and around the world. And it is not merely incidental to take note of the literal burning of the Amazon Rain Forest, under the rule of Bolsonaro, another of the world’s faux ‘strong men’ whose individual and collective efforts threaten legitimate governments, the livelihoods of millions and the potential survival of the ecosystem.

Greta Thunberg, Nathan Law, Tristen Durocher, Jimmy Lai, John Lewis, …

Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez, Alex Wind, Jaclyn Corin (#NeverAgain movement against gun violence after the Parkland Florida massacre)…

These are names of heroes whose lives have accepted responsibility for the care and support and activism that they perceive to be “urgent” in their respective perspectives. And, yet together, there are candles of hope, inspiration, promise, and even in the agape sense of the word, LOVE, threatened by the winds of fear, hate, lies, greed, (embodied in words, actions, attitudes called racism, homophobia, sexism, “freedom” “liberty” and “my personal rights” that are so coveted by many cult followers on the right. These people are not cowed by their disgust for the actions of what in many quarters are called ‘the establishment’ regardless of their ideology, the geography, the political theories, or even the economic constraints.

We are witnessing, BLACKLIVESMATTER, IndigenousLivesMatter, #TimesUp, #METOO movements that individually and collectively are shouting from the windows, “We are fed up and we will not put up with this any longer!” And the world seems to be writhing in a vortex of both revolution and evolution, trying to find its legs, its balance, the sources from history that might help to bring stability, confidence, trust and hope back into the drama.

The biographical perspective on history, as relying on the good will and the courage, creativity and steadfastness of those seeking power and already holding  power is, like a lone swimmer in a strong wind storm, fighting to stay afloat, to keep breathing and pushing his arms and legs to their limits, just in order to keep his life. Institutions are falling like the Milne ice sheet that just fell into the Arctic Ocean, left on ventilators like so many COVID-19 patients. And oligarchs siamesed to sycophants fend off “the people” with guns, lies, propaganda and deceit, in order to cling to power, as if it were a personal  inheritance.

Ironically, this is not the Middle Ages, but the twenty-first century, when many of us thought, indeed believed, that we had some through the tunnel of despotism and tyranny, the firestorm of hegemonic world war, the cold war and into a new horizon, epitomized as a “city on a hill” evocative of the biblical image in Revelation. It is relevant to remind ourselves of a perspective on history that emanates from the Jewish culture and community. Even in the Jewish marriage celebration, there is a crystal crushed under foot to symbolize the impermanence of everything human.

Even the Buddhists describe “panna (discernment) as

“And what is the faculty of discernment? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is discerning, endowed with discernment or arising and passing away-noble, penetrating, leading to the  right ending of stress. He discerns, as it is actually present (the Four Noble Truths): This is stress…This is the origination of stress…This is the cessation of stress,….This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress. This is called the faculty of discernment. (from themotionmachine.com)

In The United States, particularly, the cultural theme of “progress to a more perfect union” is like one of those optimistic, inspirational, hopeful and perhaps somewhat seductive and alluring myths of continuous, predictable, and eventually expected improvement, enhancement and ultimately victory over every perceived and dangerous monster. The myth includes, and perhaps is even dependent on another “the exceptionality” of each and every American citizen…And, unfortunately and also predictably, such an epithet of expectation inflates both the nation’s culture and the pressures on developing children, long before they are naturally ready to accept such a ‘gift’. Capitalism, of course, rides the tides of this hope and expectancy, to the denial, and avoidance, to the obfuscation and to the ridicule of those influences, societal forces and profoundly tragic realities that demand serious committed attention.

Such are the legitimate demands of each of our heroes: the right to vote, the right to clean air and water, the right to work with dignity, the right to respect and health care access including mental health, the right to a life free from threats of bullying guns, racism, sexism, homophobia. These issues do not bear a political party’s name, nor an ideology’s imprimatur, nor a religion’s dogma, nor an economic theory’s equation. These issues, individually and collectively, are human rights issues, demanding the common sense attention and commitment of all of us. .And the examples of leadership embodied by these heroes can and must serve to embolden hundreds if not thousands of others who too can summon the courage, the compassion, the empathy and the strength of a team of like-minded souls, to engage with atrophying and stultifying and narcissistic men (mostly) who cling to power in the most narrow sense, for their own aggrandizement.

Not knowing is not a defence for those in power to stonewall the legitimate protests. Not being able to identify specific steps for improvement in the lives of those who have suffered far too long is not acceptable any longer either. Not being able to “afford” to make reasonable, effective, measureable and thereby mutually compatible solutions is no longer an acceptable talking point. Clinging to an outmoded process, for the sake of preserving a hateful, colonial and submissive tradition is so blatantly and perceptibly wrong-headed not only for the victims but also for the establishment perpetrators. Clinging to the vestiges of privilege, status, class, wealth, and title is no longer tolerable to the nine billion world citizens whose lives and dignity and contribution are desperately needed for us to survive and grow and develop.

It is the voices, not only of the schooled experts who share the requirement of inclusion but those voices previously shut-out of the corridors and the boardrooms of power and privilege, (even the philanthropics like WE) that must be heard, not as token political photo-ops, but as relevant, serious, committed and reliable voices for others too humiliated to risk their lives, as statements of ethical honour, for their respective “people”.

As one who had to remove the loaded gun from his father’s hand, pointed at his head, in the middle of a winter night, I plead with the government of Saskatchewan to listen carefully to Tristen Durocher today, and to all those leaders who consider protesters a mere annoyance and a distraction from the real work of governance. Listen to those whose voices are telling hard truths, from the bottom of their hearts and minds. They must not be ignored any longer!

*44 highlights the 44 MLS’a who defeated the Vermette bill in the legislature.

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