I’m Going Home

I was horrified and deeply saddened by the news that the remains of 215 Indigenous children of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation had recently been discovered at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

My country, Canada, was built on the oppression of the First Peoples. That oppression extended to the tearing apart of families and placing children in what were officially called the Indian Residential Schools. This nationwide program ended only about thirty years ago and is a shameful stain on our history. Over the past several years, many stories of systematic abuse have emerged, as have the horrific discoveries of unmarked graves of those who died while held against their and the will of their families.

I can’t imagine what life would have been like in such places or the effects on the children, their parents, and each following generation. As a grown child of white privilege, a parent, and step-grandparent, it distresses me to my core to imagine such things being done deliberately, systematically and mercilessly to members of my family. It’s unthinkable. Except it’s real. It was done to many thousands of families.

I could write at length about how I feel my people and our ancestors, the settlers of this land, have harmed the Indigenous population, whether intentionally or unintentionally. And how our lifestyles, attitudes, and government perpetuate those harms. 

Instead, I’d like to focus on the generous, welcoming and abiding spirit that I’ve witnessed from Indigenous women, men and children I’ve encountered in my life. And while I disapprove of many of the Winnipeg mayor’s policies and practices, I believe he has worked to advance reconciliation with the Indigenous community in what is now Winnipeg. He was among the first to institute land acknowledgements in City meetings, and these and have since expanded to non-government and commercial organizations. It’s one step in the healing that many say will take seven generations.

When thinking of a song to share to represent the day, I immediately turned to Buffy Sainte-Marie, an Indigenous Canadian-American singer, songwriter, musician, composer, social activist, pacifist, and a former cast member of the American children’s TV program Sesame Street (where she turned the children’s programming world on its ear when she breastfed her son as part of the show, to show the beauty and nurturing of that literally lifegiving act).

In 1992 after taking 16 years away from the music industry to raise her son, Sainte-Marie released Coincidence and Likely Stories. It’s an incredible piece of work, and I’ve previously posted two songs from the album: “Starwalker” and “Goodnight.” (If you haven’t seen those posts, please click on the links and read them, and listen to the songs. They are remarkable.)

Today I was moved to share “I’m Going Home.” There’s something deeply spiritual about the music, beginning with the ethereal sound of synthesizers and other effects that lead into the supporting vocal line (which I believe might be Indigenous chanting or throat-singing, but I am not knowledgeable about it). The lyrics feel to me like they build to a call of empowerment and honouring of self and people, perhaps like how I interpreted those of “Starwalker.” It also feels like the words could be an invocation to call home the souls of those, like those 215 children whose lives, happiness and security were stolen from them in their earthly lives.

Heaven isn’t so far away as people say
I got a home high in my heart
Heaven is right where I come from
I never throw it away
I know the place and I’m goin’ home
I’m going home
See up there it’s not the same
they know your name
and I’m not ashamed to need it
I’m going home
You can keep a-knocking
but I’m not coming out of this state I’m in
I’m travelling right, I’m gonna get there soon
I’m standing up praying, I’m singing
saying Heyo ha ha heyo hey ya
I know the way and I’m going home
I’m going home
That’s where the heart can rest
The best is there
and only a fool would leave it
I’m going home
I’m going home
I been around I been to town
Hey, where you think I learned right from wrong?
I’m going home

(I’m Going Home, copyright by Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Originally written for the film, Where the Spirit Lives.
Official lyrics accessed from buffysainte-marie.com.)

Much harm has been done, and we can’t take that away. But we can work to reconcile the wounds inflicted in the past and build a more inclusive society that honours all lives. And I must search for my way to contribute to the healing.

I included this in my post on “Starwalker” but feel it bears repeating: When commenting about toasting our country, a beloved Canadian broadcaster, radio performer and author Stuart McLean (1948-2017) said such a declaration “should contain certain humility, acknowledgment of our stumbles and our quiet determination to try harder, to listen carefully, to be thoughtful of new ways, to be sure we are on the right side of history.”

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thank you for joining me here.

Here’s the audio for the song, from YouTube. It’s not an official version but rather aggregated to the Buffy Sainte-Marie topic channel and is credited to the artist by YouTube.

2 thoughts on “I’m Going Home

  1. This is so very sad and tragic, yet, given everything I have heard of and read about the Residential Schools, not surprising, My maternal grandmother was First Nations, and though I did not embrace this part of my heritage I have always been conscious of it, and acutely aware of the fact that Indigenous history is part of my family history, and every time I hear something like this it tears me apart to think that this could have happened here, in Canada, of all places on earth, in this country: it hurts so deeply. But, there is nothing we can do to change the past, we can only learn from it, and try to do better. Your choice of song, I believe, is perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Stephen, for sharing your story and kind comments. I feel our country has lost some of the innocence we previously felt we had.

      Like

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