Unmarked Graves and the Drunk on Main Street

Going to church on Sunday mornings was always a race against time. We lived on the opposite end of the city to avoid all the Germans, but for Sunday morning worship we’d rush to the comfort of the immigrant faith community that had nurtured my family since arriving in Canada.

At Whitter Park* in St. Boniface
Going to church involved driving through the notorious Main Street strip that was littered with cheap hotels, empty liquor bottles and meandering street people. One Sunday morning, a bedraggled-looking man collapsed on the hood of our mint green Mercury as we waited at a red light. With bloodshot eyes he blinked right at me and I couldn’t look away. I saw his pain, his desperation and his isolation.

Papi honked at him, the light changed, and the man hobbled on. I cranked my neck and watched him until we turned off Main onto the lane leading across the Disraeli Bridge. His eyes have been imprinted into my memory. At the church I’d pray for him. We were told to pray for the homeless and the addicted. They needed Jesus in their lives. They needed to be born-again. Why did they end up in such a sad state? That I was never told. Half a century later, I’m getting distinct clues about the why.

There’s been a lot of attention recently about the discovery of mass graves of children near a residential school near Kamloops, BC. Without doubt, it’s upsetting. Having two grandparents (one in a ditch, another in a snowbank), two child uncles, along with other relatives in unmarked graves as a result of Stalin’s collectivization efforts, I appreciate how my mother was damaged by that pain. I appreciate, as well, how the pain of our broken family was passed down to me. I appreciate the potential damage of inter-generational trauma.

Ditch where my grandfather ended up
Back when that Winnipeg drunk was on the hood of our car, I didn’t understand. He was just a drunk Indian, someone who couldn’t hold his liquor. Now, I understand that it was his peers—his young brothers and sisters—who were buried in unmarked graves while he kept his body alive. He survived the abuse and the humiliation and then he was let go. While he was not buried as an innocent child, he had his identity pummelled enough that he could be a successful nobody. He got to survive and walk the Main Street drag with his body, but without his soul. They don’t need mass graves to bury souls.

So while we mourn the little children of our Residential School system in Canada, let’s not forget those that didn’t die . . . those who grew up to be confused adults and moved into the ghettos of our modern cities . . . those who had their faith, their culture and their families crushed by us white people . . . in the name of saving their souls.

I can connect, in a small way, with that despair . . . all done in the name of some faith. For my grandparents it was for the glorious anti-religion of communism. For the Indigenous Peoples here in Canada, it was for the glorious religion of Christianity. Re-education or racism . . . it sucks the life out of people.


About the photo: I took this photo of Fort Gibraltor  (a replica) about a month ago. After going through my hundreds of photos, I realized that I don't photograph too many ugly things. This is the best I could come up with. 

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