The 94 Calls: Colonized Sonnets LXXXI to LXXXIV



Wihtamok. This commission’s report is in the public domain. It says almost as much as our eyes, which can say more than this. To repair, Canada, the past residential internment strategies that you alone are guilty of, ninety-four bids: One, fewer of our children in governments’ care. Two, collect and publish findings, yearly, on kids in the system: Métis, Inuit, First Nations. Three, use Jordan’s Principle. Four, set the standard for woke laws on child custody and apprehension. Five, help young Aboriginal moms and dads. Next, yikes: repeal criminal protection for schoolteachers who use force and get a strategy to reduce learning and work inequalities between Aboriginal folks and the rest. We call for the elimination of poor-relation funding for on-reserve study. Within that pen that endorses legislation is the duty to write annual detail on the education, accreditation and income achievements of your subjects. Lend your jurisdiction not to the state’s small glory, but to justice, such that she that writes of you can write of the sacred canopy’s four stakes. Culturally appropriate, healthfully oriented curricula—Treaty-honouring legislation—will dignify this exercise. This story pleads for support for higher-ed meaning Aboriginal students, for toddler education programs. Kweyachisihta. Kweyachisihta, that what in your language is writ acknowledges right means speaking our words, preserving what nature made so articulate in Aboriginal languages. Fund such an act as counters the trespass against first languages. Dek’enèehtł’è, wenahdì-le ch’à. A fundamental element of this country’s wisdom: tongues and idioms, talk in Gwich’in, in Naskapi, in standarised syllabics. We call on feds for a Commissioner of our Languages, recommended by us, and devoted to reporting on the adequacy of whatever money or support feds put toward our fluency. Colleges, universities, verb: En Cha Huná. Help residential school survivors rebuild the family names stripped from them, by fixing status cards, identity papers, documents and passports – for no fee. A tobacco offering first, to open dialogue. Then a purification with mashkodewashk and giizhik. The offices of the government, awakened by sweetgrass. Policy extending our respect to relations, to elders, to words and circles.





May it now be acknowledged that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is an outcome of previous decisions made by Canadian governments. Residential schools were a gross decision. Health rights, says international law, are rights. Aboriginal people and communities want reports on their fight against injury, addiction, and suicide; reports on available services, child mortality, chronic ailments, and psychological conditions. Off-reserve health concerns require an approach. Aboriginal healing centres hold wisdom for those carrying old residential school consequences; Aboriginal healing practices need precious space held for them in the care system. Arguably all the medical and nursing faculties should be filled with Aboriginal kids, and young doctors should get real-schooled, taught to serve with skills attuned to the res-school wrongs intergenerationally borne in bodies. That’s twenty four bids to action, beaded slowly into Shakespeare. Urgent letters threaded into culture, a work to instill cultural memory. Affirm the independent role of the RCMP to investigate crimes (actually establish a policy) where government interest might be at stake. Better your limiting statutes, provinces, to ensure no limitation defences are afforded those whom Aboriginal people might prosecute for historical wounds. The formation of lawyers should involve a course on conflict resolution, Indigenous law, and cultural competence. Hear plaintiffs’ allegations fairly outside the previous Indian Residential School Agreement. Too many Indigenous folk are in custody—alternatives to prison must be given support. Let trial judges waive mandatory minimum sentences. One of the most pressing priorities: fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. FASD offenders need compassionate correction. Allow healing lodges. For inmates who remember abuse, treatment. For halfway houses, support. It’s insane how many youth are in custody. Enough victims—track who gets victimized; log violent offences suffered by Aboriginal folk; fund victim outreach. Enough women murdered and missing—we welcome the inquiry: a demand to stop the violence Indigenous girls face. The treaties remember the handshake between European forefathers and Aboriginal foremothers and forefathers. The breath of those words awaits respect. Governments, defend Aboriginal justice systems. History’s dumb thoughts still speak lingering effects.





Forty-two actions knotted into the procedural, mindful subaltern’s assimilation of this great verse. Bound by the force of rights, Shakespeare’s apostrophizing exclaims to an idea of fairness. Fully adopt the UN declaration on Indigenous people’s rights, exclaims our poesy to our idea of government. That declaration should frame our strategy for reconciliatory practice. Work it through together and issue, on Canadians’ dreamy behalf, a Royal Proclamation of Reconcilation. The proclamation will forsake excuse-making concepts like the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius. Recognize mutuality, reestablish Treaty relationships, reconcile treaty law to minding Aboriginal law, hold us partners in Confederation. Affirm the yearning to reconcile—in writing. Write a Covenant witnessing this spirit, thereby furthering the spirit of the Settlement Agreement. Unlearn thought that overwrites Aboriginal sovereignty. A moral and spiritual pitch: that social justice groups and churches get karmic: our self-determination’s not determined by your God. Neither He, nor his Ancestors, sympathized with terra nullius. To build equity, create institutes of Aboriginal law. Publish government legal opinions involving anything impacting Indigenous claims and treaty rights. Governments, adopt legal principles that accept, when occupation has been established, the Aboriginal claim on territory. Once that title has been affirmed Aboriginal, parties calling for any limits to title rights are obligated to say why. Form an oversight body which monitors progress on these post-apology goals: a council, established in compact with Aboriginal organizations. Endow a National Reconciliation Trust with the funding it needs to advance the cause. Provide the council with information it seeks; report formally on the State of Aboriginal Peoples and the advancement of the cause of reconcilation. Also, educate public servants on Aboriginal history. If I was not already sick over my fathers’ constitutional bigotry, my fathers’ Catholic trespass on First Nations would turn my stomach: the native children abused beneath white men’s prayer robes. Our Catholic guilt isn’t repentance. Families call directly upon the pope to issue an apology. We invite the Vatican to declare they literally fucked Indigenous kids. Apologies matter: the congregations must listen and feel their own troubled ministries.





Faith leaders—jewish, moslem, all the other church parties to our signed settlement agreement—form young priests, rabbis, imams or ministers to respect our spiritualities, acknowledge Aboriginal wisdoms. Explain to faith workers that residential schools were church wrongs to be righted. Churches should work now to establish permanent churchly funding for projects that animate community-authored education, healing, reconcilation and leadership in Indigenous faiths. May the worth of Aboriginal perspectives and teaching methods be confirmed at all educational levels, by requiring mandatory learning of Aboriginal knowledges and accomplishments, histories and legacies. In partnership with Aboriginal elders, develop a comparative curriculum in  Aboriginal spiritual beliefs for denominational schools. What good does reconciliation hold for the country? Let researchers be supported by the country’s granting bodies to advance understanding. For youth, let the nation’s riches go fairly toward reconciling, toward youth networks establishing community. Deserving is not the issue; the cause of this call for action is recognized. Affirm: mettle in our communities isn’t wanting. And so let museums’ policy be patiently reviewed and backed by Aboriginal-institutional discussion. We call for reserved funding, this 150th anniversary of Canada’s self-mythology, for museum grants vested in themes of reconciliatory memory. Our own worth was then not worth knowing, to library men to whom the country gave its archival stewardship. Recommit, else mistake your calling, to housing holdings that testify to the great wrong of residential schools. Fully adopt the UN principles Joinet and Orenlicher surmised. Provide records to the Commission’s agents, coroners and slow statisticians, on Aboriginal children’s documented deaths. Establish, develop and maintain a death register marking residential school student deaths. Establish an online registry of cemeteries, plot maps that judge where kids’ interment might be marked. Inform Aboriginal families of the burial locations of their cleaved children. Honour families’ need to rebury the deceased. Maintain, document, protect these evidential cemeteries, deferring to the most affected Aboriginal group in each matter. Into survivors’ knowledge, keep asking, but when asking, know no: Who resurrects children molested and battered?





We ask archives to identify and house residential school material. Let ten million be disbursed plainly over seven years to Centre directors, so they might manage reconciliation doings, with extra given to research and record local place memory. Governments, work with communities on just heritage and history: a reconciliation framework includes commemoration. For our representation on the history sites board; in criteria, regulation and practices of the National Program of history and commemorations; in a heritage plan for commemorating residential schools—this fight. A national day would prove the government’s sincerity about our histories. Honour our struggle with monuments; honour our children parted from us, our survivors, our worth to the nation, with monuments, in the hearts of towns. We call for work by Indigenous artists to be financed; get Aboriginal and settler artists acquainted to team up on reconciliation’s behalf. Heartily repair the nation’s broadcaster, so it can set down a story of faults reconciled, and of Aboriginal diversity, wherein #Aboriginallivesmatter. Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network—in that worthy labour, continue, and let journalism institutes and good media schools teach Aboriginal 101 to writers. And may much glory to Aboriginal athletes go. Canada, by supporting the Indigenous Games, will be a gainer, too; for getting behind Indigenous athletes helps community health. Love old-school Indigenous sport and think about Indigenous athletes’ inclusion at each level. Let no host country invite injuries to territory in the name of international competition. The business psyche must check itself: Indigenous rights and doing business aren’t hostilities. Development requires real consent; Aboriginal people need opportunity and jobs; truly effective managers will be trained in Indigenous rights and anti-racism. Information for newcomers must include histories of the many Aboriginal peoples who survive this nation-state. Revise the Oath of Citizenship, so that belonging to this nation is founded on affirming the treaty promises that gave breath to Her Majesty’s legal claim. These ninety-four calls, now experimental song. L’Abbé Shakespeares the Commonwealth’s irreconcilable wrongs.

Questions and Answers

What inspired you to write this poem?

I was working on a PhD about the American poet Ronald Johnson, who is credited with having written one of the first full-length books of erasure poetry. At about the same time, others in the Canadian poetry community were working on black-out poems and erasure poems. I started thinking about the way erasures were like a censoring of the original poem. I began to think about the ways my own family’s cultures have been erased and assimilated. I began to think of other ways of erasing and censoring that are subtler than removing words from a page.

What poetic techniques did you use in this poem? How much attention do you pay to form and metre?

I invented the procedure I am using, so I’d say my attention to form is paramount … except that there are no precedents for the form I’m making. I pay a lot of attention to changing up the rhythm and registers of my sentences. The lines are lyric, hyperconfessional; the poems can be considered prose poems, but they’re so much more than that.
I treat the page like land I wish to inhabit. It is already inhabited by the Shakespeare. My procedure is an allegory for colonialism: I write from the perspective of both colonizer and colonized, “over” the “traditional territory” of English literature (Shakespeare’s text) and attempt to impose upon it my own descriptions of the world. The process is a mode of erasure that works by overwhelming rather than excising, one that hides the original text in plain sight, and attempts a muted bivocality in the reading experience. The original poem exists in its entirety on the same page, but reading it requires a cultural knowledge that remembers what to look for.

For example, the first words of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 31” are:
Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts.
The first line of my colonized sonnet, “XXXI,” is as follows:
The academy sabotages promising energies by demonizing a real world.

How did your writing process unfold around these poems? How did you write, edit and refine them?

In most of the poems in this project, I’m weaving my own language into Shakespeare’s. The poems that appear in <cite>Canadian Literature</cite> use language that isn’t originally mine. Given my themes of colonialism, I thought it made sense to try to colonize Shakespeare’s language not simply with my own thoughts but with the collective thoughts of peoples whose traditional lands I was born on and live on. <cite>The 94 Calls To Action</cite> were such a collective statement made during the years this book was being written.
As of the beginning of 2017, I’m still writing the colonized sonnets. I haven’t done a lot of editing yet. I’m writing the poems in sequence. I’m at the beginning of the 100s.

What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?

Weaving the Calls with the five sonnets I chose was some of the most technically challenging writing I’ve ever done. Simply finding language that sounded good to my ear, was true to the message of the Calls, and was still dense enough to meet the self-imposed standards for the tightness of the weave of texts was a long and arduous process. It was emotionally challenging in ways I didn’t anticipate. Writing this poem forced me to understand what the Doctrine of Discovery was. It forced me to repeat to myself, within the most intimate processes of my own search for words, the multiple ways Aboriginal people have been institutionally and legally mistreated. It forced me to grapple with expressing the interlocking challenges of advancing Aboriginal spiritual, educational, health, social and economic well-being in Canada. Most intensely I felt how monumental the challenge is to get communities who actively uphold Christian values to accept that their proselytizing, missionary endeavours were violence. Throughout writing these poems I was very aware of what I was doing as burying a beauty of English, words I have looked up to, in my own reexpression of the resistance and resilience of people and lands around me. I felt this work made me dwell at length in the pique of my identity as a non-white Canadian. When I finished writing these five poems (as opposed to the tens of other sonnets I’ve done for this project), I felt an exhaustion and sense of creative realization that I have never felt before.

This poem “The 94 Calls: Colonized Sonnets LXXXI to LXXXIV” originally appeared in Indigenous Literature and the Arts of Comunity. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 230-231 (Autumn/Winter 2016): 233-237.

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