Guest Column: Loss of church should not detract from bigger narrative

Today [July 1] is a sad day. A terrible day. But it’s not a tragic day.
This beautiful landmark was a part of my family heritage. I am a descendant of people who came together to build a beautiful place of worship. My relatives laid the bricks; cooked meals for volunteers. Many of my family members were baptized, married, and had their lives celebrated in that place. My grandparents were married and had their funerals there. My own parents were married there, and 25 years later, so was I.
But the loss of a building seems trivial and small in light of all that is happening. The people who had the privilege of building something so beautiful were also so privileged in being able to celebrate their traditions and culture openly. How lucky to have a healthy, vibrant community full of robust and nourished volunteers; money to commission great works of art.
Recently, my aunt released a book containing memoirs from my grandparents (written in 1993). They were the descendants of pioneers who came here in search of a better life. Just as we have been kept in the dark for so long about these realities (my own mother, who is intellegent and compassionate, is only just learning about this genocide now) so were the people who were made promises by institutions and evil politics. Politics that indoctrinated people and forced patriation; silenced questions and encouraged segregation–who schemed and plotted to settle land in order to eradicate and erase entire nations of people.
In my grandfather’s memoir, there was a moment that really struck me. He talked about how getting people to work on his family farm during the war was very difficult. It was the Indigenous that stepped up and kept the crops growing (even when they themselves were kept in poverty). My grandpa mentioned a particular instance where an Indigenous man came to work, and my grandpa gave up his room in the main house because he preferred not to sleep in the bunkhouse (I can’t imagine it was a particularly friendly place to be). I have to think that that small, simple act must have been a radical one. When I asked my mom about it, she said “well, I can’t imagine someone who grew up hiding the fact they were German would think it right that anyone else would have to suffer for who they were born as”. He goes on to also name his friend from the Black community with whom he also shared a room. At first, I found it odd he chose to include those stories out of so many. But I have to believe it was because he wanted to hold space for the memories and contributions his friends made in making life better. He spoke fondly about the way his friends were the only ones who stuck around to help the women wash dishes and prepare meals. He spoke like a person who admired their integrity. I like to believe it was part of his legacy to show his descendants a better way forward. Even if it was in the smallest of ways.
I have to think of my grandparents today, and what they would say if they were still with us. What would they think of the church in flames? The church that baptized some of their 11 kids, some of their 45 odd grandkids and a whack of great-grandkids. I think they would be as conflicted as I feel. A place that housed many joys, but also deep pain.
We were not impervious to it either. My grandparents witnessed an institution that created family divisions– was intolerant of other religions, inflicted abuse and stole childhoods. An institution that hurt their own children, protected predators and forced victims to sign documents that prevented them from speaking to their own family about these abominable acts with nondisclosures. An institution that gladly took your money, but not your troubles. I can’t imagine how my grandfather would have felt about a genocide happening in his own backyard without his knowledge. What a cruel repeat of history–one he was born here to escape.
But still, I think If they were here, my grandparents would feel the way I feel. Today is a sad day. But it’s not the saddest day. A burned building is not a tragedy. It’s not “more” worthy of our attention, and it’s shouldn’t be the focus at a time when a larger, more important story is emerging– the stories that thousands of people were silenced from sharing, not just by politics and NDRs, but kidnap, murder and genocide. My grandparents would continue to be allies, to hold space, to give up simple comforts because they understood privilege. Even though they helped to build it, they would also say that buildings can be replaced— people cannot.
I feel a bit weird posting my own privileged past at this time, but I hope that in sharing, people with the same heritage who are lost and confused and angry can relate. I hope that through sharing, we can keep our eyes on the big picture. That we can all extend kindness and grace in every way we can. In big ways, and small. I’m here to say that this beautiful piece of history burning is sad, but not tragic. May we be radicals, in whatever way radically shifts our own views towards equality. May we all work together to keep the focus on the important truths. To learn how to reconcile. To build friendships, ask questions in earnest. To realize our privilege. To recognize and honour the sacrifices of so many. May we turn to the wisdom of the Indigenous communities, and hold space for them to take the lead on a better way forward. Today we can lament the fall of a pretty building, some memories, and a slice of history, but it should not detract from the bigger narrative. The thousands of unmarked graves, generations of trauma and the lost and stolen children that deserve our tears and attention far more than some old timbers and stones.
Let’s let today be a sad day, a terrible day, but not another tragedy.

Savanah Hope

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