Every Child Matters
We feel great sadness, rage, loss and damage at the knowledge of indigenous children whose bodies are being uncovered at former residential schools, but we know it can’t stop there. Returning the children home is important, and engaging with reconciliation and healing involves a meaningful set of actions. Our dance practices offer ways of bringing attention to collective stories of place. To bring justice we who are not indigenous have to feel injustice and understand that collaboration is to help carry grief and loss with indigenous people. To bring justice is to know that wounds are reopened, and to ask our indigenous friends, are you okay right now? For white people the action is often to listen, to humble oneself, to be quiet, and to enter a collective story with indigenous people.
Seónagh grew up in Vancouver where she learned from indigenous elders in ceremony. She believes some of the work of reconciliation in dance is to help connect us with important stories of our landscapes. For example, in 2009-2010 Seónagh received a Canada Council Grant to make a healing water dance on Salt Spring Island, and the dance at St Mary Lake was guided and blessed by Coast Salish elder, Florence James from Penelakut Island. Florence also influenced another of Seónagh's dance works about some of the smallest water creatures of our ecosystem, and Florence blessed the dance in 2012 when Seónagh presented at a festival in Vancouver.
Now on Salt Spring Island we hold sacred ground at our Salish Seas retreat space, and we are actively listening for opportunities to collaborate, and to connect with elders from Penelakut or other nearby communities. We are committed to helping carry the stories of grief and loss, and we know every child matters. We are also committed to hope, reconciliation, and to hearing and recording what elders need or want to share with future generations.
We seek to honour the lives of children who were ripped from their families. May all of our attention to this sadness and our listening help remove the justifications of violence, remove delays of communicating and upholding justice, cultural determination and freedom for indigenous people.
Our first project about Every Child Matters took place in Edmonton during October 2021, a few months after the first grisly discovery of 215 children's bodies found at Kamloops. This project was conceived as a collaboration between Seónagh and founding school administrator of Inner City School, Joe Cloutier. Joe and Seónagh became good friends after we were brought together by our longtime friend and board member, Ghandian activist/educator Reva Joshee. The dance piece, pictured below, was performed outside in Edmonton's Indigenous Park, and was choreographed in collaboration with the students and staff at Inner City High to honour the lives of all children whose bodies were found at residential schools. Teachers on campus worked with Seónagh and the drama group to create “tableaus” of movement that honoured and responded to this crisis. Working with the movement and stories brought in by the students, Seónagh helped expand and develop the movement for a dance piece. The project was supported by school elder, Marjorie, and by other elders, powwow singers and a jingle dress dancer from the community.