“Stuck in Limbo” (a fictional letter from a Semiahmoo woman) by Zaynab Baksh
Canada recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, but the history of this land started thousands of years before that. The relationship between European colonizers and the indigenous peoples of Canada has been filled with years of abuse and suffering. It is only in recent years that the country has began publicly facing the truth, such as with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in 2008.
This is a work of fiction that my sister, Zaynab Baksh, wrote and submitted to the 2017 Government of Canada History Awards. Reconciliation with indigenous peoples was one of the five topics. She won an award of $1,000 for her submission, masha Allah.
Dear Mr. Justin Trudeau,
I am a Semiahmoo Firsts Nations woman and I am writing you this letter to ask for your help. I know there is only so much you can do, but I just want you to listen to my story, to know what I have been through. My story starts with residential schools. Now, before you point out, as everyone else does, that residential schools happened years ago, know that it doesn’t matter. I f the Wright brothers hadn’t designed the first flying object, we wouldn’t have planes today, so yes, the past matters.I was one of the last children to go through St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay, BC. I was 14 when it closed in 1975. I didn’t know how to feel about it closing. I knew I should have been happy that it was over. That I could go home. That I didn’t have to stay there anymore.
But honestly? I didn’t care. I had two more years to go before I would have been sent home, anyways. You are probably thinking that’s two years I didn’t have to spend at St. Michael’s, but the truth is that those two years didn’t change anything. I was already broken by then. I remember one day after St. Michael’s closed, I was talking with a woman and somehow, we ended up talking about how I used to be at St. Michael’s. She must have noticed I wasn’t jumping up and down at the fact that it was closed because she asked me why I wasn’t happy that I didn’t have to stay there anymore. I told her that it didn’t matter. The damage was already done. Closing the schools didn’t change anything that was done to me.I will never forget her reply. She looked at me and said, “But isn’t that what you wanted? I protested in the freezing cold for you people. Why aren’t you grateful?”
I turned and walked away. I shouldn’t have. I should have stayed and told her exactly the type of a-hole she was. I should have told her everything that I have been through. Freezing in the cold has nothing on my pain.People don’t understand. I am grateful to all the people that protested for all of us in residential schools. Grateful that residential schools no longer exist. That my children will never have to go through the nightmare I had to go through.
But none of that changes the fact that it took me ten years after St. Michael’s was closed to convince myself that being ‘Indian’ isn’t bad. That I still have to remind myself that I am not going to hell because my parents raised me believing in the spirits. That I couldn’t stand a man hugging me for five years after St. Michaels. Not even my father.
It took me getting married for that to change. It took my beautiful baby girl birth for me to value myself as an ‘Indian’. watched my baby grow from a red, squealing mess into a smart, confident woman. The kind of woman I wish I had been. She was the pride of my life. But I never even got to see her graduate university or get married or have a squealing mess of her own. Because she was kidnapped. And nobody did anything.
I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she is dead or alive, but I do know one thing. There is a possibility that she is being hurt the way I was at St. Michaels. A possibility that my baby girl is being starved, beaten and raped. And I can’t bear it.Her father, my husband, couldn’t take it either. So, he took his own life. He was the one who gave me back myself. The one who gave me the ability to hug my father. To kiss him. He was the one who gave me my daughter. And he is gone forever. I tried to do it, too. But I couldn’t.
I’ve stood in front of ropes. I’ve laid on my bed with bottles of pills in my hand. I’ve sat in my bathroom with knives pressed to my wrist. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t die without knowing what happened to my baby. I am not even living. You can’t call what I am doing living. I am in a limbo. Not able to live without my husband and my daughter, but not able to die without knowing what happened to my baby.
When I was a little girl, I wanted a beautiful white wedding dress and a tiara. I never got it. Instead, I got a small wedding with my parents and my fiancé’s parents. He did that for me because he knew that I wouldn’t be able to kiss him that day. He married me even though he knew I couldn’t sleep in the same room as him. He took me as a broken, lost creature and he made me into a mother. I owe everything to him and my daughter. And they are both gone.
I don’t know why I am even writing this to you. I guess I just want you to understand. I want you to know what I went through. And I want you to help me. I want you to find my daughter. I know she is more than likely not alive, but I need to know what happened to her. I can’t ever die peacefully unless I know what happened to my squealing mess of a baby.
I want you to find her. Her and all the other indigenous girls that are lost somewhere while their parents are stuck in limbos. And then, I want you to give us a voice. I want you to make sure that every single teacher in every single school teaches the story of our losses. Not because I want your sympathy. I don’t want your sympathy. And, frankly, the fact that you think your sympathy is worth me exposing all the things in my life that I am don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing is pathetic. And self-centered. I want you to do this because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else’s daughters.
Nobody stopped any of the horrors experienced by us and our daughters. So, I beg you, please don’t let this happen to anybody else’s squealing mess.
Indigenous Mothers Everywhere