“For Whom The Bell Tolls”

”It must 50 years since I talked to George Clutesi in his neat cottage home on Somass River Road in Port Alberni. I was a newcomer in the Albernis having been transferred to the Valley to open a news bureau for the Nanaimo Free Press.

The newspaper had ambitions way back then to spread its new daily wings beyond the Hub City. The Free Press no longer exists; its expansion plans in the Alberni Valley and later Courtenay wrecked by the Internet and other electronic marvels.

My new home with four children and a fifth due in a few months was on Stirling Arm on Sproat Lake not far from the old and famous water bombers, which provided wonderful entertainment during pre-fire season practice and during high fire years when local forest fires kept the flyers busy.

It was a great spot for raising children and a short drive to and from work, shops and schools, and George Clutesi – artist, actor, movie star, and a treasure chest on Tseshaht Nation’s legends and history – was a new-in-town-newsman’s dream. I was not a frequent visitor nor could I ever boast I was a close friend. I was one of those annoying acquaintances who dropped in unannounced occasionally, made myself at home – and was always made to feel welcome.

I’ve been calling George to mind in recent days as I have ploughed through the thousands of pages comprising the report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, published a couple of years ago.

It contains a lot of George Clutesi’s thinking, although he died in 1988, sometime before the Commission report was published and morphed into the permanent National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

One of the themes echoing Clutesi thinking has to do with revenge for the evils perpetrated (and placidly accepted as valid by the people) imposed by white governors as they tried to whip the aboriginal tribes of Canada into sub-servant replicas of their proclaimed masters’ society.

I asked George why young aboriginal Canadians were so hang-dog submissive; why they tended to step to one side on a downtown sidewalk to give white folk clear passage. He politely saidI was misreading their feeling. He said it was sometimes a serious challenge holding the young bloods in check. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report echoes that warning with the oft-repeated theme that its emphasis is, and will always be, on reconciliation, not revenge.

And I’m wondering if the majority of white people feel that way. John Donne (1572-1631) once wrote: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Next time you hear them, ringing “from sea to shining sea” in Canada, remember the answer.

One comment

  1. Revenge only begets more revenge, and each act must be an escalation of the previous if its impact is to be felt. That’s often how wars begin.

    Aboriginal Canadians are wise enough to see the folly in such behaviour even when white folks do not.

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