Confessions of an Idle Retiree, Pricked by Irony

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

First, Some Personal Catching Up

I’m not sure if my experience with laziness is drawing to a close.  I kind of hope so.  If I were to become a more purpose-driven person, several hours a day might metamorphose into Useful Activity.  My only aim for weeks has been to do mostly what I want and to notice the consequences.  I expected the voices of chiding, warning, judging:  familiar old friends, bearing traces of mother, teacher, counselor, priest.   But if I could handle those and continue being lazy, would voices of my own poke through? What would they say?  Would I end up needing to develop an agenda?

This is immoral!  To any reader who has to force herself out of bed in the morning, keep running all day, pick up the groceries in time, respond to the needs of others until blessed rest comes all too late at night – forgive me.  I know the world needs help.  And I may still have some left to give.  But it’s not been the case this month.  I haven’t felt a heavy weight of guilt.

What Does Laziness Look Like?

I sleep as long and as often as I want, stay in touch with friends, prepare and eat one good meal a day, hang with my husband four-five hours a day, keep up with the complicated garbage routine (5 kinds in St. Catharines!), read as much as possible, engage with our two cats for a little while every day, and stay reasonably clean.   A book group, some exercise, and weekly coffee with a local friend are the spice of life.

Sounds Kind of Fat-Cat, Right?

So what would I do if I decided to galvanize my energies?  Return to writing this blog in some kind of routine, pull together available materials for one of the books I have in mind to author, make stuff with my hands (knit, sew), continue to play with and find ways to enhance the 60 years of photos we’ve taken, pay attention to what would spruce up the back and front gardens – all of which I love to do but don’t get around to so far in 2013.

There are community tasks befitting a retiree, suited to my skills.  There’s an Out of the Cold here in St. Catharines, several hospices that welcome volunteers in palliative care, local schools can use library helpers, and nursing homes can always use visitors.

Along comes a siren call…

But something has happened to suddenly prick this lazy balloon.  Idle No More shot the arrow.

I have for decades had the white man/woman’s attachment to romantic images of First Nations.

Attachment to the land: many many summer months in the Laurentian and Gatineau Mountains penetrated my city bones with a love of the delicious solitude of the forests; finding spots where the sun breaks through, seeing multiple shades of green, being filled with stillness broken by gentle forest sounds.  Being alone on the water, moving stealthily along a shoreline, listening – is this what it was once like for people living here hundreds of years ago?  No matter that I am still a tourist, having no dependence on the mastery of forest living – like many immigrant offspring, I have a powerful attraction to the land.

A University friend, daughter of the Chief at Kanesetake, introduced me to my (unwitting) colonial attitudes.  A friend, yes, but not a sister.

For fourteen years with Out of the Cold I was privileged to engage in late-night conversations with the native ‘guests’, mostly without homes, mostly with addictions, from a variety of Ontario reserves – who left to find some kind of future in the City.  The City didn’t work for them.  They were smart about how the system worked and accessed it.  One-on-one talks included wonderful tall tales but occasionally moved on to what felt like truth about the pain of residential schools, adoption, abuse.  I loved the common ironic sense of humour, the quiet patience, the willingness of let silence speak.  I have attended many funerals for aboriginal men I liked a lot.

These individuals hardly represent the majority of native Canadians; they are simply the ones I came to know.  But I’ve never lived with a First Nations person, or visited a rural reserve.  I don’t know much.  But I trust that I genuinely care about the injustice and indifference toward First Nations peoples – past and present.  And have respect for the importance of the land to those who were here first.

So Now?

My own idleness has been pricked and nudged by the Idle No More movement, regardless of the degree of my white-person’s ignorance.  We are faced with the choice to pay attention to the Movement and give it credence, or to continue to turn away from the uncomfortable truth.

My heartfelt view is that WE ARE PART OF A REPRESSION.  WE SUPPORT THE ONGOING COLONIZATION OF FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE if we fail to support them at this time.  The fresh effort by native people – to make clear to our government that they have legitimate grievances which have been dealt with carelessly, with insufficient respect — includes many bright, educated, purposeful younger people.   It’s an important and exciting initiative.

I intend to publish here items that seem worth noting, among all the press being generated.

Words from Kathleen Winter, Canadian poet, and author of Annabel  (2008), a novel.  She writes a lively, rich blog :

12/31/12   Weep not, the world is listening

I learned something about non-violence this weekend when I visited Chief Theresa Spence’s teepee on Victoria Island. Nowhere in her words or in the words of her attendants was there violence of speech toward Stephen Harper, whom many centre and left people love to insult. I heard only respectful requests for his consultation and the only harsh words I saw flung in his direction came from white visitors to the Chief’s encampment. Next to the peaceful intention of the Chief and her people, even the slightest harsh language felt to me like an act of violence, and it made me rethink my own practice concerning the power of words.

Many friends talk of despair in the face of an unyielding federal government when it comes to respect for the land and for rivers and for the essential simplicity of a life grounded in that respect. We talk of weeping, we mention futility. But visiting the site of Chief Spence’s non-violent resistance showed me that our position of standing up for the land is far from futile. Her encampment has a sacred fire, around which native drummers and singers address the very real problems of humanity with a power I think mainstream culture might underestimate.  (See web link above for continuation of Kathleen’s article)


I believe Chief Theresa Spence’s statement to the world last Sunday, December 30th 2012, was a historic speech. I cannot find it transcribed anywhere in mainstream media or online in its entirety. The only place I can see it filmed, whole, is on an alternative online news site whose link I post below with my photos. Thank you to the independent filmmaker who recorded these words in their entirety:

Chief Spence’s statement is contained in Kathleen’s blog of the date.



Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Confessions of an Idle Retiree, Pricked by Irony

  1. Karen Thorpe

    Thankyou so much for the transcript of Theresa Spence’s speech. I have been really moved by her courage and determination and simplicity and i agree that this movement deserves our support.

    Resting in God is a wonderful thing to do and in that stilness we see the beauty, creativity and hope that propels us from deep inside to find the true thing to do with the precious gift of time.

    The thing about resting in God
    It’s a breeze
    We don’t even have to fall down on our knees
    We don’t have to pray in a particular way
    All holy and righteous
    On a particular day.

    We can rest in God while brushing our teeth
    Doing the dishes
    Or walking the streets
    Loving our neighbour, our friend and our foe
    Even loving ourselves – we can rest
    Don’t you know

    The thing about resting in God
    And it really is serious
    If even God rested
    Does that make you

  2. Tammy

    I read your blog and Kathleen Winter’s comments as well as Chief Spence’s speech. This is a difficult problem. Looks as if the Chief has an accounting problem. She has spent 100 million dollars in 5 years. Her clan has only 300 families. That is 60 thousand a year per family. Chief Spense and her partner have been paid 250 thousand per year. I can send you some articles written about this is you would like. The Indian Act is corrupted. The chiefs are corrupt and the communities are impoverished. Maybe Harper will abolish the Indian Act. Corruption is impossible to clean up. It is a tragic situation. Tammy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s