***The most recent post in the deconstruction turned my thoughts down some dark paths. Specifically about tragedy and loss, and the grief of survivors. Be warned, this post will include discussions of suicide and the death of young people. The fact that Douglas Bland hasn’t seen fit to consider these subjects makes it all the more important that we do.***
A few years back, I was teaching on a Basic Military Qualification (BMQ) course. About a week into training, we got news that another recruit (who wasn’t on this particular course but was known to many of our candidates) had taken his own life. The news hit like a fucking bombshell.
Even worse was how the news broke. Turns out one of the troops had their phone on them (even though they weren’t supposed to) and found out from a friend before any of the staff heard about it. The news then got passed along to other recruits who knew the young man before any of the staff even had a clue what was happening. So our first warning that something was wrong came when we saw a couple of our troops break down for no apparent reason.
After that, it was running around, stamping out one fire after another. No sooner had one group of recruits been looked after than someone else would get hit by the reality of the situation. And as this was happening all of us officers and NCOs were dealing with our own shock. I remember at one point, talking about the whole ‘five stages of grief’ with a group of recruits who’d been friends with the troop. Halfway through, I trailed off, realizing that pretty much everyone in the room had settled into a numb silence and wasn’t really listening.
So we just sat quietly for a bit.
This past spring there was a bus crash in Saskatchewan. A Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) team, the Humboldt Broncos, were coming home from a game when their bus had a collision an eighteen wheeler at an isolated intersection. Sixteen people on the team bus (five adults and eleven players) were killed, with the rest suffering a whole spectrum of injuries, while the truck driver escaped without serious harm. The town of Humboldt has a population of about five thousand. In an instant they lost eleven young men, all from the same generation. Not to mention five older people who were, by all accounts, pillars of their small community.
News of just one death went off like a bomb in the small world of the Ottawa-area Militia. Something like this must have been like a tactical nuke. The thing that’s not always realized at first is that, with a tragedy of this scale even the people not directly connected to it will suffer. A person could be driving to work in the morning, shaking their head at the news on the radio, only to be plunged into crisis as they find themselves unexpectedly comforting a grieving co-worker. Someone they may not have know was connected to the crash. In a flash they would have to become impromptu social workers, providing a shoulder to cry on and trying to find right thing to say.
Even when you don’t have a personal stake in a tragedy it’s possible to be caught up in the fallout.
Some years back there was a guest speaker at a Carleton University class that I was taking. An Indigenous woman who had grown up in the era known as ‘the Sixties Scoop.’ This was a time period when First Nations children were regularly forcibly taken from their families for adoption into ‘white’ families and the Residential School system was going full force. She was one of the lucky ones, because her father was a Chief in her Band, so she and her siblings were kept safe and on the reserve, but far too many of her peers weren’t.
She described one occasion where an aunt of her had a complication while giving birth to twins and had to be rushed to the hospital down south. He father wasn’t able to get to the hospital in time to protect his sister-in-law and so the two babies were taken away to foster care and eventual adoption. The woman never got to see her children before they were gone.
Their Band was lucky in that the Residential School that many of their kids were sent to wasn’t too bad (in that it wasn’t actively abusive), but according to the research she’d managed to carry out years later, as much as 70% of the Band’s children were gone at any given time for almost a twenty year period. Most of those kids returned, and the majority weren’t too badly scarred. But some of them just vanished forever, and there was no rhyme or reason as to who got lucky.
They literally lived a Humboldt Broncos crash for the better part of an entire generation.
The last post in the deconstruction was delayed by a couple of days, and part of this was because it got me thinking along some really dark paths. It’s kind of ironic, but Bland’s constant repetition of basic demographic information about First Nations populations set me onto a path where I was thinking about loss. Both on an intimate, local level, and larger.
According to the last post, Manitoba’s First Nations population was estimated as 70,000 on reserve, and maybe 26,000 in Winnipeg itself. There wasn’t any hard numbers given for the small-town population, but according to Statistics Canada the total number of people identifying as Indigenous numbers around 130,000 so there’s likely a whole scattering of small to medium sized populations across the small rural towns in the Province. The Metis population could add another 30-50,000 although that would be harder to judge.
There’s a lot of fine detail to parse, so let’s use a rough estimate of around 150,000 people who might be part of a Movement-supporting community.
Just based on the numbers Bland’s using, and some rough estimates about what should be needed for the tasks he’s planning, he’s positing a scenario where perhaps as much as five percent of the First Nations’ total population in Manitoba may be committed to a fight. One in twenty of every man, woman or child committed to a fight that, even if successful, could leave so many of them dead.
Wars are fought by the young, particularly by the young, able-bodied people with few familial responsibilities to tie them down. The part of any given population that is most able, and most at liberty to do good or bad in their parent society. While a large enough community or nation is able to weather even a major loss to this cohort, when that loss occurs it seems to hit with even more poignancy than normal.
Personally I think that on a subconscious level it’s impossible not to see the loss of potential. The child at this point, has grown into a young adult and it’s finally possible to actually see, not just imagine, the kind of person they’ve become and the kind of life they may have ahead of them.
And then it’s gone.
On the 1st of July 1916, as the First World War raged and the Western Front entered one of its bloodiest and most futile phases, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment went over the top in a sector of the Somme valley known as Beaumont Hamel.
Held back from the initial assault as a reserve force, they were committed to the attack as the first wave of what became known as the Battle of the Somme was literally cut to shreds. By the time the Newfoundlanders climbed out of their trenches, the Germans opposing them had re-constituted their defences after a withering artillery bombardment and the detonation of a mine under their position. They had spotted the lanes through the barbed wire that the first wave had used, and snipers were easily able to distinguish the officers, who wore forge caps instead of helmets and didn’t carry rifles.
The result was a slaughter. In less time than it likely took you to read this post, the Newfoundlanders suffered horrific casualties just trying to reach and then cross their own barbed wire. The final disaster came as the survivors emerged into No-Man’s Land, leaderless and disorganized. As is the case with human psychology, the advancing soldiers instinctively converged on a lone, blasted tree. The only landmark along their line of advance. It was around this tree that the last survivors of the Regiment were cut down. The fact that it was the only landmark meant that the German machine guns had registered it as a target long before the battle had begun.
Out of nearly eight hundred soldiers who reported at roll call that morning, barely fifty reported as present the morning after. That tree where so many of their comrades had fallen would come to be known as the Danger Tree.
In 1949, the Dominion of Newfoundland would officially vote to join confederation as the tenth Province of Canada. The birthday of their new nation, the 1st of July, would be tinged with the memory of tragedy and loss.
In my last post, Bland has his NPA commander Sam Stevenson, confidently assert that the Movement had the support of the people, even if they didn’t have that of the elders. Do a bit of math. A person who would be considered an elder in the time that Uprising takes place would have been an older child or young adult during the sixties. They would have experienced the pain. They would have seen a generation lost already.
The possibility of such a tragedy repeating itself is unimaginable.
Could these elders reach out to the young warriors, caught up in the ideology of the Movement and dreaming of victory? Hard to say. Young people are notoriously good at committing themselves to risk without any thoughts to the consequences. I know I was back in the day.
It’s possible that, should a real-life Uprising come about, that Bland will be proven right. That the young people might reject their elders and embrace a nihilistic vision of ethno-nationalism as articulated by a real life Molly Grace. It’s possible that the elders of the Uprising-era First Nations will watch in horror as another generation vanishes.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to say that just contemplating the loss gives me pause. I’ve never personally experienced something like a lost generation. I’ve been lucky in that the loss I’ve seen has always been closer and smaller in scale. The idea of an entire generation of young people lost to a community already struggling through so much? I don’t know…
All I know is that Bland doesn’t seem to have considered these losses at all.
***Today’s featured image is of the Newfoundland Regiment’s memorial at Beaumont-Hamel. Source.***
 Yeah I know, but I couldn’t think of anything better to say.
 It only gets worse when you realize that there nothing you can say that’ll help. Most of the times you’re just stuck there saying “I’m so sorry,” and wishing frantically that there was something more to do.
 The Metis population adds close to another 90,000 but Stats Canada doesn’t differentiated between members of the Metis nations and people claiming a certain amount on Indigenous heritage without identifying as part of a specific nation.
 We’ve estimated BG Riel alone could include 700-1,000 warriors, meaning that it would represent something like 0.5-0.7% on its own. That’s a pretty major chunk of the population that will literally be in the middle of the worst fighting. And that’s just one of (maybe?) 4-5 Battle Groups that’s supposed to be operating in the region.