Waubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist from Wasauksing First Nation on Georgian Bay. He has written three fiction titles, and his short stories and essays have been published in numerous anthologies. His most recent novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, was published in 2018 and became a national bestseller. He spent the bulk of his journalism career at CBC, most recently as host of Up North, the afternoon radio program for northern Ontario. He lives in Sudbury with his wife and sons.
A few weeks ago Waub celebrated the birth of his second son, Ayaabehns. In a letter to his newborn son, Waub introduces him to the world he now inhabits and the hopes he has for the future.
The first month of your life has been historic, my son. You entered a world in the midst of great upheaval. A worldwide sickness has ravaged communities and sent societies into isolation. A social revolution to support Black lives and end racism has mobilized people around the world into action. And your birth into a healthy and happy Anishinaabe family is a triumph for your people and your culture.
When your mother and I first learned about you, we couldn’t have imagined what the world would become by the time you finally arrived. We lived a peaceful and comfortable life with your big brother in our Anishinaabe homelands of what’s otherwise called northern Ontario. We were thrilled that you’d be joining us, and we prepared our family and home with love and care. You and your mother hit all the important milestones in a healthy way, and it seemed as routine as it could possibly be.
But with just three months before your anticipated birth, a global pandemic was declared. We didn’t know what that would mean for your arrival. We isolated with your brother at home as best as we could. We became a little frightened. Still, you brought us hope and joy just by making your way to us. We knew you would be a wonderful blessing to our family, just as your brother was.
Many people responded to the pandemic by finding ways to make their communities better. They talked about how they could better grow food and share it with everyone. Some took initiative to teach themselves better skills to help their families and the people around them. It became a hopeful era of renewal, all while staring down the end of the world as we know it. You became a new beginning for our family in so many ways.
And then, tragically, a man named George Floyd was murdered by police in a city far from us. He was yet another Black person to die at the hands of police. It was the latest heartbreak for a collective community that has been historically brutalized by authorities on this land. I’m sorry to tell you this is the reality for Black and Indigenous people like you in the world you are entering. You’ll eventually learn of the injustices your own Anishinaabe ancestors have survived.
But the response to this senseless death has been nothing short of revolutionary. The Black Lives Matter movement has swept the globe and prompted widespread social change, from institutional overhaul to address systemic racism, to the toppling of statues of historic racist figures. You will still experience racism in your childhood, but it will thankfully pale compared to what I endured growing up in the 1980s and 90s.
You will also learn that Black and Indigenous people walk parallel paths and survive similar struggles. And in the moments that our tracks do converge, we are much stronger together. That spirit of unity is growing already powerful in your young life, and it’s an example for communities and nations everywhere. Whether we’re collectively facing deadly forces like a pandemic or racism, coming together is the ultimate expression of resilience and survival.
And your name in your people’s language is survival, too. So are the few Anishinaabemowin words and phrases I share with you every day. I promise to be a fluent speaker before you become a young man. This language wasn’t supposed to survive, nor was your culture or history because of what Canada did to us. But here you are, already resisting and thriving. You are our light, our inspiration, and along with your generation and each that follows, this land’s great hope.
G’zaagin! I love you!
G’dehdeh (your dad)
Waubgeshig Rice visits Brockton Writers Series via GDTV on Wednesday, July 8, 2020 starting at 8:30pm alongside Kamila Rina, Ryanne Kap, and Marlo K. Shaw.