Cliff Standingready conducts a smudging ceremony, held recently at the E.A. Lovell Continuing Education Centre. The ceremony is used to remember the lives of those who died in Canada’s residential schools.
By Geoff Zochodne/The Oshawa Express
Cliff Standingready stood in the basement of the E.A. Lovell Continuing Education Centre, fanning burnt sage over the tiles that represented his fallen brethren.
The silence was pierced but once, for a crow that cawed.
Standingready looked up and acknowledged it, a surreal sign during such a sombre ceremony.
Standing Buffalo Warrior, Standingready’s spirit name, was at the school to perform a smudging ceremony. Students sat around him in a circle as he burnt sage and spread the smoke over the participants and the small tiles they had made.
The subject matter of the speech Standingready made brought more than a few members of his audience to tears.
At a young age, Standingready was forced to live in one of Canada’s residential schools for native children. Crammed into a tiny room with hundreds of other boys, the close quarters bred disease. A single cough could turn into an epidemic in the tight confines, he explains.
He watched as his friends were beaten and raped by the elder members of the institution. Standingready was even beaten with a machine belt. Those that tried to run had no survival skills, because they only knew the world of the school, and they died trying to make their way home. Such is the reason why Standingready and the students participated in the smudging, to remember the dead.
“In the great circle of life this is a tremendous loss,” says Standingready.
“We have lost the potential of these children. They were denied the chance for the kind of life we enjoy today.”
Standingready’s presence was part of Project of Heart’s remembrance course. Participating schools, like E.A. Lovell, decorate tiles, with each one representing a life lost at a residential school. The tiles are then sent on to Ottawa, where they will be displayed in a mosaic.
Even those that survived the residential schools are often cursed by them and perpetuate the “legacy of abuse” they instigated, says Standingready. His own experience created an unflattering portrait of himself in later years.
Firing hockey pucks at a son, who wore no pads, to discourage him from wanting to play goalie. Speeding his car down Highway 400 and preparing to turn the wheel and his car in order to bring on a fatal crash. These are the emotions the residential schools instilled in him and what he has spent his life trying to dispel.
“There is in these children, also, the abusers had they lived. Their destiny laced with abuse towards their families. So conditioned they would have been,” says Standingready.
“We survivors are the witnesses to those children who did not survive. We are living legacies to that suffering. And we suffer with them.”
Finally, aware of how his actions were hurting himself and his loved ones, Standingready decided to purge them. Entering a sweat lodge, he sat there for hours until he could find a suitable route to catharsis. The lodge conductor provided him with a simple answer:
And that is what Standingready has done. He wrote a book, “Children of the Creator” and continues to speak about the sad legacy the residential schools have left.
Standingready sung and played his drum for the students. Then he slowly blessed the tiles they had made with the sage.
“From that indefinable place they (the victims of residential schools) have returned to seek justice,” explaied Standingready as he began the ceremony.
“When I smudge these tiles we give those children their lives. What we do on this side we do on their side.”