It was a historic event. For four days we gathered at Selkirk College for workshops, went to Nelson for a film, were fed delicious food lovingly prepared by the Doukhobor ladies at the Brilliant Cultural Centre, listened to informed and inspirational speakers, and were entertained by some of the best in the business. The Our Way Home Reunion was born out of a desire to acknowledge the thousands upon thousands of war resisters who came to Canada during the Vietnam War, and the Canadians who assisted them.
Our Way Home opened Thursday morning, July 6, with a workshop that was designed to foster dialogue between Vietnam veterans and Vietnam war resisters. I had another commitment on Thursday and couldn't go, unfortunately. I understand it was very healing for many of the participants. I did go the movie Thursday night in Nelson, when Sir! No! Sir! played at the Capitol Theatre. I'd just seen Escape to Canada, and this movie was an effective counterpoint. It was the perfect introduction to the rest of the weekend.
I joined the conference Friday at lunch, served downstairs at Cultural Centre. Lunch was a colourful variety of salads, whole wheat rolls, a variety pack of squares, plus juice and tea or coffee. Lunch was prepared by the Doukhabor ladies who are always cooking something at the Brilliant Cultural Centre. What a fabulous space. The last time I was there was for Polly-from-next-door's funeral. It was November 19, easy to remember because that's the anniversary of when Ted crashed the plane and subsequently lost his leg. We entered the main room at the Centre, and the pew-like benches were set up perpendicular to the stage, in two rows with an aisle in between, men on the left, women on the right. One of the women who was sitting in the midde of the pew beckoned me over and patted the seat beside her, for which I shall be forever grateful. The men were singing in Russian, their powerful voices reverberating off the walls and through the room.
Dan and Judie came to Polly's funeral too, because when Judie and Ted moved to the property in Ootischenia back in the 70's, one of the things that came with it were Mike and Polly. Keepers of the land, they helped the young couple from the city by explaining how things were (Mike) and doling out the occasional jar of borsch ("Is not soup, Tyed, is borsch!").
I wasn't around yet when she was living next door. I only met her when she was living in a Baba house in Naramata, in the mid-nineties, and then again when she moved back to Castlegar and was living at Talarico Place, getting the regular nursing care and assistance she now needed. She used to call Ted every so often, wanting him to come visit. Once she asked him to "bring camera", and when we got there she was wearing her beautiful platok (shawl, like that worn by the women in the Doukhabor Women's Choir on Sunday), one with flowers embroidered on it, and she wanted Ted to take her picture in it.
The woman I was sitting beside whispered that people were going up to pay their respect to Polly and her family, so away I went. When I got to the first person who's hand I was going to shake, I introduced myself by saying, "I'm Linda Crosfield, Ted's wife", not knowing that only minutes before, in order to simplify things when introducing herself, Judie had said, "I'm Judie Crosfield, Ted's wife"! We got a good chuckle out of that later on, when we were all eating the funeral borsch downstairs. Which segues nicely back to lunch, as prepared by the ladies, after which we went upstairs and listened to a panel, Social Activist Leaders Responding In a Time of Crisis, moderated by Seth Klein, BC Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, with panelists Tom Hayden, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Brewster Kneen, and his articulate wife, Kathleen. Svend Robinson had to cancel at the last moment.
Here are some pictures from the weekend.
People like Tom Hayden came. Here he is, talking to the media, while Kyle Snyder and his lady look on. Kyle is one of the new wave of resisters. He's been to Iraq. He was not impressed. He'd like to stay in Canada. I hope we let him. This picture is interesting in that on the wall in the background you can see a very wide black and white photograph. It is a picture of the Doukhobors, taken in the early part of the 20th century, in Ootischenia, where I live. Then you have Hayden, one of the Chicago Seven in the sixties, and Kyle, who represents what is happening now.
Meet one of my favourite war resisters, Ernest Hekkanen: writer, artist, publisher of The New Orphic Review, and self-described heretic, who will display, in his yard, at his home, the infamous bronze statue that caused such a furor. Nelson and Castlegar both decided they couldn't deal with the potential...what? bad press? boycott by tourists?...and declined to have the statue on any official site in their respective municipalities. The Doukhabor Village Museum across from the airport in Castlegar agreed to take it, but Castlegar City Council decided they couldn't. I'm simplifying the course of events here, but this is a 25-words-or-less blog, so deal with it! (That's Holly Near in the background, over his left (where else?) shoulder.)
What statue? This one, being unveiled, depicts a man and a woman coming from the States and a Canadian welcoming them. Artists Naomi Lewis and Denis Kleine created the sculpture, called "The Welcoming". What I loved at the unveiling was the fellow in the front right who kept jumping up and taking pictures. He was wearing a shirt with a picture of John Lennon on the back. Gave me shivers when I saw it.
Many of the participants of the conference got their picture taken with the statue. Here we have Keith Mather, of Veterans for Peace, who was a facilitator in a writing workshlp, Tom Little, a peace worker and a friend of mine, and me.
Arun Ghandi introduced Saturday's keynote speaker, George McGovern. George is 83 now. One wonders what the world might be like had he won the presidential election when he ran against Nixon in 1972. Americans don't like switching presidents when a war is going on. Seems like a good reason to have one, if you're a president. You get to stay at the helm longer.
McGovern's campaign slogan was "COME HOME, AMERICA". He was referring to the soldiers in Vietnam, a war he vehemently opposed. Look at the T-shirt the fellow in the lower right of the picture is wearing. Look, and remember.
Could there have been a more perfect place than Brilliant to hold this event?
(Below) Listening to Rabbi Michael Lerner: Ernest Hekkanen, —writer, artist, publisher; Myler Wilkinson, writer, professor; Ted Crosfield, wood turner; Arun Gandhi, peace advocate; Jules Delaney, —sculptor of ice and stone.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc, "the girl in the picture". You know the one. She was nine, she'd been burnt by napalm, and she was running down a road, her mouth open in what looks like Edvard Munch's "The Scream". She survived, in itself a miracle. And eventually she wound up in Canada, attracted by the possibility of freedom. She's flanked by two Doukhobor ladies who are wearing traditional outfits because they were singing in the choir.