Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

A Personal Journey toward Reconciliation

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

A Personal Journey toward Reconciliation

Article excerpt

I begin this article with a broken heart after finding out several days ago about the death of a young man, Wilfred Amos Jr., from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley, near Banff, Alberta, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. The youngest child of a large family, he was the same age as many of his nephews and nieces, who often called him "Uncle Babe."

His family traces its lineage to Chief Jacob Bearspaw, one of the signatories to Treaty 7. The Stoney Nakoda First Nation is made up of three bands (Bearspaw, Chiniquay and Wesley), each of which has its own chief and councilors. In 1877, at Blackfoot Crossing, east of Calgary, Alberta, the three Nakoda chiefs were numbered among the First Nations signatories of Treaty 7, along with representatives of Queen Victoria.

When a group of Bahá'í friends from off-reserve first met Wilfred's family, his mother Caroline told us, "You know, we're really good people. We never drink, and we always teach our children to pray." This touched my heart very much. Wilfred attended our Bahá'í children's classes and several of our children and youth summer camps at Sylvan Lake Bahá'í Centre in Central Alberta. We had annual picnics with his family and other friends. Wilfred and several cousins, nieces, and nephews were close friends. They loved to lip-sync and play musical instruments in a small old house they called "Amos Hall." When Bahá'í Shabnam Tashakour and her husband, Travis Birch, lived in Calgary, where Travis was a dancer with the Alberta Ballet, he taught the youth some step dance moves. Once he took them to the Alberta Ballet practice studio so they could dance in front of a full-length mirror. A few off-reserve Bahá'ís attended their performances in Amos Hall.

The Amos family made a big effort to support the youth, and they tried to ward off pressures to consume alcohol and drugs from others on the reserve. One night, people from the reserve torched Amos Hall. 1 ndeterred, the youth bought new equipment and began to use another old house, but again, some people stole the new equipment. We studied part of Ruhi Book One1 in that house with four youth from the reserve, including Wilfred, and a couple of youth and several adults living off-reserve. Over the years, a few Bahá'ís from communities surrounding the Stoney Nakoda First Nation have participated in activities with the Bahá'ís on the reserve.

When the youth of this family reached their mid-teen years, things went a little crazy and they succumbed to peer pressure, getting into drugs and alcohol despite the positive example set by the family, who made constant efforts to help them get back on the straight and narrow. Most of the youth did, but Wilfred couldn't escape the grips of addiction. In the end, after some years of alcohol abuse, he was a victim of manslaughter.

At the time of his death, he was still deeply grieving the early death of an older brother, as well as the passing of his own mother and father, all within the space of three years. Wilfred was the father of two young children, with whose mother he had an unhealthy onagain, off-again relationship. He made efforts to seek counseling, though he never got into treatment. He tried to stay sober for his children during their last Christmas together. During his last summer, he stayed for a time on the Big Horn Reserve with his sister and family. He went hunting and even shot an elk. After they dried the meat, the family was able to sell it to obtain badly needed money for groceries.

I give all these details about Wilfred because this is what is in my heart at this time. Though we hear so many stories about the deplorable conditions in Indigenous communities, Wilfred was not a statistic. He was a kind and gentle young man. He spoke his language fluently. His death cut short a life that should have been full of promise-the kind of life every youth in our land should have. As the deterioration of society proceeds rapidly at the family, community, and institutional levels, as Shoghi Effendi said it would2, Canada's Indigenous communities suffer disproportionately from conditions of injustice and oppression. …

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