With the advent of the Saturday, October 13 Toronto Star article ‘How a high school brawl exposed an ugly divide on Manitoulin Island’ detailing the events surrounding the recent outbreak of violence at Manitoulin Secondary School, many Islanders are finding themselves at loose ends, feeling their community has been inked into a lexicon comparable to the racially charged atmosphere of a Thunder Bay or Kenora. But that is certainly not the impression of anyone who walked into Little Current’s Royal Canadian Legion during the recent search for a missing 15-year-old girl.
The missing youth was Anishinabe, but there was no colour divide to be found among the more than 100 volunteers who came out to spend their day walking the forest, swamps, soggy fields and docks in an effort to locate that young person. A parent’s grief and terror galvanized the Island community. There was no set age among the searchers. Young, old, middle-aged, men, women, non-gender identified, there was only one overriding consideration—to find a missing Island child who disappeared from home without a trace for days.
This is the Manitoulin Island that we know. It is too bad that this isn’t the Manitoulin Island that too many readers of the Toronto Star will associate with our Island home. It isn’t that the Toronto Star article was not accurate, the writer did an admirable job for someone looking into a community from the outside. It isn’t that there are not problems and we are certainly not immune from racism. But the MSS incident was a situation where teenaged (and a few adults) tempers escalated into what in the end was relatively minor, albeit widespread, violence that is no stranger to most high schools. There are plenty of communities whose readers the Toronto Star serves that have far deeper and more serious problems.
That is not to condone systemic racism, to pretend that it doesn’t exist or to attempt to sweep the very real problems that exist under the carpet. But a little perspective might not hurt.
The incident at MSS does not define who we are or who we, in our best moments, aspire to be.
A far better reflection can be found in the volunteers with soaking wet feet coming home to their warm hearths after a fruitless search that they would still gladly repeat until the missing child was found. This Island’s soul can be better delved by reflecting on those businesses that offered up a warm beverage and a dry haven in which searchers could take a break from their efforts. It can be found in the churches where congregations prayed for a safe return, and where prayers of thanks were offered up upon learning that a child had been found and was recovering in hospital.
There will be those who will seek to place blame, those who will spread rumour and malicious gossip, nasty tales to fill a void, conjectures to intrude on a family which is still reeling from unimaginable stress and grief. Let that not be who we are.
It is to be hoped that our soul will also be found in a community that opens its arms and its hearts to embrace the lost who are now found. Let us enfold those who are suffering and let that be who and what we aspire to be.
There are far too many missing and murdered women in this country whose families have not had their most fervent prayers realized in the return of their loved one into their arms. Let us rejoice and be glad, grateful for those friends, neighbours and even strangers who make up our caring and inclusive community. We may still have much work to do, but we also have much to be proud of in our communities. Let’s build on that.