Good Bye Birdie

August 3, 1998
by Ken Stright

Genesis 4:9-10 – Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" And the Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground!"

On April 22 Birdie Cantin died. He was only 66 and he probably died of lung cancer. He is not a household name. He is Anishanabe — a native from the Kenora, Ontario, area. He went to the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and there he was hurt. That hurt haunted him the rest of his life. Five decades later he was still hurting and the events of his life are witness to the depth of that hurt and the need for healing. He came to the Sacred Assembly '95 called by Elijah Harper held in Hull, Quebec, looking for healing. To a large section of the Assembly he cried out in his pain and named his hurt… and it bore the name "Presbyterian". "Isn't there a Presbyterian here I can talk to who will listen to me?" In moments he was surrounded by bewildered Presbyterians who were shocked that our little denomination was singled out and named before this large Assembly gathered for healing, for reconciliation, for justice. Our national staff were there, our Moderator was by his side. I took Birdie away from that crowd and we went to have pots of coffee and hours of conversation. Other Presbyterians joined us, coming and going throughout the evening. He celebrated his time at the school, taking out pictures and talking about the time they almost got to go to the World Fair. And he poured out pain and frustration and bewilderment. And all the academic discussions of the Sacred Assembly became concrete in this one human being who was a living reminder of the complicity of our church in the events that many labelled "history" and then relegated to a dead past. It wasn't dead for Birdie, but now Birdie is dead. And because of his words and witness, this particular story which is part of the era of the Residential Schools is not dead for me. His wife, Joyce, found my card, along with the Moderator's, after he died and she wanted someone Presbyterian to know he was dead and maybe even remember him. So, why am I telling you this as you look to this page for guidance and inspiration for this day? Maybe to help us remember. Maybe to remind us that we are all connected to the Birdies of this world. We are the "keepers" of those whose lives are affected by our actions and by the actions of the church. No, let me take that back. We are not our sisters' and brothers' keepers. We are invited to be a sister or brother to others in need. We are to be as Christ to a hurting world. And Birdie reminds us that we have nothing more to share than Christ.

Prayer: Lord, in a world of hurt and hate, let your church stand for healing, for reconciliation, for justice. Help us to walk a mile in another's moccasins this day before we begin our criticism or our judgement. Amen.

About the author:

Ken Stright <kennethstright@yahoo.ca>
Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, Canada

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