Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Rendemptive anger

Louis Riel, after a carte de visite from 1884.
Louis Riel
Last week, in one of the vicious but not exactly random assaults underlining the inequalities of life in a "western" urban society, an unknown person beat up the principal dancer in the "Buffalo Hunt" scene from the Canadian Opera Company's production of Harry Somers's opera Louis Riel. He and his partner, hurt badly enough to need hospital treatment, they suffered further indignities at the hands of the medical system; some of the people I spoke to clearly considered their treatment negligent.

This racist attack on a talented First Nations dancer, and the callous treatment in its aftermath, could have easily led to worse divisions and deeper mistrust in its wake. Violence of this kind divides and silences people, as the perpetrators and enablers often intend. In a production negotiating the tricky politics of staging a classic Canadian work telling a story involving First Nations, this attack could easily have poisoned the atmosphere.

The First Nations performers in the production took their own steps to heal, which probably did more than anything else to ease the tensions, but something else helped: the anger expressed by members of the production at the assault and the subsequent medical failures, the clear statements expressing the most valuable function of anger: a clear and unequivocal call for change, calling those responsible to account and pointing out the need for change.

Anger as an urgent demand for change often provides the power to take first steps on the road to redemption. I hope the anger expressed here pushes us to move further along the road to reckoning, reconciliation and redemption; to the creation of a society where everyone can walk without fear.

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