The senselessness of the death of Cooper Nemeth has affected many, as can be seen by the posts being shared on social media. The Nemeth family has one request, and it is a good one - that as the media releases the name and information of who is accountable for Cooper's death, to NOT send around the posts and pictures of this man. He does not deserve the attention, even negative attention. What DOES deserve the attention here is how to see any positive outcomes out of such a tragedy and loss.
Nothing can be done to bring Cooper back. Yes, justice can be served by incarcerating his murderer. But there needs to be more of a consciousness shift from this senseless act than just a man being held accountable, doesn't there?
One shift that has been a beautiful step towards inclusion of communities is that the Bear Clan Patrol came out as part of the massive search party for Cooper since his disappearance February 14. This indigenous 'Neighbourhood Watch' group of North End streets, led by Larry Morrissette and James Favel, had every right to turn their back. How many years has the indigenous community been SCREAMING in order to get attention that they have so many missing children/teens that the media is not covering, and that no one is helping to locate? And yet, they stepped up to help in the search for Cooper. This model of grace is but one of the positive messages that can be taken from this week's events.
On Feb 22, 2016, a drum circle and smudging ceremony was held to honour Cooper and to support the grieving family, friends, and community. Facilitating a smudge ceremony for a non-indigenous family in itself is an extremely honoring gesture. In Manitoba, we have been trying to find ways to integrate the communities of indigenous and non-indigenous communities for years, especially since the spurning Maclean's article (Jan 22, 2015) that deemed us the most racist city in Canada. Even holding summits and having a website to discuss ways to improve our attitudes and lessen racism, have not been as effective a measure as Bear Clan Patrol's actions this week. When real life presented an opportunity to walk the walk of the acceptance of all races in Manitoba, Bear Clan Patrol moved towards healing the discord between communities. And those actions were taken by representatives of a community that should be the most angry with the amount of coverage Cooper's disappearance has received, in comparison to the coverage missing indigenous children/teens have received in the past or present.
There were many that searched for Cooper - yes, he was still in high school, had strong ties with a hockey team, etc. However, if we are honest with ourselves, painting ourselves with the broad strokes as representatives of the 'non-indigenous' communities, can we say we have put in as much effort and focus as a public people to support our neighbouring indigenous communities in their searches? Why not? If it is a case that the media does not cover the indigenous community disappearances with the same fervor, this is still no excuse. Now with social media at our fingertips, all it takes is a Facebook post from an indigenous member to shed light on another disappearance. The next time this happens, will we band together, and put our time and efforts into finding their children with the same expansiveness as the search that has just happened for Cooper over this week?
Bear Clan Patrol has given us the template of what to do the next time a tragedy of a missing child occurs, regardless of race - to not focus on the past hurts, but to focus on what is the right thing to do. I think the least we can do for all of the missing children/teens out there who have had their lives taken from them too soon, is to give as much effort as was shown for Cooper. I'm sure Cooper would be overwhelmed and touched, as his family is, with the outpouring of support and love that has been shown over this past week.
If out of this tragedy, the indigenous and non-indigenous communities could begin to work together and destroy the walls of 'they' versus 'us', there would be a dim yet positive layer to this awful situation. We owe it to Cooper. We owe it to every missing child/teen, no matter their race, religion, or creed.
Thank you Larry Morrissette and James Favel, for taking the first step in such a tangible way to heal the rift between indigenous and non-indigenous communities in Manitoba. You have given us a standard to hold ourselves to. Now it's up to us, to DO it, when it is our turn to walk the walk and talk the talk.
And thank you to the Nemeth family, who in the depth of their grief, were still able to acknowledge the significance of communities working together and to be grateful for its effect.
Both representatives for the 'indigenous' and 'non-indigenous' in this case, have reached out and have acknowledged each other with grace and gratitude. It is a step forward for all of us in Manitoba.
Rest in peace Cooper. Already, your disappearance and death has brought more Light and unity into the world, and at the very least, to Manitoba.
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