The past and future collided on a Friday night at the University of Toronto as Alice and Owen debated the question : Should Indian Reserves Be Abolished.
Alice was from the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve and was a strong advocate for indigenous rights and improving life on reserves. She was against the motion. She argued that reserves nurtured a sense of history and culture where indigenous languages, spiritual beliefs and values were shared. She passionately detailed the past wrongs of the residential school system in Canada and how many of the social and economic problems were linked to that experience. For the next fifteen minutes she eloquently argued her case on how reserves were the last stronghold of indigenous traditions and were needed to keep First Nations peoples firmly grounded in these traditions.
Owen was studying robotics and was excited about the possibility of furthering human possibilities by continued progress in technological and social engineering. He argued, with some irritation, of the $billions poured into the First Nations reserve system over the years with minimal tangible benefits. The money could be put to better use in research, to make Canada a world leader in robotics. According to 2016 statistics only 44% of First Nations with Indian status lived on reserves. Many of the reserves are isolated and remote which contributed to the high rate of unemployment. Suicide on reserves was five times the national average and 20% of housing on reserves needed major repairs. He continued to argue how indigenous people would be better off without reserves.
At the conclusion of the debate voting was evenly split for and against the motion. As was usual after the monthly debate, all members of the debating society retired to the Crown and Anchor to further their debating skills. With alcohol releasing the inhibitions of club members the bar was quickly filled with the raucous sounds of heated discussions.
Alice and Owen carried their debate into the Crown and Anchor, both passionately arguing their point of view. After a while they became aware of the silence around them and noticed that many of the other students had left. Alice looked at her watch and with surprise noticed how late it was and told Owen that she should be going, she had an early class the following day. She hesitated as she was about to leave and asked Owen if he would care to visit an Indian reserve to judge conditions for himself. Owen expressed his delight at the idea and they agreed to meet the following week.
After a day visiting the reserve and a late supper, cooked by her mother, Alice led Owen to her private hideout within the reserve. They both settled down on the grass, staring up at the stars in a cloudless sky.
Alice while admiring the stars looked inward trying to find her spirit animal, the butterfly. Owens words from the debate kept reverberating in her head. Was he right. Did the reserves need to change. If so in what way. She passionately believed in her culture and spirituality. Could they still be preserved outside of the reservation. This was a disorientating time in her life and Alice was trying to grasp the implications of change. She had always thought that she belonged on the reservation but was it now time to explore new opportunities.
Owen was transfixed by the majesty and wonder of the night sky. His eyes flickered to the moon and he vowed that he would land on its surface one day. He gloried in the star dust that was so, so distant and wondered if it would be possible to send a robot there some day. Something with artificial intelligence that could decipher and send meaningful information back to earth. Of course a new kind of fuel was needed or were there shortcuts across the universe yet to be discovered.
So Alice and Owen, together, but alone in their dreams, contemplated past experiences and future hopes.