Inconvenient Skin [potm]

Shane Koyczan
Spoken Word Poetry
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Shane Koyczan feat Tanya Tagaq and Kym Gouchie
Poem of the Month, July 2017

Name your price $ (min $1.25)



“First let me thank the other artists who helped me bring this project to life. Tanya Tagaq and Kym Gouchie laid down some incredible vocals that were mixed and arranged by the always delightful, Corwin Fox. The visual component comes from an exhibit happening right now at the Penticton Art Gallery, and was curated by Paul Crawford. The artists whose works are shown are Joseph Sanchez, Janice Tanton, and Jim Logan. Accompanying their works are some of the mass produced works Paul has collected for a show called “Velvet Indians”.

There exists a stark contrast between these collections as works from the “Velvet Indians” show became an easily digestible image for public consumption, while the works of Jim Logan, Janice Tanton, and Joseph Sanchez represent the reality of what was happening while those images were permeating the public’s conception of indigenous life.

This year has been a polarizing one for Canada. While we celebrate 150 years as a nation we have also come face to face with our own dark history. I’ve spent the past few years reconnecting with my father, who has had first hand experience with residential schools. There has been a vast expanse of silence to traverse, and I’m only now discovering these missing chapters from my own origin. My hope is that this piece will continue the conversation. One of the things I’ve learned through this process is something about healing. To heal a wound you must first clean it… which is perhaps the most painful part. To clean a wound you must expose it to the stinging air. That is where we are right now; witnesses to the blood and pain. We face it now to heal it, or ignore it… letting the infection deepen and spread. Whichever path we choose the truth will not waiver. The cure will take as long as the sickness, and the sickness isn’t yet over.”

– Shane Koyczan, July 2017



Inconvenient Skin

150 years is not so long
that the history can be forgot

not so long that
forgiveness can be bought with empty apologies
or unkept promises

sharpened assurances that this is now
how it is

take it on good faith
and accept it

except that
history repeats itself
like someone not being listened to
like an entire people not being heard

the word of god is hard to swallow
when good faith becomes a barren gesture

there were men of good faith
robbing babies from their cradles
like the monsters we used to tell each other about

ripping children out of their mothers arms
to be imprisoned in the houses of a god
who’s teachings were love

did no one hear?
did god mumble?

god said love

but the things that were done
were not love

our nation is built above the bones
of a genocide

it was not love that pried apart these families
it is not love that abandons its treaties
it is not love to not acknowledge these atrocities
to allow teenagers to freeze to death
after having been driven past city limits
and set loose to walk back in the winter cold

it is not love
when an entire culture is told
stop whining
by a country still lining its pockets
with the profits of these broken promises

this is not love

yet this is what’s been done since before year one

150 years
is just us putting birthday candles
on top of smallpox blankets, teen suicides
and missing murdered women

we can’t spin our history
into something easy to accept because it isn’t

it should never be

we the north
are not free to shed our history
like an inconvenient skin

we are not free to turn our backs on the children
still swallowing the hollowness of poverty

this nation is not so sturdy
that it can sustain the weight of this blind spot in our memory

as Canadians
we want to live up to what we believe ourselves to be
live up to each quality we value

if we ever become
who we hope we are
it will be because we see how far there is still to go
and we know that if we are not these things to everyone
than we are none of these things

if the world brings a challenge to one of us
it brings it to us all
we rise and fall together
the winds of change
do not show up in our weather reports
and yet they blow from sea to sea

we stand on guard for thee

how those standing up for the water the land
and everything that sustain us
are told to stand aside
are told to make way for progress

we dress the future in such a pretty word
but without balance
these two wings of this same bird
cannot achieve flight

we hop about on the ground like a wounded sparrow

our fight is not meant to be with with each other
our fight is to be better
always improving
forever moving toward what we wish this nation to be

we can be better

we are a nation of neighbours who help neighbours
we are thinkers with hearts
we are feelers
we are problem solvers
and healers

and sometimes the medicine we need most
comes from remembering who we were

so we can reconcile it against who we wish to become

the drum is calling us in

like an anthem giving rise to a tide
these shores have been missing
like the vanishing languages of a stolen people

a nation forced to abandon their own good faith
beneath the steeple of a god who said love

I do not know the future
but I have read enough of history
to see patterns in its tapestry

I have seen resolve forged in adversity
and the voices we hear now
were once just seeds
that silence scattered amid a tangle of weeds
meant to strangle them away from sunlight

but some things fight the dark for so long
that they learn to grow inside of a shadow
and they are idle no more

at the core of our values
is dignity

and yet we strip mine a culture of its identity
allow our leaders to erode each treaty
and stab flags into the land
as if mountains can be owned
as if water is property

where is our dignity
if we cannot hold true to the promises we make?
what value does our word have
if all it ever does is break?

the choices we make today
will be felt across time

their consequences inherited
not by the echoes of who we were
but by the children our examples have taught

what future will they have
if our our only gift to them
are the lessons we forgot?