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Balancing pain and humour at the TRC national event

Wednesday April 16, 2014
Photo courtesy of Melissa Knapp

After giving a birthday cake to his mother, Moose Cree’s Stan Wesley was caked in icing as he emcee’d the TRC national event in Edmonton from March 27-30. The incident brought a lot of “good laughs,” Wesley said.

Moose Cree’s Stan Wesley said his experience of hosting his third and final role as the master of ceremonies for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Alberta National Event was “extremely emotional.”

This year’s National Event took place in Edmonton and saw roughly 30,000 people pass through its doors from March 27-30.

“I think I overheard a TRC commissioner saying there were around 3,000 registered survivors,” Wesley said. Wesley said that the amount of people who attended the event over the course of four days “exceeded expectations.”

He has acted as emcee at the Vancouver and Saskatoon National Events as well.

Wesley – who owns and operates his own facilitating, training and motivational speaking business – believes he was asked by the TRC to emcee his first event after they got wind of him through word of mouth.

He said for the last number of years he has worked at fairly high-profile events across the country.

Along with being an emcee, Wesley is also a facilitator and keynote speaker.

He is known for bringing lighthearted humour to events that he attends, and doesn’t feel that he had to change his approach at the Alberta National Event.

“Every event that I do, there’s always delicate subject matter,” Wesley said. “So in this particular event, there is a little more delicate subject matter. You have to find a way to process it, you need to find a way to build the trust in the room.”

Wesley believes it is like that with every event.

“If you have someone leading the conference who is just really serious and really heavy, then the conference takes on that tone,” Wesley explained. “One thing that I’m really known for is being able to make something fun and engaging – when the time is right. That way we are able to laugh and celebrate to poke a little bit of fun.”

Wesley said that as the emcee of the National Event, he had to know when to keep things serious and when to make something fun.

“With something like this, you really need to be careful,” Wesley said. “And I seemed to nail it.”

CBC journalist Shelagh Rogers felt that Wesley added a lot to the National Events with his presence.

“Stan is one of a kind,” Rogers said. “He’s a beautiful spirit and I have to say it’s no contest.”

Rogers has been to all but one of the seven National Events, and felt that Wesley was the right choice for emcee – especially because of the subject matter at hand.

“It is painful, the testimony we were hearing was horrific,” Rogers said. “I must say, even when the survivors were up there it wasn’t without humour on their part either.”

Rogers explained that Robbie Waisman, a Holocaust survivor, had done a presentation at a previous National Event as a honourary witness, and he felt humour is what allows us to be human.

“It’s a relief for us,” Rogers said of humour. “There’s a line in a Joni Mitchell song that goes, ‘laughing and crying – you know it’s the same release.’ I think that’s true for Stan.”

Rogers said that Wesley “walks a thin line” and has the ability to get people laughing.

“When everybody’s laughing, just that great collective joy, we remember we have that capacity for joy as well as sorrow,” Rogers said. “I think that that was very helpful at these events.”
Wesley felt that the event was extremely emotional.

“There was lots of laughing, also lots of crying because it’s very heavy. People are talking about stuff they’ve never talked about before,” Wesley said.

“It gets you angry, makes you want to cry. But yet it’s really inspiring at the same time. Inspiring because our people get up there and tell our story.”

Wesley felt that it was great that after the survivors told their stories, they were met with a lot of support. He doesn’t feel that there were highs and lows at the event because “there’s no low when it comes to crying and feeling.”

“One thing I really liked about the experience was that it allowed you to cry and get mad, and allows you to feel good and celebrate life because there’s still so much to celebrate after everything our people have been through,” Wesley said.

One highlight of the event for Wesley was being able to stand beside his mother, who is a residential school survivor, during the opening ceremony.

An honour song was played for the survivors and Stan said it was one of the most heartfelt moments for him.

“For the first time I was able to stand beside my mom and hug her, not only as a mother but also as a survivor. That was the first time I was able to do that,” Wesley said. “I just cried. She cried. It was very emotional for the both of us.”

A highlight for Rogers happened on the last day of the National Event.

“Stan sang Buffy Sainte-Marie’s ‘Until It’s Time For You To Go’ in the way Elvis Presley would have sang it,” Rogers said. “I thought this is going to be campy, but you know what? It was the last day. Everyone was feeling sad; some close friendships had been established. He practically broke my heart the way it sang.”

Rogers said that at first people in the audience were laughing.

“But I think everyone realized this song was really summing up that we now have to say goodbye,” Rogers said. “We’ll stay until its time for you to go. We’ll always have each other in our hearts. It was right, and it was so beautiful.”

Wesley said the reason he wanted to sing that song was because it felt so good to be there at the event.

“There’s something incredible when you’re in an environment where you’re able to spend time with people and look not only at the past, but at what we are going to do to move forward towards healing,” Wesley said.

“The line of ‘Here I’ll stay until it’s time for me to go’ is I know I’m gonna go. There’s gonna be a moment when the event is done,” Wesley said. “But I’m gonna stay here until it’s time to go, and I’m gonna do everything in my power to make things right.”

Wesley continues to look forward to helping people, and feels that his role at the National Event is a career defining moment.

“It’s so wonderful to be a part of people’s healing,” Wesley said. “All I ever wanted to do was be a part of change. I want to leave my mark, and leave something behind.”

Wesley attributes a new resolve to do things better in his life to the birth of his daughter.

“While I’m doing right by her, I believe in my heart I am doing right by everyone else,” Wesley said. “I need to make sure whatever I do, whatever’s on the horizon, that I know in my heart that I have to treat people like gold.”


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