The Comfort Of Our Tribe

It was a shattering blow to the very heart of Canada. On Friday, April 6, at an intersection in Northern Saskatchewan, a semi truck slammed into the side of a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, a junior hockey team. Sixteen people on that bus, including most of the team, are gone.

We have been collectively staggered by the loss.

This column is not about the accident, but about how we’ve dealt with our grief.

It you want to get to the heart of Canada, there is no more direct route than through hockey. At least half the country has sons and daughters who have also been on buses or vans, riding through the Canadian winter with their team on their way to a tournament. The horror of the Humboldt Broncos was personal because it was so easily imagined.

Three things are helping us through. And these three things show that no matter how technology may have influenced how we define community, when the worst happens, we need a much more primal definition of connection.




Make no mistake, tribalism is alive and well in Canada. The boundaries of the tribes are defined by the hockey teams we root for. We love to wear tribal colors. We just call them hockey jerseys.

But on one day, all tribes were united. On April 12, we all wore our jerseys, no matter the team colors, as a show of solidarity for those most directly impacted by the loss of the Humboldt Broncos. 

Teachers, students, bankers, lawyers, civic workers, nurses, doctors, bus drivers -- it didn’t matter who we were or the categories we normally belong to. On that day, we were all part of the same tribe, united in the same goal. We were honoring the Humboldt Broncos.


Here in the Pacific Northwest, where I live, we’re very familiar with totems. But if you’re not,  totem is “a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe,” according to one definition.

In Canada for the past few weeks, our totems have been hockey sticks. We left them on our front door step as a sign of remembrance. The symbolism was perfectly captured by a front door cam when a young boy came home, found the stick on his parents' stoop, played with it for a while, then gently kissed it and placed it back. If you want to understand the primal power of a totem, take 44 seconds to watch this video.


We may choose to grieve alone, but we heal together.  As we came together as Canadians, we adopted the team’s mantra -- Humboldt Strong -- coming together in arenas, churches, synagogues, parking lots and lobbies. It didn’t matter where. What mattered was that we were together -- somewhere, anywhere -- with the healing that came from us sharing the same space and the physicality of our grief.

Digital connection may be efficient, but it’s not effective. It’s why you don’t login to a Google Hang Out or a Facebook live feed for the funeral or the wedding of a loved one. You have to be there.  You have to share. You have to connect, eye to eye and heart to heart.  That’s how humans were built.

It’s how we -- a nation in grief -- are staying Humboldt Strong.

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