There’s an old Irish proverb that says a nation’s greatest enemy is the small minds of its small people.

My ancestors were refugees in 1844, a year before the Great Hunger would begin to plague Ireland. This preventable disaster under British occupation killed a million people and forced the migration of a million more.

They aboard a coffin ship and several Donnelly descendants settled near Herbert, Saskatchewan. There were so many family members in this district that it became known as Donnellyville and a country school bore its name. A century ago, my grandpa Pat Donnelly returned home to his mother’s farm, a veteran in the First World War. Within a decade, the Ku Klux Klan was assembling to take his freedom away claiming there were too many Roman Catholics, people of colour, and immigrants in Saskatchewan.

At that time, my maternal great grandfather, Fred Watson had a visit from Klan members on his farm near Tisdale and was asked to join the hateful group. Fred was a feisty Belfast-born Protestant who quickly told the men to leave. 

He didn’t turn on his neighbours and nor should we. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” When facing bigotry, inaction on climate change, and disregard of Indigenous Sovereignty, let us rise, dig deep into our roots and ensure that life continues to grow.

Joseph Donnelly, R.M. Excelsior

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