Community and Loss: In Memory of Carolyn Kenny

A message from Arden Henley, Vice President and Principal, Canadian Programs

We all know this about life, whether in marriage, family, friendship, community or nation: there is loss. We come together for a time, but always for a time. There is always loss and, as Derrida so eloquently put it, “the work of mourning.”

So it is for CityU in Canada. Last we week we lost Dr. Carolyn Kenny. Carolyn died in a hospice in Santa Barbara, California with family and in a place that was familiar to her. She helped to establish a music therapy program at this very hospice while she was a professor at Antioch University in Santa Barbara.

I was introduced to Carolyn by Heesoon Bai who had known Carolyn during her teaching days at Simon Fraser University. Carolyn had returned to Vancouver yearning to make a home here and resume the work of teaching for which she had an abiding passion. Born of a Choctaw mother and Ukrainian father, Dr. Kenny was adopted into the Haida Nation in the year 2000, by Dorothy Bell, matriarch of the Masset Haida people. Her given Haida name is Nang Jaada Sa-êts, which means Haida Woman with a Mind of the Highest Esteem.

Prior to her engagement with City University of Seattle in Canada, Carolyn was a Professor of Human Development and Indigenous Studies in the Antioch University Ph.D. Program in Leadership and Change. Previously, she served as an Associate Professor of First Nations Education at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Her research areas included Music Therapy theory, the role of the arts in the revitalization of Indigenous societies, the arts in leadership and change, practical philosophy, improving policy for Aboriginal women, Indigenous leadership. Dr. Kenny produced many articles, books, chapters in book and offered presentations on these topics around the world at conferences and seminars as a guest faculty member. Carolyn was a mother of two and grandmother of five.

She was gentle, wise and warm and, yet, fearless and penetrating. I felt an instant affinity for her. I knew there was something for us to do together and I knew she was a fit with our community. Shortly thereafter, the initial findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were released and among their recommendations was a call to educators; a call to make sure that all Canadians know in their hearts and in their bones the suffering visited upon indigenous peoples by the residential school system. A call, as well, to know that we have a shared history in which cultural genocide was attempted.

I asked Carolyn to work with us to incorporate the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in CityU coursework. She did so, bravely, exquisitely and patiently. Many CityU students benefited from this grave knowledge, had an opportunity to make it a part of themselves and their work and enjoyed Carolyn’s keen intelligence and presence. For this we are deeply grateful and grateful for all the many other ways that she touched and nurtured our lives.

As a nation, we also experienced a widely shared loss this past week. The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie left us. But not before he had sung to the souls and opened the hearts of many Canadians with his restless and urgent love for us and for Canada. And not before, and in this way like Carolyn Kenny, he urged us to recognize and redress the injustice visited on our indigenous brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, niece and nephews, those who took care of this beautiful land we inhabit together for eons before our arrival and those who often speak, for its rivers, streams, prairies and mountains, flora and fauna. All my relations.

May the work of our mourning include heeding the call to incorporate and act on the the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and, once and for all, heal the wounds of the past across this land.

Carolyn Kenny can be remembered through a donation to the Palliative/Hospice care music therapy program at Serenity House in Santa Barbara.