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KONA: Lost to Justice} ?> In Canada, we imprison people who have committed serious crimes with the intent to rehabilitate them. The hope is that, when removed from society, they will have time to consider their actions and get the help they need in order to become better citizens and no longer commit crimes. By reporting a crime and hunting down the one who committed it we are supposed to be serving justice and restoring people. But more often then not, we hunt down people and prosecute them in order to make them suffer for their crimes.
I’ve seen many interviews of victims’ families where they say things like “I hope they rot forever behind bars for what they did” or “I can’t believe all they get is X years of jail when they’ve caused us such pain.” In a lot of cases the hurt party wants to see the offender suffer and we call that justice. I wonder if this is less justice and more vengeance.
Society doesn’t have a problem with equating punishment with justice. In the video game KONA, you play a private investigator hired to visit a small hamlet surrounding a mine in northern Quebec to look into a case of vandalism. Upon arriving, you find the landowner, Hamilton, dead and the small community shrouded in an unnatural blizzard. You aren’t getting out of town any time soon, so you start investigating the absence of people and the mystery surrounding your would-be employer. Almost immediately, you find some glowing blue snow (for our non-Canadian readers—snow doesn’t glow) that leads you to a human encased in ice (also something that doesn’t normally happen, even in Northern Canada).
It doesn’t take long to realize that everyone in the hamlet has died from being encased in ice or are strangely missing, and every person has some sort of secret that puts them at odds with someone or something else. But behind the petty arguments and secret affairs, a larger story begins to unfold.
Several of the townsfolk were out hunting one day and Hamilton accidentally shot a young Cree woman. Rather than give her a proper funeral and admit what happened, they hired a lackey to bury the body out in the woods. The Cree woman’s fiancé, consumed with grief and anger, offered himself to the spirits of justice and vengeance, becoming a wendigo in order to hunting those involved in the murder.
The town is consumed in a blizzard because of the wendigo magic. And at his touch, the warmth of life that he lost with his love is drained away and people are left frozen solid. This spirit of Justice is unstoppable and when you finally face it, all you can do is flee or be killed. The whole town was destroyed because the wendigo no longer recognized friend from foe and killed anyone who crossed his path.
The fiancé’s response is a perfect example of what happens when there is no room for forgiveness in someone’s heart. Becoming obsessed with seeing people hurt because they hurt you causes you to lose yourself, your ability to love, and even your identity. Being unforgiving changes a person and leads them into a cold and lonely darkness. I know because I’ve been there.
For a lot of years, I harboured hatred and anger at my father for his addictions, violence, emotional abuse, lack of financial support and involvement in our lives. The frustration and anger at being treated in a way a child never should be led me to hope for some sort of justice. I held onto my pain as if it would somehow lead me to justice, but all it did was fill me with anger. It wasn’t until someone helped me see I needed to choose to forgive him, even though he would likely never realize the hurt he caused, that I knew peace.
There is no peace in punishment without forgiveness. The wendigo of KONA is forever trapped in agony, locked in a frozen reality. He will never again know the contact of someone who loves him. He will never know the peace of living in community. The blizzard follows him, ice wolves haunt the land devastated by his grief, and his touch forever steals the warmth from others’ hearts. No more joy, no more peace, just a frozen existence of pain seeking justice. He didn’t even get to be the one who killed Hamilton (who died at the hands of the town’s doctor instead), and even though he has killed all the other people complicit in the death of his loved one, he cannot have closure because he allowed himself to be consumed by the wendigo spirit. That same reality, of being consumed for vengeance, exists for all of us.
On June 17, 2015 Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel AME church and opened fire on a prayer meeting. 9 of the 12 people attending were killed. Families mourned, people were outraged, but I’ll never forget seeing people on the news and coverage of the trial where many of the family members looked at the young man responsible for killing their loved ones and said, “I forgive you.” He didn’t say sorry, in fact he was proud of what he did, but that didn’t stop them from offering forgiveness. There is something extremely powerful in that offering. People around the world were moved and the battle against racism was significantly advanced by those acts of forgiveness. If they had remained in their anger and embraced hatred, it could have sparked violent actions between the races in Charleston, but offering forgiveness eased tension and created a place to advance love and equality.
There is power in demanding retaliatory justice and in losing yourself to see a wrong avenged, but that power always costs us. In the case of the wendigo, it cost him his very soul to see those who hurt him destroyed. But there is greater power in forgiveness. It too costs, but the price is letting go of your pain, sorrow, and anger. Only then can you know peace. The people who forgive go on to lead lives of peace, the people who do not become lost in their suffering.