My thoughts on Christmas
The concept of “taking the native out of the child” was the premise of the Residential Schools. I frequently use the term, “trans generational” in assessing the harms caused but, here is yet another latent effect.
Philosophers have, for life time’s debated significance of nature versus nurture in shaping who/what we are. Most of the arguments revolve around the zeitgeist concepts that frame everything in the time we are in. Edgerton Ryerson (the “father” of the residential school concept must have harbored those thoughts when he began advocating and championing Residential Schools as a method of forced assimilation. Through time, in mankind’s long history with domestic pets (cats and dogs) there is no evidence of the pet ever learning to speak the same language as the pet owner. Instead, the pet merely comprehends a limited range of “commands” and responds as a result of dependence for food and shelter. Those responses are merely as a result of the pet’s dependences and when the pet is returned to nature, it’s latent nature is to become self sufficient: to become feral and return to its own nature.
I am the child of a Residential School survivor. My dad, his brothers and sisters were inmates in one of those places throughout their childhoods. He and his siblings were forced to perform slave labor on behalf of local farmers who would then donate foods to the “school”. Obviously, it was not much of a school and not much schooling took place since the priority seemed to be provision of free labor for the farmers. Most of the “graduates” of such institutions were eventually turned loose with rudimentary education. They also were turned loose with a non-identity. The feral cat that was once a pet is no longer a pet but the cat still has been deprived of formative knowledge with which to function fully in the wild. The ability to hunt, to stalk and to seek out safe shelter would require a relearning often with drastic consequences.
Many inmates of the Residential Schools would never leave. One of my father’s younger sisters died prematurely while an inmate. According to documents that were obtained almost 70 years after her death, we learned that the cause of death was a “tooth ache” and that this young child was reported as being “well and happy” in the morning but dead by nightfall. She was only 9 years old. According to the documents, the “mass” was celebrated in the “school” with a “priest” officiating. After which she was buried. Through years of searching, the grave site has never been found.
My dad never spoke much of his youth and certainly never about his ancestors. He tried his best to meld into society and I was raised without grandparents who could share with me. After his death, I began research. I had long understood that I looked upon things a bit differently than my peers. I had a love of nature; even as a young boy that over reached my love of cars. I seemed at peace when hiking through the bush and felt really uncomfortable perched in a church pew.
I am now near the end of my life. However, the past ten years, since I began travels along the “moccasin” highway and relearning a culture that has been taken from my father and therefore deprived from his children. But fascinating how quickly the cultural and spiritual aspects can be relearned when there is an intrinsic nature that seeks what was taken. It took a year of extensive travel among native communities across Canada (from coast to coast to coast) to teach the diversity of the various nations struggling to survive in this country called Canada.
This is my first Christmas time alone. I have no urge to put up a tree though I may well take a hike in the nearby forest (if my old aching bones permit. I probably will not be eating a turkey – though I do like eating turkey.
….and all that Christmas music becomes annoying but I shall tolerate it and just block it out. It is very difficult to accept the piety and spirituality of a religion that has inflicted such harms. The open profession of religion (especially at Christmas) seems almost paradoxical though. The Residential School that my father, aunts and uncles was run by one of the dominant Canadian Christian Churches. Not to pick on one denomination, though as it would be unfair since each denomination operated Residential Schools. Very “odd” that none of the church leaders or employees have ever faced criminal charges. But I wish them no harm either.
But, to all my Christian friends, I wish you well on these days just following the winter moon and say with no hesitation, “Merry Christmas!” …be happy and enjoy your day