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Christmas In The 1940’s

As Told To Gary Arcand

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      DECEMBER 1992      v21 n09 p19  
Christmas is a time to stop and think about the past and the traditional ways we are required to follow. We always hear the past from our grandmothers and grandfathers, and some of us are fortunate enough to publish and share the stories to all who will open their hearts and minds. This story criticizes the Non-Native societies for there part in the misconduct and because the story elders lost some of Traditional heritage at the boarding school. But, it is meant not to discriminate in any way.

In the late 1940's a number of Native youths were forced to attend boarding schools in Saskatchewan. Most of the Native children were mistreated and were abused physically, Maria Linklater from Saskatoon remembers her days as a student from Onion Lake residential school. Maria and her family were raised in the Thunderchild Indian Reserve which is located 5 miles east of Turtleford, Saskatchewan. The Onion Lake school was run by priests and sisters and it seems like the students had to trade their culture for education.

Maria explains she did not understand christmas, the singing, the praying, christmas concerts were all new to her. The main part of any Indian child was that they were going home for christmas, some students ran away, while most of the students toughen it out until the holidays. She enjoyed going home on the back of a truck even in 40 below weather, they would sing jingle bells in Cree.

I guess christmas was not celebrated as it is now, there were barely any gifts given at the time. The important things were that the families were together, and the feasts were done in the traditional way. It was a gift for Maria to see kokum and moosom, instead of receiving a toy. Now in the 1990's, it seems like you have to buy expensive gifts for your children to prove that you love them. The children have to be taught at an early age that it is better to give than to receive, this way they will not expect a lot as they get older. Maria clearly states that they did not use alcohol to have fun, there was always a funny person to give their the real homemade and natural humour and waking up without a hangover. Now we need alcohol or drugs to make us laugh and to have fun. There was also alot of love and togetherness in all the families, we now see brothers and sisters fighting each other because of alcohol.

Maria recalls some of her christmas eve's were spent at round dances at some other reserves, LittlePine, Moosomin, Saulteaux, Onion Lake, Loon Lake and Frog Lake used to take turns holding these functions. People would travel long distances for several days to reach there destinations, there horses had to be covered in blankets in order to keep warm. The round dances would consist of the apple dance and some other traditional dances. My mother Mary Arcand recalls the family had to sleep in barns when they travelled from place to place.

Most of the children who were in the boarding schools did not understand english, yet they were not allowed to speak their own language; which was Cree. Some of the students put gum on their eyes to try and get some sleep on the night before going home, when they woke up they were punished by the nuns and they had to get it off with lard. Occasions like this one are found to be usual to most of the students, just so they can get away from the school.

Most Aboriginal people mix their religion with Indian Culture our Grandmother used to be a very Religious person but respected the culture a lot, the elders used to say there is nothing wrong with that. The main thing is respect your fellow human, animals and the trees.

Maria Linklater, Minnie Horse, Mary Arcand and Velma Arcand were asked, "How do you think christmas should be celebrated? Do you wish to send out any information or suggestions to other people in how to have a merry christmas?

Maria Linklater: I still live my christmas the same way, but it is more commercialized and the kids expect more. We used to accept used articles, these days most parents put themselves in financial difficulties to purchase expensive presents for their families. If the parents continue to celebrate christmas with alcohol, their children and their children will follow their footsteps. Respect everyone especially elders and visit each other but get a good baby sitter, this is where sexual abuse starts. Make sure there is a woman present when you get a babysitter. We have to be role models for the younger generations so the children can grow up respecting others. On christmas do not forget the people in the hospital, elders and the mentally disabled at hospitals or the inmates at centres. I love everyone and have a Merry Christmas.

Minnie Horse: I still feel the same about christmas, but there are too many people drinking. We have been changed by the Non-Natives a lot and we are the only ones who can change it back so we can once again enjoy the peaceful feeling we used to have. Our children all want to be white because of the so called role models, like the rock and roll bands. The younger Native people are ashamed to talk Cree in Public, do not lose your culture.

Mary Arcand: Christmas is celebrated the same way except nothing is homemade, everything is bought from stores. I miss the sleigh rides, the sound of bells still ring in my ears. We used to ski behind the sleigh and jump off into the deep snow. My father Joe Angus and brother Harry Angus would sing round dance songs from house to house, everyone liked what they did. Everyone should shake hands even enemies on christmas so they can enjoy a peaceful life. People should go to round dances and meet different people. Native people long ago shared everything, if someone was to visit a house even for a short while they were told to sit and eat. When you give something do not expect anything in return, when your time comes you will be paid for your good deeds. If the kids are bad and if they cry hug them, do not punish them or they will carry that burden for ever.

Mary Arcand and Mary Horse
Mary Arcand and Mary Horse

One story that the story tellers want to share with you is about my Uncle Donald Angus.

One time around 20 years ago, Uncle Donald went to Hobbema, Alberta for a pow-wow. When an elder man came up to him during the giveaways and said in Cree,"Sit here, there is someone who wants to be related to you traditionally and you have to accept anything that you receive." Donald's heart jumped because he was going to get a wife. There were a lot of women standing in a row when he was asked to come forward, the man pointed at the women and said "This woman wants to be related to you because you look a lot like her deceased grandmother." I guess poor Uncle Donald turned red with embarrassement.