Monday, February 19, 2018

NAMH 2017 - Talking about it

Getting back to Nobody Cries At Bingo, while the part about Dawn's mother loving her father more if he could speak Cree did stick in my head, it meant more to me after other people asked about it.

One thing that does is remind me that taking a class in person instead of online, or being in a book club again, could be great. Beyond that, I think I didn't focus on it as much because there was something else that seemed more important.

What the children learned about the residential schools horrified them, but their parents shrugged a lot of it off. As more people started coming forward, they agreed that those stories sounded bad, but that it hadn't been like that for them, at least not that bad. Well, maybe it was kind of bad. Eventually both parents applied for Common Experience payouts, for which their children teased them. That is when the exchange about the language happened.

That can easily sound cynical, and Dumont acknowledges in the book that they thought their parents deserved it. (Having a chance to tease their parents was just an opportunity that needed to be seized, which I get.)

What was more interesting to me was what was said along the way, before payments were available.

p. 268

Mom told us about always being hungry. "My stomach would hurt but that's only because I was used to eating so much more at my mom and dad's. Sure it bothered me that the nuns and priests ate better than we did. That was to be expected, they're God's helpers." Her off-hand manner was confusing; it was wrong to hurt children, but how come Mom and Dad weren't mad about what happened to them?

Honestly, my initial preoccupation was probably just anger, and maybe an idea that if you are really sincerely trying to help God it's not likely to involve eating well while children under your care starve.

Beyond that, the denial bothers me, and the need to justify it. Maybe it's a survival mechanism; you tell yourself how much worse everything could be and isn't, and that's how you get through and then how you continue to remember it.

What became interesting after that was seeing that it was other people telling their stories that allowed the parents to start admitting to themselves that it was bad.

The next post is going to spend a little longer on the effects of the residential schools, and what that has meant for families, but before going on to that, I want to point out that hearing other people share their stories can help us tell ours.

It can be dangerous to draw comparisons between different types of oppression, mainly because it tends to let the more privileged group forget their privilege and erase others who are more marginalized. There are nonetheless sometimes things that do relate and are pretty hard to miss. There are things about the residential school issues that remind me a lot of the #Metoo movement now. One is that some speaking up lead to more speaking up.

If you want everything swept under the rug and for things to get back to normal, that is bad news.

If you care about people, if you know that abusing people is wrong, and it benefits abusive people not to examine that, if you know how hard it is to hold on to a sense of your worth when it seems like the whole world is telling you that you have none, then you know these conversations are important.

There was a web page the class sent us too that had residential school survivor stories. The stories were powerful and the sheer number was overwhelming. I wanted to link to it here, but now the page is down. Maybe it's a coincidence, or maybe funding was pulled because it wasn't a necessity, or maybe there was something malicious. I don't know.

It does seem like a loss.

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