In the poem I posted yesterday I wrote about a hand-me-down dress. Though I’ve changed the circumstances, I did have a particular story in mind. Years ago I read a memoir by Maria Campbell, called HALFBREED. She gives a little history of her people and then tells of her own life as a Métis woman in a predominantly white world. it’s quite a history!
When the white men came from Europe, a number of them married – or lived with – native women. Their offspring became a group in their own right, the Métis people and they initially settled along the Red River in Manitoba. The government signed treaties with the indigenous people and settled them on reservations, but the Métis, being neither this nor that, got no special favours from Canadian or Manitoba governments. In fact, after the Riel Rebellion they were driven off their farms and many migrated to northern Saskatchewan. Some did start up farms; others survived however they could.
Maria was born in the settlement around Prince Albert, SK, to a couple who were scraping by, but rich in their love for each other and their family. Her mother died young (before Maria was a teen, as I recall) and her father never remarried. So the children grew up with their grandmother filling in as much as she could, but they missed out by not having a mother’s care and teaching.
BOXING DAY GIFTS
Boxing Day back in merry old England was a time to give the servants and/or “the poor among us,” a treat or gift, often food. It was boxed up in a nice package and handed over to servants or carried to the elderly and infirm. This practice was more common years back and Canada has kept the day, if not the practice.
Anyway, this event was still carried on by the women’s groups in Maria’s area. Feeling sympathy for the poor native children, community women would make up boxes with goodies and clothing their children didn’t want anymore or had outgrown. After Christmas they’d go around to the native and Métis communities and hand these out. Every year Maria’s family would get several of these boxes.
Her father would burn them. Oh, the children would wail! They knew from their friends that there was candy and good food inside and they wanted it.
Perhaps her father was a proud man who didn’t want any kind of charity, but as she got older Maria began to see what he’d spared them by burning those boxes. When native and Métis children wore those hand-me-down clothes to school, the white children would mock them. Maria would hear sarcastic comments like, “I see you’re wearing my old dress. I got a new one.”
In my poem I had the little girl tear up her dress and stuff it under a bush, tired of being mocked by the childish former wearer.
It’s interesting how many words and expressions there are in English for looking down on others. Snobbish; snooty; top-lofty, high hat. Do we need so many terms because there’s so much of it done?
HIGH HATS COME IN EVERY SHADE
And children love trying them out. On one hand a child can seem so accepting that his parents are delighted; the next time the child will act so arrogant his parents are dismayed. Though we try to teach our children tolerance for others, and for different ways of doing things, “We’re better than you,” is a refrain some of them love to chant.
It’s a challenge to teach children! Accepting others who are different doesn’t come naturally. To make matters worse, the more you draw attention to the differences in people and stress how “we must accept them,” the more unnatural it becomes. And children are quick to spot the difference between what parents are saying and what they do.
Maria writes about “the white people” and the Métis, but her account would read much the same if it were whites versus blacks, the English versus the Irish, one religion versus another, or the rich versus the poor anywhere in the world. This isn’t a new problem.
Genuinely good deeds are prompted by a concern for our fellow human beings and people do appreciate kindness. I buy at Value Village myself. But so much of what they receive is shipped overseas. Are we making ourselves feel good while disrupting the economy in other countries?
Perhaps we need to check our attitudes when we buy ourselves nice new duds and ship our old stuff to charity — “Let’s send this to the poor people in Africa” is coming to an end; they’re starting to reject our charity.