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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Patti Gower
The Globe and Mail, November 5, 2001

Part 2 of 6: CRYSTAL AND AMBER


Missisauga locator She wants to go on about racial stereotypes, but spots Amber, emerging in the crowded atrium like a diva in a rock video.
Tall and thin, with sprayed-on grey jeans and a low-cut shirt, Amber Bucaro looks to be every-thing Crystal is not. Part Italian, Californian and Croatian, she's also rich and, by her own admission, spoiled, with a walk-in closet full of clothes, a bedroom phone line as well as a cellphone and enough pocket change to take a taxi to school when she needs to.

Amber has been Crystal's window on the white - and not-so-white - suburbs since she moved to Misssissauga from the crime-ridden apartment blocks of Scarborough, on the other side of Toronto. Crystal had grown tired of her stubborn mother and lived with her father for a while before moving in with an aunt, in hopes of finding a better course in life.


Amber was surprised Crystal didn't drink; she thought all natives did.

When they met and started hanging out by the Bucaros' pool, Amber admitted that the closest she had been to native people was while driving past a blockade on the way to her mother's and stepfather's cottage. She told Crystal that she split her summer weekends between the cottage and her own father's country home, where he keeps a horse for her. During the week, she practises with a modern dance troupe and was preparing for a tour of Germany.

She had less to say about her mother, still in her 30s and suffering from melanoma that was defeating successive rounds of chemotherapy.

Crystal also told Amber about her life. Having lived on the reserve, where her mother drank too much, in downtown apartments and at one stage a motel room, she had decided after Grade 8 to leave her parents. She had to work 20 hours a week at McDonald's to cover the rent to her aunt, and take a three-hour journey by bus, subway and bus again to reach her mother's apartment in Scarborough every weekend. But she had some control over her life.

"If you don't have to work," Crystal told Amber, "you're spoiled, to me."

Still, she liked to hang out in Amber's room, where she learned to use Napster to download music by native rappers Haida and TKO for her new friend. When they went to Square One together, Crystal explained the benefits of having a native status card and used hers to buy Amber a $60 sweater, tax-free. She was grateful to Amber for giving her free access to her walk-in closet and to Amber's ailing mother, who always packed her a lunch whenever she had to work past midnight at McDonald's.

The more the girls hung out together, the more they found they had in common. They sneaked cigarettes together before school, went to dance clubs every Friday night and dated members of the football team. The only Grade 9 girls invited to the school's semi-formal, they refused to get drunk with their dates, and spent most of the evening talking to each other.

Amber was surprised Crystal didn't drink; she thought all natives did. Later, when her geography teacher mentioned alcohol abuse as a problem in native communities, Amber told him to check his facts. "That's stereotyping," she said, unaware of how close Crystal had been to living the stereotype.

THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 6):

Photo Essay
Bright lights, big city



1. 'This is my country'
On being the lone aboriginal in a suburban Toronto school

2. Crystal and Amber
An unlikely friendship

3. Crystal's family
Searching for a better life meant moving away from the reserve

Reader feedback
Check out what readers had to say about Crystal's Choice
4. Competing faiths
"I haven't decided if I want to believe in heaven or the devil," she says. "In my native faith, there is no heaven."

5. Geography class
Crystal takes up the cause of aboriginals from the north

6. Defying the urban reserve
'I want to be an educated, smart, beautiful native woman'


 
 

interactives
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photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay


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