stats Making the Business of Life Easier

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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  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


Missisauga locator Her mother is part Dutch, but always tried to make Crystal feel native. They lived in Toronto, but attended powwows at the SkyDome, and travelled by bus and subway to visit other Indians. Every summer, Crystal and her sisters went to a native camp with kids from the inner city.

Her father, part Mi'kmaq, part Italian, had different advice. He said the best thing she could do was forget her native roots. They were pulling her down.

These competing currents led to an eddy in Crystal's identity, one that was swirled all the more when she got to Mississauga. She had read about Catholic missionaries who had forced natives to give up their language and clothing, and here she was wearing a school uniform, accented with black leggings and white Adidas, and watching a vigil pass through the hallway.

One boy bears a cross. The rest carry candles which flicker on their Francis-Xavier shirts, each one emblazoned with the school's motto, "Excellence, Love, Hope, Peace."

"I haven't decided if I want to believe in heaven or the devil. In my native faith, there is no heaven. I'm trying to balance it all out."
Crystal Samms

The scene reminds Crystal of a weekend spiritual retreat she joined early in the year to meet new friends. To her shock, her group leader said he knew what it was like to be possessed by Satan. He began to vomit, he said, and at one point, saw the devil through a window, and began to curse him.

Back at her aunt's house, Crystal left the lights and TV on all night.

"I haven't decided if I want to believe in heaven or the devil," she says. "In my native faith, there is no heaven. I'm trying to balance it all out."

Her equivocal faith hinges more on her new hero, Brian Finamore, school chaplain and tireless promoter of social issues. Not long after Crystal settled into St. Francis-Xavier, Finamore encouraged her to join his Third World assistance projects - and to educate her peers about native issues. When the native leader Elijah Harper came to visit, Finamore arranged for Crystal to introduce him to the student body.

For the first time in many years, she feels there is an adult who wants to see her succeed. Finamore monitors her grades, gives her late slips when she has had to work until 2 or 3 a.m. at McDonald's, encourages her teachers to deal with native issues and takes her along to local charity drives.

One morning, as she is rushing to geography class, he stops her in the hall, and tells her to consider a future in Parliament. No one has ever told Crystal to raise her sights so high.

She thanks him for his support, and heads off to another portable. Although stifling yawns from another late shift, she does not want to miss geography today. The class is finally on to aboriginal issues, discussing resource development in the Arctic.

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'



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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