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 A supply teacher, who has little control over the class, asks the students to break into small groups and read photocopies of a CBC transcript of an actual "Far North Inquiry." The groups will then be asked to assume a role to debate commercial development in the Far North.

Crystal's group is assigned the role of a Métis trapper, and before the others can settle into their seats at the back, she is in flight. This is her chance to engage her new friends in her issues.

"Why should first nations give up their resources when urban people are just wasting them?" she asks, undeterred by a pall of disinterest in her group. Her friend Diane pulls out a copy of Teen People. Two other girls chat about the Toronto Maple Leafs and an upcoming party.

"If the up-north people wanted it that bad, it would have been their idea," Crystal continues in her attack against outside development. "They don't want it!"

She finally asks the group what they should write down for their presentation. "Whatever you just said," Diane says, putting down Teen People. But then, without any apparent reason, she asks Crystal a genuine question about the "up-north" people: "What's the latest technology they have?"

"Well, they don't have cable," Crystal says, thinking hard about the answer. "Cable would freeze."

She has never been north. Her reserve is at the same latitude as Oregon.

"Do they have refrigerators or microwaves?" Diane continues.

"It's just like camping," Crystal says.

"Except it's really cold," Diane says, pausing. "I don't know. I've never been camping."

The exchange halts when the group's lone male, Jordan, snaps out of his apparent stupor by rolling up his copy of the transcript and blowing it like a horn.

"We (native people) need to pay more attention to the family. We have to stop letting it slip away."
Crystal Samms

Crystal's interest has waned as well. She begins to show a set of family photos she has in her bag, making sure everyone sees her Grade 8 graduation picture - it's the only one she has that shows her parents together.

"It would be so cool if we lived together as a family, if my parents loved each other," she says to Diane. "But they don't. They despise each other."

A third girl puts down the pictures and says she wishes she had darker skin like Crystal's.

Later, when Jordan, Diane and the others are gone, Crystal looks at the pictures again. Pretty much every non-native friend she has at St. Francis-Xavier comes from a broken home, yet she still believes family is essential to her native identity. She calls it a "strong table," meaning your family is what you set your life on.

It's what bothers her most, living here in comfort, attending a school that pursues excellence, yet being so far from her real family. "That's part of being native. We need to pay more attention to the family. We have to stop letting it slip away."

She doesn't want to talk about this around the others, but she fears that once again she is losing a family. Her aunt, more and more, is snapping at her. She is still angry about leaving Crystal alone one weekend, and coming home to a trashed house. Crystal had allowed a group of drunk friends to come in, not realizing their intentions. One boy bit a table in the living room. Another smashed the stair railing. And they started to pocket things - her little cousin's hockey equipment, a gold picture frame, a CD player.

Crystal worked double shifts to pay for the damage, but her aunt is still upset.

"That's okay," Crystal says. She has seen people like the Mississauga boys on her reserve, and wanted no part of them anyway. "I know where they're going in life. They're going nowhere."

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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