Holidays at Aboriginal Services
I did a short interview with Christina Restoule, Aboriginal Services Manager at Conestoga College, regarding the difference between different Indigenous people and their beliefs surrounding Christmas. Being the front line contact for a variety of people and making decisions around what is best practice to accommodate the belief systems of all, Christina has embraced the challenge to be respectful and inclusive to the students that come through her doors.
In order to begin to understand the difference between the belief systems that Indigenous people hold, you must understand a few things. The older generation of people most likely spent time in the residential school system, and each person had a different experience there, some good and some bad. Those who spent the holidays confined at the schools, due to travelling issues, behavioural issues or just because their parents couldn’t find them or they had been told that their families were dead, may not have many happy memories of Christmas. These people prefer not to celebrate any of the “Christian/Catholic” holidays due to horrible memories and triggers that make them suffer when they hear certain songs or see decorations. Some others may have the opposite feelings, and have embraced the holiday including church services and the whole “Baby Jesus” way of thinking.
Inter generational Trauma and Beliefs
The inter generational trauma and belief systems almost always go directly back to the residential school system, or more recently, the Children’s Aid Society (Family and Children’s Services as it is known by now). Without good memories to share, with the elephant in the room so to speak, a lot of Indigenous people passed on their trauma and abuse to the next generations, thus creating more bad memories for themselves and their children. The long and painful process of truth and reconciliation while posing trigger threats to a lot of people, has started to open the doors to healing these trauma’s and helping people to create new memories.
The Spirit of Giving
Christina has spent her whole career in service of the Indigenous community in Kitchener/Waterloo and has come across so many different people with varying beliefs, “I have a very humble respect for different viewpoints and beliefs” she told me during our interview. “Christmas means different things to different people, and that’s okay”
She understands that all people go through challenging times and makes sure that she provides support for those people, as well as celebrating milestones and accomplishments.
Aboriginal Services does get into the holiday spirit, with all of these things in mind, Christina provides a safe space where anybody can come in and get some holiday cheer, listen to holiday music, even if it is “The Twelve Days of Nishmas”. There is a quiet place to reflect and smudge (a practice that a lot of Indigenous people practice, burning sacred medicines and “cleansing” our minds, bodies and spirits). There is always a friendly face or two at the office and they always make you feel welcome and safe.
The Spirit of Giving
The Spirit of Giving is what is believed and practiced by a lot of Indigenous people, and not in the sense of “what you can get” but in sharing GOOD ENERGY, a smile and a hug go a long way in helping people get through their day. So, in that respect, yes, we do celebrate Christmas but not necessarily the way other nations do.
I hope that this information has been helpful, and I would love to hear your feedback on this subject. Please let me know how you celebrate, or don’t celebrate the holidays, let’s start a conversation!