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COLUMN: Christmas in Stoney country

Âba wathtech. My name is Îyâ Sa Wîyâ (Red Mountain Woman). Some readers might know me as Tina Fox. As I celebrate my 80th Christmas, I would like to tell you a story about how we celebrated this holiday in Mînî Thnî.
TinaFox
Tina Fox, respected Morley, Alta., Elder and Morley Indian Residential School survivor offers insight to Christmas celebrations in Stoney country.

Âba wathtech. My name is Îyâ Sa Wîyâ (Red Mountain Woman). Some readers might know me as Tina Fox. As I celebrate my 80th Christmas, I would like to tell you a story about how we celebrated this holiday in Mînî Thnî.

As survivors of the McDougall Boarding School and later the Morley Indian Residential School, we celebrated Christmas because we were conditioned to believe in Christian teachings. However, it was also a time when the community spirit came alive in our community.

I remember Christmas as a time of togetherness. It was a time when people came together after a year of hardship. For children, this hardship was endured at the residential school. For 10 months out of each year, we toiled and laboured. However, Christmas was special because we celebrated as a community.

I recall how our parents and grandparents would work hard each fall to earn money so that each year we could travel to Calgary to shop. Back then, travelling to Calgary required us to take our horse-drawn wagons to the train station where the Stoney Trading Post is now located, to get on the train to Calgary. Once in Calgary, everything seemed magical as our parents shopped (mostly for food).

As children, we were only allowed one gift each. How we appreciated each gift bought with love and hard work.  I remember looking at a harmonica one year. I was looking at it when my father, Noah Poucette, called for me. It was time to go to the train station. I left that store wishing I could have that beautiful harmonica, but I did not tell my father.

Back at the train station in downtown Calgary, we would load our goods and prepare for the evening ride. Once in Mînî Thnî, many families would work together to load their wagons. After the wagons were loaded, we would slowly go back to our one-room cabins under the night sky. That midnight ride was special to me because everything was quiet, and the air was crisp.

On Christmas day, the community would gather at the community hall to feast. The menu did not include turkey or ham, but moose meat and vegetables grown in our gardens. It was a time to be together with relatives and friends alike. It was not about presents or Santa Claus but about being one as a community. How special it was.

Christmas was a time of celebrating life and the gifts the Creator bestowed upon us. Each holiday season, I fondly remember my grandmother Jenny Cecil, the woman who raised me. I remember my mother and father. I remember family. I also recall that one special gift I received from Santa that one year – a beautiful silver harmonica (Îsniyes Ade).

As we celebrate Christmas in 2021, I wish you all a joyous holiday season from my teepee to yours.

By Tina Fox