My Mother would often tell me that “children don’t have a choice.” She and I would get into conversations that lasted all day. She would tell me this, because, the reality is that children don’t. They don’t choose who they are born from, they don’t choose their circumstances. She would bring this up because in her line of work she saw a lot of “underprivileged youth.” She brought it up because she was a survivor of residential school. She would bring it up to me, so that I could be aware that children are powerless and need protection. They need guidance. They need to be shown love. For many of us, that seems to go without saying. If you the reader believes that goes without saying, then recognize that you live a privileged life, seemingly from the get go. Your parents probably instilled this same knowledge, or similar within you, if not by being told then by being shown. If you have made it to university, made it through life to get here, then you certainly have a lot of privilege that most never had a chance of seeing. Most of the children of the world live and die from, as Hobbes would say, nasty short and brutish lives. Many starve, many have been bombed, many have been neglected and abused.
Here in Canada, for almost 100 years, which easily encompassed four generations of people was the residential school system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada have made their findings public. They have documented many awful stories of the violent physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that had gone on in these schools, affecting generations of people. You can look into those histories for yourselves.
However; I’d like to tell you the story of my aunt’s experience.
My Aunt was 11, and she with two other girls were called into Mother Superior’s office. Mother Superior, who was a grey nun of the Catholic Church, had told the three little girls that “you three are chosen to be on a holy mission from god.” Being little girls, and coming from the mouth of Mother Superior, this was such a great honour. What a great thing to have happened! Mother Superior said “your holy mission is to take this bag down to the incinerator and burn it. Part of this holy mission, is that you must watch it burn.”
So my aunt, and her two friends, all proudly walked the bag down the hall. Holding their heads high for all the other children to see. They were very proud, to be specially chosen to be on a holy mission from god.
The girls went to the incinerator alone, and they put the bag in, and stayed to complete their mission.
They watched the paper bag burn.
Inside the incinerator, the paper burned away rather quickly.
The contents of the bag, was a freshly aborted fetus.
The priest would get the kids pregnant. So, the clergy, representatives of god, would perform in house abortions in order to cover the priest’s tracks.
The three little girls, each one of them, were good Catholics. So, they stayed and watched it burn.
Something fascinating to me is that my aunt stayed being a Catholic. She was even a devout Catholic. For years she was married to an abusive man, and put up with it because she was a good Catholic and made special vows. She eventually wrote to the Pope about her situation, explaining that she wanted a divorce and that this man was abusive. She waited years and finally the Pope wrote back to her, giving her permission to leave this man to which she promptly did.
For the rest of her life she prayed with her rosary, and recited the Hail Mary and the Our Father.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come…
thy will be done.
I find what was her faith, fascinating.
This is just one of thousands of stories, from one of thousands of days at these schools. She was one member of one generation of four generations to go to these schools. Every single one of the Residential Schools in Canada has a cemetery beside it. Just thinking of that makes me wonder, the longer I think, the more fucked up it is to me.
How many schools, private or otherwise have adjacent cemeteries full of the students who went there?
All that being said, all of my blog postings for this class have had a common thread within them.
The thread is power.
Power, as it is in the present societal iteration, is inherently a social phenomena that pervades our daily lives. What we do with it, how we interact with it. The dynamics of our relationships. How we treat each other. How we navigate our proximate and ultimale experiences are tied very closely to the notion. Power in itself does not exist physically. There is no neuron, or neurotransmitter, no region of the brain, no place where power actually exists within the physicality of human biology. Power, as a concept and interplay between individuals is a seemingly cross cultural concept, if not cross species. However, it does suit well to ask if we are projecting the concept of power upon reality. Is the concept of power so intertwined with human experience, that we see interplays of it within the rest of the animal kingdom? That we see it in varying degrees, stratified, specialized, and diffused throughout most every human society and culture? Is power, as a concept, so integral to the human experience, that we have spent years over powering one another, because there is a higher power who has willed it?
Indeed, whether or not this higher power be named Jesus, Ganesha, The Universe, Consciousness, God, Enlightenment, Allah, Hashem, or Dawkins, is the concept of power so pervasive that we create it externally form ourselves to be something part and parcel of the entirety of reality, or something existing all powerfully outside of it?
Within our social group, as humans, children, the elderly, “minorities,” the disabled, are generally viewed as “the weak.” That is to say, the most powerless of all of our fellow human beings.
We say this, often pejoratively without knowing it, while at the same time rarely stopping to think about what the concept of power is in terms of our daily lives.
We are seemingly conditioned to its existence as a reality, however, power exists within this reality in as much as we allow it to, and seemingly is meaningless without an audience, or at least one other entity.
A sub thread to my blogs is the effect of hierarchies. Western culture is full of different iterations of hierarchical structures, which are not cross cultural. In turn, different cultures have different conceptualizations of power. Does the culture of the actor depend on their conceptualizations of power, or, do the conceptualizations of power depend upon the culture? Are they one and the same?
In the story of my aunt that I shared with you, there definitely was power at play on all levels, from Mother Superior, The Priest, The Abusive Husband, the orgnization of the (one true) Church, The Pope, and the God himself. The powerless, were the three girls. A tool, was the fetus.
This story no doubt had a “powerful” effect on my life. I hope, on yours as well. I never want you to forget it.
I will not cite any literature for this particular blog. I submit the story for itself.
After a story like that, there isn’t much to be said anyway.