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Stories from the Holiday Season

Elder recounts first Christmas

Florence Kelly, Iniikokaan Centre Cultural Resource Elder, member of the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation and Bow Valley College alumna from the 1980s.

Florence is the author of Pancake and Our Christmas Adventure, a children’s book loosely based on her own first Christmas experience.

As a child, before she was sent to Residential School, Florence lived with her mother, father, uncle, grandparents, and her siblings on a trapline in an isolated area on Outer Bay, Ontario. The family celebrated solstice, but not Christmas.

This is Florence’s memory of the sacred celebration.

During solstice my uncle picked us up to take us to a traditional seasonal celebration. We got their just in time for the feast. A lot of people had come to celebrate, including my cousins, uncles, aunties, and grandparents.

We ate all of our traditional feasting foods: duck soup, roasted duck, wild rice, moose and deer meat, bannock, blueberries, and tea.

After the feast, people sat in a circle around the room.

Elders sat in the middle of the circle smoking their pipes, and each in turn told a story or a legend. My siblings and I found a place to snuggle next to our mother. I tried to stay awake, but I’d fall asleep sometime and then wake up just in time to hear the start of another legend.

I still love the smell of pipe smoke. It takes me back to this wonderful place when we listened to stories.

At some point my father woke us up to go to where we would spend the night. The next day we got up bright and early. My father called us over and gave us each a candy from a little can that was full of colourful candies. The most precious gift he gave us was a whole orange. On the trapline, there were so many of us that we only each got a tiny piece of orange. This was the first whole orange I ever had.

When I tell my story to my grandchildren, I always talk about the special gift of a whole orange. It seems unreal to them that I would value such a humble gift.


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