The Nation’s youth correspondent on the holidays

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The holidays are a time to spend with family and friends. Joyful gift-giving, beautiful decorations… it’s wonderful. This is why the Cree School Board funds student travel costs for the holidays so they can see the people they missed while down south. For some students, however, the holidays remind them of the great opportunity the CSB provided them to escape their home life. Why is that? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

On December 22, the first days of Christmas break arrived. I usually spend my holidays with my father over in Moose Factory, but due to travel complications last time, we decided not to. So for Christmas 2017 and New Year’s 2018, I stayed in Mistissini. If I were to recount my holidays to somebody, I would say that I hibernated for about two weeks. That’s not too far off of what I actually did. I stayed home, rarely went outside, slept till noon (and sometimes sundown), and played video games. I was basically a hermit.

That was until Christmas Eve, when my two sisters and seven-year-old nephew came home from North Bay and Ottawa. They would stay at their grandparents’ house and visit us every so often. I enjoyed playing Minecraft and other video games with my nephew and sometimes the whole house would participate in a board game or two. However, their visit was brief due to the five-week labour strike at Ontario colleges, which meant students had a much shorter holiday break this year.

My Christmas was great. I received a Nintendo Switch with a copy of Super Mario Odyssey and a lot of clothes. My nephew was also given a Switch but with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. So we continued the tradition of playing video games together in the living room.

Every year, our family gathers for a Christmas feast at our Gookum’s house. The house was full of aunts, uncles and cousins; some from out of town and others I rarely see around the community. I maybe spoke about five words during this gathering because it was so awkward and I only wanted to go home. But I couldn’t leave without receiving my gifts! I got a board game, clothes, an American chocolate bar and an amazing down-feather blanket I am now using every day. They were all from “Santa,” but to those who actually bought me these gifts, I thank you so much.

Two weeks can be more than enough to experience the holidays with your family, though. After Christmas Day, the weird, grey period between Christmas and New Year’s began. Christmas decorations stayed up long after the day, but nobody cared. The entire population is hung over for a week and everyone’s sleep schedules are reversed. New Year’s, in fact, was emotionally scarring. I won’t name names but I feel the need to talk about it.

New Year’s Eve was a blunt reminder of the addiction, parenting and education problems we face in the Cree Nation. It’s a celebration of the coming of the New Year that lasts past midnight and typically involves parties, fireworks and alcohol. I always thought of the holiday as mundane, with me usually viewing countdowns on TV and going to bed. This year, however, my view completely changed. First, it started with a couple of people. My nephew and I were just chilling in my room, away from the visitors so I was like, “Okay, this’ll be like any other house party, I’ll just lay low in my room till it all blows over.” Oh boy, was I wrong.

A couple came into the house with their son, who is about nine years old. So it my seven-year-old nephew, a nine-year-old and myself taking shelter from the party. We drowned out the country music they were playing upstairs with the video games we played. It probably wasn’t evident at the time, but I felt an underlying feeling of worry the whole time. As I do every time people get drunk in the house, it was for a good reason.

Earlier that day, I was playing video games online with my friends. They joked that they would come over to my house to celebrate New Year’s. At least, I thought it was a joke. I laughed and it slid under the rug. I would have never guessed that during the time that the Minor Squad TM would be taking shelter from the party upstairs, a group of my friends would enter my house. They burst through my bedroom door and took over my room. I was taken aback and thought, “This night could not have gotten any worse.”

But it did. It was like when you were at a friend’s house and they got into an argument with one of their parents and you just had to sit there and wish you never existed, but multiplied by a thousand.

So I kicked my nephew and his new friend out to play on my Switch in the other room. I thought it would be fine. Maybe an hour passed. Then my two sisters arrived and took my nephew away to go to bed. They said that everything looked fine with the house and waved goodbye to my mom.

Perhaps another hour passed and my friends mentioned a drunken man yelling upstairs. Something that shouldn’t be familiar in any household is so familiar to us that it sounds like music. I decided to investigate. That’s when I heard my younger sister, who had been out of the house this whole time, scream in terror.

A curtain from a front window had been torn off the wall. A man, drunk and angry, glared at my sister with his arm raised and his calloused fist clenched. His drunken girlfriend held him back as all the other visitors screamed at him to stop. Luckily, he did and went to comfort my shocked sister. We both yelled at everyone to leave.

Soon, it was just me, my sister and my mother in a group hug. After we made up, one of my friends came up from downstairs, grabbed a garbage bag and began cleaning up. I went back to my friends, my mom watched a movie alone and my sister went to bed. I stayed up all night that night. I also made nachos and happily watched part of a movie with my mom. So my New Year’s had a happy ending but it was far from good.

The whole incident reminded me of a conversation with my cousin and one of my sisters about alcoholism among people close to us. She didn’t care, my sister said, because she wasn’t going to live here anymore. That conversation really hammered home my motivation to attend college.

I think it is probably the same for a lot of students in the Cree Nation. Nothing is more inspiring than the idea of escape. Escape from the alcohol, drugs and abuse in a small community. To all students in terrible households or situations, you don’t have to stay here. You can leave. You need to learn. The CSB will help you. They will help us all. Don’t forget to come back, though. You need to see your friends and family. You need to see your home. And you need to see that you can make things better.

Phew! Sorry, just needed to get that off my chest. So yeah, besides that, my holiday was great! I’d like to close this off with a message to the students: Stay in school, it’s all you got! And a message to the adults: Drink responsibly, and find a babysitter for your kids next time!

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