June 16, 2014
I love history. I was reminded recently how much I do love history when I read the book Burial Rites by Hannah Kent that I found in the book exchange collection where I stayed in The Loft while recently visiting Iceland. Kent is a 20 something Australian author who lived in Iceland for a time and found out about a woman who was executed in the 1800s in northern Iceland after being accused of participating in a murder. The novel draws on this actual historical fact and is set in an Icelandic family home where the prisoner was billeted while she waited for her beheading. It also delves into the relationship the convict developed with a Christian minister from whom she sought counsel. Each chapter begins with an archival copy of a letter relating to the murder and those convicted of enacting it. It is not an easy read but the character development is fascinating. I recommend this book.
How I imagine Hannah Kent pieced together the factual parts of this story is one of the reasons that I love history (or herstory as we in the feminist community called it in the 1980s). Digging through archival records and thumbing through dusty tomes in government and university libraries to discover the past is the ultimate in problem solving as far as I am concerned.
One of the many magazines in which I have had articles about historical figures published was entitled Indian Record. In the 1980s, it had become old school in the sense that Indian had become a derogatory term much like Negro is today. In addition to this,its editor was a white Catholic priest. First Nations people were starting to speak up about wanting to tell their own stories and rightfully so. There are, however, a lot of interesting people to write about in this world and among them are many First Nations people. It does not seem right that some of their stories could be lost in the shuffle of political correctness or incorrectness.
In the end, a good story about someone who lived in the past is a good story. The white Catholic priest contributed to leaving a large written record about people who we know about and will know about in the future because he filled a gap at a time when First Nations people were seldom represented in the mainstream media.
I like to feel that in a small way I have assisted in keeping Daisy Crowchild in the public consciousness by writing and having the following article published in the 1980s. In doing so, she can serve as a role model in the educational field today:
Daisy Crowchild — native education activist
by Tanya Lester
Even in recent years, Indian reserves have more often than not been dumping grounds for teachers who could not get jobs elsewhere due to lack of education, experience or poor career choice. Although there have been exceptions, native youth have often been the victims of an inadequate education system.
The situation was even more dismal when Daisy Crowchild started advocating better access to good education for native children in the 1940’s. With the passing of this native leader on January — at the age of 83, Indian people have lost a woman who dedicated many hours of her life to improving their status through pushing open doors to education that had been shut previously.
Born near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Daisy Dowan or Drifting Cloud (as was her Sioux name) became involved in education issues at Sarcee reserve near Calgary where she had moved to marry Chief David Crowchild in 1918.
It was in 1947, when her son Gordon (one of five children) was attending Calgary’s Balmoral School, that Daisy accepted an invitation to attend a home and school association meeting. “Her goal is the equal education rights and privileges for Indian children which are given other children,” a 1955 Calgary Herald article summed up the philosophy that Daisy started to develop at that first meeting.
During the intervening years, Daisy founded the first home and school association on an Alberta reserve when she established one at Sarcee. She took on a position of treasurer for the organization and believed that “advances in education begin in the home familiar with the school system and all the problems which confront it.”
But Daisy’s work was felt outside the reservation’s boundary lines. She served for two years as the first Indian national executive member in the Canadian Home and School Parent-Teacher Association.
An articulate speaker, Daisy made a report to that association’s 1952 national convention at Banff in which she especially requested a need for school buses to transport native students to school. The request was acted upon.
Although there seems to be no mention of Daisy’s speech in a report of that year’s convention, it is apparent that her words affected those present. The convention’s first passed resolution urged “the Canadian Government to provide maintenance and staffing of Indian Schools to assure that Indian children have opportunities for education equal to those maintained for other children.
No doubt Daisy was behind the support her husband gave to the building of a reserve school in 1949, the first since 1895.
Daisy continued to work for her beliefs outside the Indian community. In 1954, she sat as vice-president of the Home and School Association at Western Canada High School in Calgary.
Daisy was a traditonalist who spoke the Dakota (Sioux) language and added to her income by making beaded buckskin jackets, coats, and moccasins.
But when it came to education, she believe in the integration of the races. “It is the dream of the Indians,” Daisy Dowan-Crowchild once told a newspaper reporter, “that some day there will be equal educational opportunities for all Indian and white children. Indian children must learn the ways of the white man and education is the only way.”
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester is available for purchase from the author or by going to the title and author name at amazon.com