The Raven

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic


The Haida people live in North America under the protection of their creator, the mighty Raven. The trickster Raven can transform into many forms—animal, human or super-natural. This is the story
of my mother's first experience with the Raven and how her life was forever changed by her relationship with him.

Submitted: May 11, 2018

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Submitted: May 11, 2018

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Mom was only seven years old when she experienced her first taste of hatred and prejudice for simply being born Haida. It was her first day in grade two at the native day school in Skidegate. That morning she was sitting at her desk chatting with a friend next to her. The teacher had just walked into the classroom and was writing her name on the blackboard. Mom and her friend were so excited about their first day in grade two that they began singing and clapping a traditional Haida cradle song.

 

Gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ, gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ?

What | are you for, | what | are you for?

Sgâ'na lî'ñga-i kûdjû'diañ.

Supernatural power | you are going to have | (you) are there for

Gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ, gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ?

What | are you for, | what | are you for?

 

The teacher whirled on them, infuriated, grasped a wooden yard stick from her desk and lashed out at my mother. The blow struck her across the face and sent her sprawling across the classroom floor. Standing over her with the stick held high, the teacher yelled down, ‘How dare you? You dirty little savage. Don’t you ever chant that pagan nonsense in my classroom again? Did you not learn the rules of the school yet? Well? Answer me, half breed. Answer me.’

‘Yes, ma’am,.’ Trembling and terrified, Mom cowered under her desk, covering the welt on her face with her hand. The teacher dragged her to the front of the room and made her stand with her back to the class. Pulling a whip from her desk, she exclaimed, ‘There is only one way to civilize natives and it’s to beat the Indian out of them once and for all.’ She proceeded to lash my mother like a dog.’

Mom told me she remembers that pain to this day. Every lash was like a sharp knife slicing into her flesh. She fell to her knees as the teacher continued to beat her. That’s when she spotted the black bird perched on the window sill. A raven, it stared at her and she stared back at him. For a minute it felt that time stood still. She says she felt a spiritual connection, a voice telling her she was one of his creatures and she would be okay. At that moment, she said the sharp burning sting of the whip disappeared, and a peaceful calm came over her. When Mom quit reacting to the lashes, the teacher stopped the torture, thinking that my mom had passed out. She also noticed the raven on the window ledge. She ran towards it waving her arms and chased it away.

Somehow, Mom says, the raven had touched a core of resolve within her. That was the only way she could explain where she got the courage to stand up, wipe the tears from her eyes and begin to sing again…

 

Gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ, gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ?

What | are you for, | what | are you for?

 

The teacher turned at the sound and stared in total disbelief. My seven-year-old mother looked directly into the teacher’s eyes and continued to sing in defiance. Then my mother walked trance-like towards the teacher, never dropping her stare from the bewildered teacher’s face.

 

Gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ, gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ?

What | are you for, | what | are you for?

 

The teacher looked as if she were seeing a ghost and backed away from my mother, visibly shaken. ‘That’s quite enough now. Get back to your seat. I said, get back to your seat,’ instructed the teacher in frightened tones. Mom, not dropping a note, kept walking zombie-like towards her until the teacher had been backed against the wall.

 

Sgâ'na lî'ñga-i kûdjû'diañ.

Supernatural power | you are going to have | (you) are there for

Gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ, gûs lîñ kûdjû'diañ?

What | are you for, | what | are you for?

 

Unbelievably, at that point, the terrified teacher began to weep openly. Slumping to the floor, she begged the child to leave. Mom stopped singing and stood in silence, staring at the teacher for what seemed an eternity. The trembling teacher jumped back as mom reached over and grasped her hand, and said in the sweet voice of a child, ‘It’s okay, I forgive you.’

She let go of the teacher's hand and calmly walked back to her seat. The startled teacher, still weeping and humiliated, stood up and raced from the classroom.

Mom told her dad what happened that day. He said she had to go back to school and listen to what the teachers said.

She did not know it at the time, but back then, if she was kept from going to the school, the family allowance payments would be stopped and her parents could be arrested by the RCMP.

At the end of that very day, the teacher was walking home through the park when she was struck by a falling pine branch. The limb struck her in the head and knocked her out cold. Her face was lacerated from her chin, across her nose to her right ear. She was lucky an off-duty nurse walking by found her and rendered first aid or she would have probably bled to death. The nurse said the teacher just kept muttering something about a cursed raven. She received thirty stitches and a hideous scar. She never returned to the school after that day. Mom has had a personal relationship with the Raven ever since.

Word of the event spread through the school faster than a scandalous rumor. Mom gained a new status amongst her friends, one of respect and awe. The teachers and staff at the Indian day school never harassed her again. Certainly, there was still plenty of abuse in other classes, but none of the teachers dared confront my mother or any of her classmates. The facts, over time, were embellished and bent, enriching the details of the story, along with my mother’s reputation.

She’s told me that her experience that day and her new relationship with the Raven empowered her, gave her the means and the courage to help other Haida who struggle against the prejudice and shame cast upon them by the white man. As time passed, her friends and family came to realize that mom had been touched by the Raven and had a very special place in the Haida community. She assumed the role of Shaman, eventually, and acquired a distinguished place amongst the Haida elders. She taught us to never forget our past, but to find peace through forgiveness and the power to heal and change our future. My mother’s experience taught me to be proud of my heritage and to stand up for myself and for others who have difficulty doing it for themselves.


© Copyright 2018 RJ Belcourt. All rights reserved.

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