2007 STORY #8 – PAGAN BABIES
I hated being kid the only native in my first grade class at Saint Michael's School in downtown Toronto!
I especially hated Catechism class. Mom insisted we attend Catholic School, despite Daddy's objections.
And so, daily, I put on my navy blue tunic, starched white blouse, navy knee high socks, and black penny loafers. And off to school I'd go.
Daddy took me aside, and reminded me that underneath this required uniform, I was STILL a native kid, and told me I was never to forget this!
I listened to Daddy's words.
In preparation for the Easter Season, Sister Bonaventure began teaching us about Pagan Babies. It was part of her Pagan Baby Campaign. I sat at my desk, pretending to listen, but in reality, thinking of the other teachings I had been given: teachings of the Trail of Tears, Teachings from our Elders, from my Daddy. I missed a lot of what Sister Bonaventure taught us in Catechism Class cuz I was busy in my thoughts.
I was startled by Sister's sharp whack of her pointer on my shoulder. "Sorry Sister! What EXACTLY is a Pagan Baby?" I innocently asked.
"Well.........a Pagan Baby is one of the unfortunates, " she told me. "One of the unbaptized. You know...the heathens, the little Indian kids who haven't yet found Christ."
"Oh. Like me?" Another whack!
Sister went on to tell us that it was OUR responsibility as Christian children to help save these heathen babies. She told us that we would be given a certificate of adoption for a Pagan Baby for each dollar we brought in. Those with the most certificates at the end of the Lenten season, would be given a prize.
That night I talked to Daddy about the Pagan Baby campaign. I asked if I could have a dollar. I will never forget the look on his face! He sat me on his lap and explained to me that Sister was wrong. That we are not heathens, and we do not need to be saved. He told me he would not give me any money to buy a certificate. I understood his words as much as any six year old could, but went to bed that night worried about how I would explain this to Sister.
I had an idea that night. The next day on the way to school, I stopped at St. Michael's Cathedral on my way to school. I cautiously entered the big doors, and looked around. I could see only a few people at the front of the church, kneeling in prayer.
I carefully and quietly walked to one of the candle altars, knelt and pretended to pray. Carefully, I opened one of the little metal boxes which sat near the sand where we were supposed to distinguish the wicks we used to light the candles.
I took four quarters out of the box and slipped them into my pocket.
During Catechism class, I raised my hand and told Sister that I had a dollar to buy a certificate. She was very proud of me. She asked me what I would like to name this Pagan Baby. I told her "Mary Theresa".
"What a lovely Christian name!" Sister told me as she handed me my very own calligraphied certificate naming me the proud new "parent" of this Pagan Baby.
I hid it in my cluttered desk amongst the bubble gum wrappers, the comic books and other school assignments.
That night I had a nightmare. I dreamt that there was a knock on our door and when I answered it, there was this little girl standing there. She told me her name was Mary Theresa, and that she had come home for dinner! Then the doorbell continued to ring, and one after another Pagan Babies were at our door, saying they were my Pagan Babies.
I ran all the way to school the next morning, anxious to tell Sister the truth about where I got the dollar to buy my Pagan Baby. I was terrified that I would be hit by a car on the way and end up in hell or something for stealing the money, in the first place...especially from the church!
I found Sister in the classroom before the bell rang. I told her what I had done. She simply told me to go to my desk and wait for the bell to ring. I was terrified!
As soon as the bell rang, and we'd stood to recite the Lords' Prayer and sing O Canada, Sister called me to the front of the class. She made me tell the whole class what I had done. She then told me that as punishment I was to return the dollar to the Monseigneur that very day. She tore the certificate up in front of the class and told me I would also have to stay after school for a whole week as punishment. I would have to write " I MUST NOT STEAL." one hundred times a day on the blackboard. As further punishment, I would have to wash all the blackboards after I was finished every day for a week.
That evening I told Daddy what I had done. Again, he sat me on his lap and held me close to him.
"My poor little Princess. I am so sorry that you felt you had to do this. I know you know it is wrong to steal and will not ever do this again. And I am so sorry that woman embarrassed you like this", he told me.
The next day Daddy went to school with me. I was so proud of him as he stood in front of our class, his beautiful waist length black hair falling over his ribbon shirt. He spoke to my classmates about what Native children were really about. Sister gasped! She asked him to leave. Daddy just continued speaking. Sister ran out of the class and returned with Mother Superior.
"Welcome Ma'am" Daddy said when he saw who had joined Sister. "I was just finishing up here. I think I will now take my child and go fishing if you don't mind."
We laughed all the way home!
The next day, I stayed after school, and began to write "I MUST NOT STEAL" on the blackboard. Sister told me to go home.
Cheryl Deer won the prize for the most certificates. She got a statue of the Infant of Prague.
I won the best prize though. I learned to be proud of who I am. And I never stole again.