In his posthumously published story collection
Candies (Kegedonce Press) Anishinaabe writer and storyteller Basil Johnston tells comedic stories about life in Residential School without diminishing its devastating impact. First Nations writer Maurice Switzerof Anishinabek News says of the collection "There could not be a more resonating testament than Candies to the reslience of Indian Residential School survivors." Read on for an excerpt from the book and more about the author.
Candies grow on trees in California, like apples and oranges grow, in great groves and great orchards and like apples and oranges they burst from blossom growing slowly from green sour little berries into ripe berries. And so abundantly do they grow that California provides the entire world with candies.
I learned this a long time ago; I should say that my friends and I at Cape Croker learned of this remarkable fact a long time ago, and I believe that we were the only children on the entire face of the earth who were so privileged to know of it. The time has now come to let everyone else know what only “we” knew and kept secret for these many years -- “candies are not made in factories, they grow on trees in California.”
We learned of the origin of candies on Christmas a long time ago from a man who had actually helped Santa Claus.
Had our Christmases on Cape Croker Indian Reserve been like other Christmases elsewhere, with the church services and a feast at home, we would never have come by the knowledge that we received. But luckily for us our Christmases were different and they were different because the Ojibway at Cape Croker loved festivals as much as their ancestors did and because times were changing.
There were church services as elsewhere to be sure and family dinners, not too often with turkey mind you, but more frequently with rabbit or raccoon or fish or even salt pork, followed by visits to other homes. No longer having occasion to celebrate war dances on the return of a triumphant war party, or permitted to perform rites of ancient medicine societies or rituals of thanksgiving or to conduct Dog Feasts, the Cape Croker Ojibway with the tribal love for festivals still flowing in their veins now re-cast Christmas with a series of wing-dings.
For the people at the Cape, Christmas did not come and end on December 25th; rather the week-long celebration began on that date and ended on or about New Year’s Day or when the food ran out, gifts were exhausted, the orchestra burned out, and the dancers had worn out their rubber boots and grown callouses on their soles.
Basil Johnston is cherished as an esteemed Anishinaabe writer, storyteller, language teacher and scholar. He was born in Wasauking First Nation in 1929, and was a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. Johnston wrote over 15 books in English and five in Ojibway, including Ojibway Heritage, Indian School Days, Crazy Dave, and Honour Earth Mother (Kegedonce Press).
For his work, Johnston received numerous awards including the Order of Ontario and three honourary doctorates. Johnston's accolades include: the 2013 Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award; the 2007 Anskohk Aboriginal Literary Lifetime Achievement Award; the 2004 Aboriginal Achivement Award for Heritage and Spirituality; and the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal.
Johnston was one of the foremost Anishinaabe writers and storytellers, and his comedic stories about life in Residential School, Indian School Days, is a classic. Candies was Johnston’s first collection of humourous works in decades. He passed away at Wiarton, Ontario in 2015 at the age of 86.
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Candies or any of our
READ INDIGENOUS books and get this stunning limited-run tote bag featuring colourful artwork from Indigenous visual artists Kaya Joan, Alan Syliboy, Dawn Oman, and Lauren Crazybull until November 15th (while supplies last). And don't forget to check out today's other READ INDIGENOUS feature, Bad Endings by Carleigh Baker (Anvil Press).
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