Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A prophetic word

Nellie Mooney McClung was seven years old when her family moved from Chatsworth, Ontario to the west. They made good time, actually, considering it was 1880. They left by steamship from Owen Sound, Ontario, across Lake Huron and Lake Superior, landing in Duluth, Minnesota. From there they went via train to St. Boniface. It took only four days.

They reached a settlement and stayed there while Nellie's father and brother went out looking for land. At one point, John Mooney contemplated not going so far from where they were landed. He predicted that some of the land currently around Winnipeg would eventually be bought, and it would be a good way to make money. Letitia Mooney, a very strong woman, judging from Nellie's recollections of her, wanted to keep moving. Nellie, in her book Clearing in the West, quotes her mother:
"Let us go on," she said, "Let us go to an all-white settlement. There are too many jet black eyes and high cheekbones here. I like them very well when they belong to the neighbour's children, but I would not want them in my grandchildren. We came here, John, for our children's sake, not ours, and we'll do the best for them every day."
Mrs. Mooney's sentiments reflect an attitude that would not only prevail, but grow more serious: racism toward Canada's Aboriginal people. The history of racism in Canada is an unfinished one in many ways, because there are still land claims which are disputed. More than five years ago, Aboriginal peoples from the Six Nations damaged a power station near where I live, causing a huge power blackout. It was done in protest of a housing development going up on land which is in dispute.

Ancestors on my mother's side originally came from France and then Quebec, and then landed in the Red River Settlement. My great-grandmother's father, Alexandre Larocque, a Metis,  was reputed to have had his land taken from him and went to South Dakota. Eventually, the family made its way back to Canada through Saskatchewan, where my grandmother, my mother, and I were all born. I wonder how people felt about the "high cheekbones" in that area. I have a picture of my great grandmother. She does indeed have high cheekbones.