I moved a couple of times when I was little. The last time we moved, I made new friends right away with a blonde haired blue-eyed girl. I was in grade 6 at the time, which means we were just hitting that awkward stage where maybe you think a boy is cute but at the same time you find them equally repulsive.
This girl and I, let’s call her Amanda, so Amanda and I would walk home every day together from school. In the harsh Northern winters we would tug on our snowpants and pull on our mitts and begin the cheek biting trek. It wasn’t that far, maybe 4 or 5 blocks, but in -30 degrees celsius it can feel like a marathon. That is, if it were a marathon with frozen goods slapping your face the entire way while adding in a tear duct that drips for no apparent reason.
Amanda came to my house for sleepovers, she ate at my kitchen table. I played at her house, I cuddled her ugly shitzu dog, and we did homework assignments together. We were pretty close to being best friends. My father had nick names for her, but my father had nick names for everyone. I think this is because it serves his memory to name people things like “Marshmallow” or “Miatz” (Ugly in Cree). When I got straight A’s in grade 7 and chose to go skydiving my father allowed me to take a friend. Guess who got to go with me?
Surely enough, we entered the war zone of junior high but Amanda and I were lucky enough to have a Social Studies class together. We sat side by side whenever we could. If one got to class before the other, they would place something on the desk next to them to make it appear as if it was occupied. We were tight like that.
In Social Studies we were learning about the Treaty Making Process in the Mid-West. I believe at the time we were learning about the Cree, one of the tribal lineages I belong too. The text-book we were learning from said that they had offered the Cree so many acres of land for each family, and that the Cree denied and were upset. The Cree demanded more land. For me, this was supposed to be a time where I could learn about my history too, it was as if I was reading about my Great Great Grandfathers and Grandmothers. I was excited.
To my utter and complete horror I heard Amanda say angrily, “Greedy bastards. I wouldn’t have gave them any land.”
I want to slam the textbook shut. I want to ball my little mixed blood fists up and plummel them into her porcelain cheeks, pull out a few strands of her blonde hair, and gauge a blue eye out. I want to tell her to shut up. I want to yell at the teacher and tell him there’s got to be more to the story.
I did none of these.
I feel my face turn red with shame. I fidget in my seat. I feel betrayed and upset and hurt. I want to scream. This is the first time (of many incidents) in my life I really and truly feel as if I was categorized as, “the other”. I became “the other” in my 8th grade Social Studies classroom, and trust me it isn’t a feeling you want to have in junior high.
Looking back, I see that as my defining moment. The moment I started to push away from my white friends and become closer to other Indians just like me. Amongst them, I wouldn’t have to feel like “the other”.
I don’t blame Amanda for her response.
I blame the colonized and one-sided education that we received, and that students are still receiving, for the ending of our friendship.
Years later, I learn about how some Treaties were signed. Signed under duress. Signed after they had gotten the Indians drunk enough to sign it. Signed because of the forked tongues of those who interpreted the Treaties incorrectly. Signed with the understanding that “nothing would change”.
Those damned text books said nothing of residential schools, nothing of the oppressive policies that outlawed our ceremonies, confined us to reserves, made it illegal to “dress like an Indian”, or nothing that I would consider a true and accurate portrayal.
If Amanda knew these things, then her response could have been different.
The education that exists within the colonial systems does nothing to build understanding about our shared history. It freezes the “Indian” in an era that is not today, nor tomorrow, and so it perpetuates stereotypes and denies our existence today.
The education that exists today is not only written by the ones whom have “won the war” but it ensure that those whom have been colonized will remain in their positions. If this generation is to change, the education they are receiving will have to follow suit and change too.