Over the past week, I have done a lot of firsts in regards to cultural practices. I beaded my first medallion & first set of earrings, made my first pine needle basket, and started my first rattle. I’m 25 and still don’t have half of the skills that my Grandma has. Reclamation of ones cultural identity, is a long but necessary process.
The other day someone who was non-indigenous asked me what my thoughts were on indigenous people getting caught in a victim mentality that doesn’t allow them to move forward. This thread of conversation was pulled from my recent post, Get Over It and I feel that the intent of my original writing was a little misconstrued.
When I wrote “Get Over It”, I meant that before individuals suggest that we as indigenous peoples, the original inhabitants of Turtle Island, need to get over “it” they need to know what “it” is. You cannot dismiss Nation upon Nations issues, struggles, and cries of injustice without trying to understand their history. By neglecting to even attempt to wrap your mind around the multi-pronged oppression that indigenous people faced and are still facing, you only get a glimpse of the picture. By that glimpse, you cannot claim to see the nature of the picture and make off-hand hurtful comments based on the clarity that you claim.
When did ethnic differences separate us from being able to sit with another’s story and hear of its struggles, triumphs, losses, and victories?
Or I suppose that has always been our shared inability, to see across these chasms and gain sight of each other. Isn’t it time for change? Surely humanity must be weary of waging wars within the heart that move individuals to discrimination and actions of hate. Surely, humanity must be weary.
I am not begging to be seen as human and indigenous at the same time, as if the two are not one in the same. I have done that once and the recollection of it cripples me.
Young single mother, living with her parents, working part time, and going to school full time.
We were the only Indians on the block and you could feel the judgmental stares as they bore holes into the back of your brown head. The neighbours would stand in groups on the streets striking up conversations that we were never a part of. I could feel the disconnect and the distaste from those that surrounded us.
It was winter, and our house swelled like a pregnant mother in the cold, making it so that the garage door would not remained closed unless something was propped up against it. The door was always found randomly open, swaying in the northern wind, exposing our Indian innards to the block.
I was finishing classes that day and went to work right after. There was a period of 45 minutes where I needed someone to watch my son after daycare and before my arrival home. My dad picked up my son for me.
I was a block away from the house when I received a phone call,
“Helen. What the fuck was Mathias doing outside?! What was going on? Where are you?!” I hear my brother say, part disorientated, part angry, part scared.
“WHAT?!” I say.
“He was outside on the street. All the neighbours were out there. All of them. He was out there,” my brother says.
“I’m a minute away,” I say.
I drive the remaining block with panic and fear fluttering to my throat.My stroller is across the street, and there are blue eyes and white faces congregated on the road. I run into the house, the door flapping in the wind, fucking door.
I find my son swaddled on the couch in a blanket. My 18 year old brother beside him with a dazed look on his face. I call my father, angry and wanting answers.
“You were supposed to be watching him! He ended up outside. What the fuck happened?!” I scream, not knowing where to direct my anger.
Apparently my father asked my sleeping brother to watch my son while he went to pick up my mother. He would be gone a total of 20 minutes. My brother, barely awake agreed to something he didn’t remember and went back to sleep.
My 2 1/2 year old son took it upon himself to walk outside without shoes nor jacket, into the -15 degrees Celsius winter weather. Escaping through doors that never close properly and was outside, across the road with the stroller, for an estimated 10 minutes.
I go to the closest neighbour, the only one whom has ever showed kindness, and some level of escaping judgements of our “indian-ess”, although her children are never allowed to come play in our back yard. Maybe browness is infectious.
She told me how she looked outside and seen a group of neighbours clustered around my bright green stroller. She went out to see what the commotion was as they all stood around, gawking at my son who had climbed into the stroller, and talked.. while my son sat in a stroller unclothed and cold. The neighbour lady seen that he was scared, and ready to cry and she scooped him up and carried him inside the house.
5 minutes after I arrived, the cops showed up and began questioning me about my son. How I cared for him, who cared for him, how did I let this happen?
There was a middle aged family across the street that cast the heaviest glances, I knew it was them who had called. Could I blame them?
I was relieved my son was fine, but knew how this event probably reinforced whatever indian stereotypes that they held in their hearts. It killed me.
Late that night I walked over to their house and knocked on the white door, my breath quick paced and heart beating. The lady, blonde with blue eyes had a look of surprise on her face and invited me in.
The husband came out and looked uncomfortably at me then sent their children to the room.
“I…I.. I just came over to ask about my son,” I say, “How long was he out there for?”
The husband looks at me directly, ” about 10 minutes,” he says then adds, “it was really cold out.”
“I know,” I say staring at the floor, my head heavy with the weight of white eyes, ” I… I was at work. You see I work part time and go to school full time. I’m a single parent and.. and there was just 30 minutes when I wasn’t able to be there. I work hard, but it’s hard. Sometimes. Really hard.” I’m crying now, and my body is shaking.
The husbands gaze softens and the wife shifts her head empathetically. He says, “We were the ones that called the cops. He was outside. It was the right thing to do.”
” I understand that. It scared me, knowing he was out there like that. I’m just glad he’s okay. I’m working hard for him, for us, to have a good life and I’m not always there… So this… this.. will never happen,” I say, still staring at the floor, crying, and when I look up I see a look of pity.
I excuse myself and walk across the street to the pregnant house, the sound of hard snow, crisp beneath my feet. I pause outside of my house and cry hard. I have this disgusting feeling lingering on my spirit, it’s weight heavier than any judging stare.
I didn’t go over there to find out about my son, I went over there for my own sake. I had just begged to be seen as human, crying and shaking in a white mans house, to not be seen as “just another indian”. To have to beg to be seen as human and indian, two of which are the same, is something that should never have to happen. It’s crippling.
I lost myself in this story, but alas, it must have been a story that needed to be told.
Understanding should come prior to judgments, in all things. We do each other no favours by carrying preconceived notions awaiting to be applied to a could be friend.
Onwards with the reclamation and recovery of who I am as a Dane Zaa and Cree woman, a road in which I find my strength to stand tall.