The Funny Thing About Being an Indian

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There’s something funny about being an Indian, especially being a mixed up one with two tribal lineages and some form of the Caucasian persuasion that you can trace back only as far as a small town in Montana, there’s something funny indeed.

You spend most of your life wondering what it means to be an Indian, then you find out you’re not Indian at all. Sorry you’re not an Indian anymore, we shouldn’t have called you that but we will change all the governing structures to something more politically correct. Something that sounds less like slander but rolls off the tongue all sweet like fresh raspberries picked by your Kokkum. You’re Aboriginal. Wait, First Nations.

They have so many umbrella terms that still don’t cover you from the storm when it comes.

Indian. Squaw. Low life. Drunk. Jobless. Redskin. Whore. Whino. Savage. Chief… hey chief?

You fumble through life if you weren’t given any knowledge to equip you with living in this world whilst being an Indian, ahem sorry I mean First Nations, because somewhere some time ago someone decided that it definitely wasn’t a good thing to be an Indian. We can’t have that, that would mean people retaining their identities and knowledge and asking questions that are far too uncomfortable to answer. So you’re fumbling, all like you’re grasping at your shadow and trying to hold on to it like it has the answers.

You fall. Maybe multiple times. You get banged up real good being in the life of an Indian. Sometimes it’s by the hands and words of the settlers that came, sometimes it’s by the sharp tongue of your own people, sometimes it’s the systems in place that are meant to protect you. You have all of these invisible bruises and a weight from the trauma piled up from three generations that you just can’t make sense of. It’s like a ghost limb. Yeah, a ghost limb that aches and itches and longs to be rubbed but the damn thing is nowhere to be found.

If you’re lucky then you bump into someone with some knowledge that they drop on you or you end up in an educational institutions taking a crash course in First Nations history. Then your mind is REALLY blown with all these things that you didn’t learn in your mainstream education. Sometimes maybe you learn this stuff in another institution… like jail. Then you’re angry, like red hot angry like that man who has zero control over his temper who is stuck in a traffic jam on a hot day with no air conditioning. All cussin’ and banging on the dashboard. That’s how you are maybe, but it’s all inside of you. You can finally make sense of life, or the life you were given as an Indian. You understand why your Kohkum never hugged you, or why people drank so much and only cried under a whiskey moon. You finally understand, and then you are sad.

Eventually you find spirituality, if you’re lucky enough that is, and you can move through the sense of mourning and grieving you have in your spirit for the losses and suffering. You become hungry for this knowledge and teachings and you pray for people to be placed in your life so you can learn more. Being given teachings and accessing knowledge is a lot like berry picking when it’s still a little too early to pick berries so you have to scour the bushes to find the ripe ones. It’s tough work but if you are dedicated and patient, the teachings will find you.

When you finally feel like you put yourself back together enough to no longer be an Indian, but be Dane Zaa, Neyihaw, or whatever you may call yourself in your language, that is when you begin to question the world around you and realize there is a very real presence dedicated to continued assimilation and colonization. Unless that is you are dancing or singing or practicing some beautiful ceremony with nice smelling medicines, because people dig that. They want to be your friend or tell you how pretty your beadwork is. That’s because you’re not making noise and putting the reality of Indigenous life and struggle all up in people’s faces. That is when it’s acceptable.

But the moment you see something that goes against the very core of who you are and the teachings you fought so hard to gain and you say STOP THIS ISN’T RIGHT, then…well they tell you you’re back to being an Indian again.

Funny thing it is indeed.

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