Hard Luck Indians: Challenging Limitations on the Good Life

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“Everyone seem astounded that I took my children on trips all over the world. It’s like they thought that just because they were Native kids they had to live hard lives”

I paraphrased the fuck out of the above quote so if you’re looking to find the original source, good luck. Maybe your third cousin, auntie, uncle, or the person you don’t know how you’re related to but you know you are related to them said it. I came across that story while doing research a long time ago and it has stuck with me.

Decolonizing is also about challenging the beliefs that have been so deeply engrained into a lot of us over the generations. For example, “all natives have hard lives”.

We are so USED to the struggle that it is hard for a lot of us to accept when someone is doing well. Cue the crabs in the bucket syndrome. We struggle with the struggle of living cheque to cheque, putting gas in the vehicle, buying a bus pass, and buying school/winter stuff for our kids BUT sometimes the struggle is all we know. What would we do with ourselves if we a healthy financial nest egg, lived a good neighbourhood, and in a home where the cold air didn’t leak in the quarter inch gap between the bottom of the front door and the frame? Would we have a breakdown because our nervous systems are so used to living in chaos that the break might be just TOO much for us? Would we somehow fuck it all up because we are programmed to self-sabotage? Would we be bored without the struggle drama? Would we start a drug dealing cartel because who suspects the Jones’ and we would be able to keep one foot in the action? (lol just fucking kidding. Settle down)

I recently held a women’s potluck and circle in my home which was HUGE for me. It might seem small to other people but I do not have people in my space often. This weird anxiety comes from when I was growing up. As a teen I lived in a home where the furnace didn’t work so we always had to use measures of in house heat production. Oven on, mouth open, tinfoil on the oven door to bounce the heat. Boiling water for the heat of the steam. We burnt out the oven element and didn’t have oven cooked meals for almost a year. Goodbye lasagne. Going to friends’ houses to shower because you have no hot water. Etc. We live in the north so winters aren’t quaint cute mildly cold seasons where you can take a postcard picture outside with the fam in a matching sweater scarf set. The northern winters will fuck you right up. The house had its problems, a door that wouldn’t shut that led into the garage because the frame swells in the winter. Peeling linoleum. Holes in walls from times where words wouldn’t quite cut it. Long story short, I grew up believing “Indians couldn’t have nice things”.

Which meant I couldn’t have nice things. I grew up too ashamed to have a lot of people over unless I REALLY knew them and that they wouldn’t judge me and even then I worried. When I moved to Prince George as a teenager and went over to Native homes that were really nice I was surprised. I also felt out of place and that I couldn’t really “fit in” with this category of bougie Native. Looking back, my parents did own their own home and even though it was fucked right up, sometimes my place could have been seen as a step up for some folks for sure. I know that I was raised above the standards that my father and mother sprung out of. I mean my pops slept on a floor in a living room elbow to elbow in his Kohkums two bedroom shack when he was growing up. So we were making it.

This concept of wealthy, less traumatized, productive, Indigenous families where kids had tutors and talked about college was so completely bizarre to me. Quite honestly, I grew up fully believing every Indian girl I knew experienced sexual abuse until I was fourteen years old and found out it was actually not every Indian girl’s experience. If I couldn’t even fathom a life without abuse, how could I believe a life of wealth and freedom was possible for me?

A year or so ago I went on a date with a fellow who told me about a story about being at his family’s summer home at a lake where he learned how to sail on one of their many boats. He laughed, “One of the fathers set off fireworks from the island in the middle of the lake EVEN though it was illegal. He still kept the fine for it and it’s framed on his mantle to this day”.

Cue the bougie rich man laugh and polo sweater. Just kidding, he didn’t laugh like that and didn’t wear a polo sweater but I can see it in my mind going down like that.

I didn’t have many dates with him after that because I just could not figure out how to relate. Which was totally my own shit because he didn’t give two ounces of caviar if I came from money or not.

What was I supposed to say to that?

“Sweet. I floated on a river with a log once and had a mud bath underneath the Pouce Coupe bridge, it was pretty luxurious. Yep. Good mud.”.

What I am getting at here…is that even though I came up through the struggle I realize my beliefs are limiting me to STAY in the struggle. I do not want that anymore. There is nothing in the rule book that says my son has to have a hard life and that I can’t be wildly prosperous for the rest of my life. Next time I see a bougie Native I am going to give them a god damned high five and be like “YES! That is the shit I am talkin’ about. Go you. Tell me about your non-self -limiting beliefs”.

Often we judge the realness of our people by what they had to come up out of in order for them to relate to us. Why? We need to check that part of ourselves who think poverty and trauma is a pre-existing condition to be a bonafide Indian with credibility. That’s the colonialized condition talking. Trauma and poverty happened throughout colonization, as our people were herded to reserves and their ability to become prosperous and self actualizing was severely limited…unless of course you were willing to give up becoming an Indian and forfeit your identity. Disenfranchise a little. Even then limitations were placed due to you still being in fact, an Indian.

Not only have many of us grown up in it and have to battle our own self limiting internal beliefs… there’s a lot of racist assholes out there (not sugar coating shit here) who like to remind Native people that they are welfare bums and good for nothing. Thus, it’s a process to unweave all the bullshit we learn and that some internet-or-real-life-dicks try to reinforce. People don’t want to acknowledge that there are Indigenous people out there doing way better than them and do not want to see it happen. Not my problem. Don’t. Even. Entertain. That. Bullshit.

Wealth is completely obtainable for us. THE GOOD LIFE is obtainable for us. Of course there might be a lot of healing, work, and oppressive obstacles we have to overcome, but it is possible more so now than it was for the previous generation.

I claim the good life for myself and by doing so I allow those around me to claim it for themselves as well. I will always use my place to lift people up. We all belong up there.

Yes…money isn’t everything. But god damn, being poor with fleeting moments of being happy when I am not stressed as fuck isn’t for me either.

Sometimes we end up insisting we only have the finest things or have to be perfect just because we know what poverty is like. I feel like that comes straight from fear of poverty. I do not want to be obsessive about that either. I just want to be free from the beliefs that keep me trapped and hold me back from evolving and creating the life I want to live.

I am choosing to allow good things to come to me.

I am choosing to believe that I am WORTHY of good things in my life.

Wealth and abundance is my new normal and I accept that shit.

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2 comments

  1. Great message.

    I grew up in two types of conditions. One, as the broke as fuck living on the streets type of broke, and the semi-bourgie-2 cars-boat-snowmobile-type (only that shit was off limits to the foster kids).

    The undoing of colonization, as you had stated was a lot of work. Not only did I struggle with abusing drugs/alcohol (6 years sober), I struggled in every other aspect of my life. How could I not? No one gave me the proper tools to succeed. Which in a sense, is what keeps impoverished people impoverished.

    I don’t think I’ll ever become the bourgie polo sweater wearing, boat sailing type, but I do sure as hell not like the starving from pay check to paycheck type either. When I first got sober, I had a tendency to spoil myself with every thing I was allowed to buy myself. Then of course I became broke again, and I had to teach myself, that I was allowed to have a good life (having some of the spoils) but that equated to non-materialism approach. Like I could eat AAA steaks rather than discounted hamburger. Or good quality shoes/work boots opposed to Sally Anne/Salvation Army etc.

    In the Anishinabek language that word “Mno Biimaadziwin” means to “live a good life”. I’ve equated that to also mean “live a good life that is sustainable” (obviously our ancestors lived in such a manner that was sustainable).

    Great Write,

    Giibwanisi

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