3 Things You Should NEVER Say to an Indigenous woman

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1. “Oh cool. I totally have a Native friend and I like your culture a lot”
Okay Susan, first things first, there is a vast difference between Native cultures and my culture is most likely not similar to the culture you’re talking about. I mean it might be, but in British Columbia alone there are 198 First Nations and multiple linguistic groups. I know you’re trying to build a bridge of understanding and build some common ground between us but this can also be very reductive and tokenizing. I have started to reply to these comments – of which I hear a lot – with, “Oh do you? I have a Caucasian friend as well. I grew up around a lot of Caucasian people.”
Cue the weird taken aback look when the strange comments get reversed and reciprocated.

2. “No way?! You’re Native?…. but you’re just so beautiful. I would have NEVER guessed.”
If I had a dime for every time I heard this comment I could go on a shopping spree in a dollar store. Out of all the comments, this one bugs me the most because people will drop it nonchalantly and then continue on with their conversations as if they didn’t drop an ethnic bomb.
Nah homie. We are addressing that nonsense. I am going to learn you something, and not in the good sexually freaky kind of way because you just fucked UP. I literally heard this a few days ago and I said, “whoa wait a minute, back that up. Did you really just say that you couldn’t believe I was beautiful because I am Native?”
“Well I mean, I have never seen one like you before,” the blue eyed guy says.. still oblivious.
“So you’re basically telling me that you think Indigenous women are unattractive?” I say, eyes ready to kill and conquer.
“Well no… but I mean, no one has caught my eye. I mean,…” he stammers. He is nervous now.
“That is ridiculous. I know so many amazingly beautiful Indigenous women. So many. AND on top of that, who wants to conform to European notions of beauty. Nah. I ain’t having that.”
A part of me wanted to reply… well most of ya’ll white boys be balding at early ages and have thin lips so now we are even. But I bit my tongue and didn’t dip into petty. Oh, but I will write it.
“I’m so sorry…” he says, “I know better now.”
I start to walk away from him, “You know, white boys say dumb shit like this all the time. You aren’t the first and you probably won’t be the last”.
I say it, because I am mad but I know that I have also met a large number of amazing Caucasian men over the years who already KNOW better. He looks sad but I remind myself that I have to continually educate people and battle stereotypes in my own real life and I do not want to be doing it in my dating life. It is NOT my job to educate men so they know enough to date me without perpetuating colonial notions of Indigenous inferiority.

There was a time that I was a woman who would have not said anything. I would have let the comment sting and settle into my skin to be picked out later like a sliver in my hand gained from a wooden fence. I would pick it out by myself at home, breaking skin just to retrieve it. Wincing a little at the pain, realizing just how deep it settled in my skin. I am no longer that woman. I will not pick myself apart because of thoughtless colonial comments in the moments I am alone. I like to think every time I open my mouth, it stops another Indigenous woman from having to pick herself apart.

3. “It’s really sad what’s happened to your people. People are all like… don’t give them anymore money and I’m like you need to help them because we made this mess”
Slow your role colonizer. LOL. Variations of the above pop up all the time. FIRST OF ALL, we don’t need your “help”, what we do need is for you to educate yourself, understand, and to check other people’s stereotypes and prejudice when it pops up. I need you to know that the narrative of the wounded poor broke drunk welfare recipient indigenous person is only one narrative played by the media and reiterated through the public groupthink. We are a resilient people, a strong people, a funny people. I fall in love with Indigenous people every. single. day. That’s the level and measure of our beauty and our heart.

Your sympathy and pity is icky Maxwell. We don’t need no White saviours.

Let me know what would have made your top 3 list, chances are I have heard it before. Oh wait, and a bonus mixed blood one because I almost forgot:

“You don’t even look Native”… said specifically when I am talking about racism or injustices done against my people. Yes I am fair skinned. Yes I am a quarter white. Yes I have been called a squaw. Yes I have been stereotyped and experienced racism…. but please DO tell me when it is convenient for YOU that I identify as Indigenous.

In spirit,

Helen K

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4 comments

  1. I love turning it all around with “I have a Caucasian friend” – brilliant! I do think these things are said with good intentions, that people are genuinely interested and want to find common ground, although ignorance is always ignorance and always irritating (and at worst offensive and hurtful obviously). I’m a Swede living in the UK and sometimes someone will say something hilarious like “oh, I know a Swede, he’s called so-and-so, do you know him?”. Er…. probably not. But hey, they tried. And I patiently explain that no, polar bears do not roam the streets and there have been sightings of Swedes who are short and even Swedes who aren’t blond and blue-eyed (a Swedish friend of mine got the reaction “but you don’t look Swedish” – I mean…. COME. ON. What rock have you been living under?!). OK, perhaps this was a little off topic but your “I have a Caucasian friend” comment made me giggle. I’m going to use every opportunity to shoot ignorant questions right back too whenever I hear (or even over hear) one! “What do you mean you are British? You have such nice teeth!”

  2. Great comment, but I had a question about your first point.

    Is it alright, in your view, to ask Indigenous people what nation they’re from and a bit about it when they mention they’re Indigenous? I admit that I’m often curious about that, although I don’t ask for really personal family information or anything like that. None of the Indigenous people I’ve ever met have minded telling me this, but I’d be interested in your take.

    1. Of course. I would definitely talk about tribe/nation etc., I ask this question all the time and would be perfectly ok with answering it. But also know that I sometimes get strange looks myself when asking it haha and sometimes people just don’t know. – which is another can of worms

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