Half-Breed to Metis – My Return from a ‘Savage’ Wilderness; PART 1

(Originally partially posted in 2013 and revised 2016)

My name is Pipisiw.  That’s what my grandmother called me. I’ve loved her, all my life, even though she died when I was three yrs. old.  I sometimes imagine I can remember hearing her call out to me… “Pi-piiii-siww”.

Now it makes me smile, but after she died, when I grew a little older, I came to hate that name.  I hated when my mother or uncles would call me by it. It came to represent all that was shameful to me about myself.

metis-bear blue-edged2That shame was really about my childhood and it was deep and even unconscious. I blamed most of it on the fact that I had been born of “Indian” ancestry.

Whether or not being Indigenous actually was the overall reason for the issues didn’t really matter because it was what was driven home to me as a child. Whatever bad that happened, was mostly because of that, regardless of where we were.

Neighbours, strangers and even friends reinforced that belief by at times calling me racist names or treating me with a certain disdain reserved for those considered lesser. I overheard countless comments on the general uselessness of Indians.

As an adult, it was astounding to hear occasional comments in my business world that continued those views. I’d thought the more educated could be held to a higher standard of decency in general.

Although communications was always a major role in my jobs, and most definitely, a full-on accusation as a child, I never spoke up when anyone said anything like that.  Along with the shame I carried was a belief that, for the most part, those comments were true. I’d come to believe we were lesser and despite innate defensiveness, my heart still carried it.

It took decades and a long look back for me to heal enough from those wounds to feel like I could truly stand up in recognition of my history and my own people.  I made that recognition statement by applying for Metis status.  I didn’t have a home band to call my own for the Cree/Nehiyaw side of our family, but I did I qualify for our Metis recognition.

My decision to apply was partly spurred by much of what I’d read in the papers and on social media over the last decade on how Indigenous issues are somehow an old idea and we should all be over it by now.  I’d hear a voice in the back of my head saying, that’s complete bullshit; no one tells anyone to get over the Jewish holocaust, what about ours? And why then, does this continent still have government departments to oversee the ‘Indians’? Then that voice asked, so where’s your voice in this?

There was a burning anger building in me and it fueled me to face my fears and delve into my past to answer that question. When I did, I still got butterflies that a broad, official declaration, ‘I am Cree, I am Metis’, would somehow affect me negatively.  In the end, the sense of injustice overwhelmed the fear; if anyone were to come for me and my boy, I’d rather go with that than live in shame any more.  Mostly though, I was able to stand up with pride by finally learning I did not come from some shame-filled abyss. None of us did.

It’s true that there are many issues that need attending to in Indigenous communities, the road of healing from the consequences of long-term colonialist oppression is still too long. Part of that healing needs far more awareness by most North Americans that those same oppressive systems are still in place today.

On the personal side of it, I really wonder if any community can truly fully grow if its foundation is unintentionally made flimsy by too many of us that feel like I did, sub-par and lost in a kind of black hole.

It took that long trek into the past to climb out of that hole.  I had no idea that walk would be over three centuries long and the first steps began with some of my earliest memories of being an “indian” child.

Those earliest recollections of being told what I was, not by family, but other people who were around us was normal and many of those lessons were taught in school. In class, among the typical stories and songs we all regularly sang were things like, “One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indians”, (apparently still popular with the uninformed). Right up there with Three Blind Mice. Hard to imagine that changed to 10 little Irish or Jewish boys.

At around Grade 5, at 10 yrs old, I remember being more conscious of learning about how those Indians who kept getting in the way of the settlers were really quite awful. It was that year that my relationship to those awful Indians was cemented after an incident with a non-Indigenous friend.  It’s here where I really started my journey back to the beginning…

“Get out of here, you filthy little Indian”!  The echo of those words screeched at me when I was 10 yrs. old never left the recesses of my heart. I was chased out of the home of my best friend by her mother, who accused me of doing something to dirty her home. I don’t remember the exact details of the crime, but I remember being very confused; I remember being made to feel dirty and small.

I ran from her and with each step my humiliation and devastation deepened.  Her words continued to boom loudly behind me as I raced up the street.  She made sure that everyone knew what I really was. She very nearly made sure I’d know what I was for the rest of my life.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been called some pejorative statement about my ancestry.   I heard them before I even began school: half-breed, squaw, redskin, savage…  The incidences lessened around 11 or 12 yrs. of age.  By then we’d learned to call each other squaw and savages anyway.

The name calling decreased more when I was about 15 yrs. old.  I’m guessing it was because it was becoming more largely politically incorrect in the late 1970’s. It wasn’t a daily or even weekly event anymore, but I wouldn’t be completely free of it at any time in my life, so far.

As I aged people would often ask me what I was and in return I would ask, what do you think?  They would give me all kinds of guesses, usually something Mediterranean, sometimes Eastern European, or even Eurasian when I moved to the coast.  I would always tell them, yes, that is correct – good guess!

One time someone asked me if I was Greek.  Of course, I said.  Well, what’s your name then?  Oh great, I had to come up with a Greek name.  I just barely found out what tzatziki was!  My panicking wit managed to squeeze out, “Athena” – that goddess of love kind of thing.   “Athena what”?  Oh, good grief!   “Acropolis, I am Athena Acropolis”!

I’m pretty sure it was then that he knew I was lying, but I just kept eating my tzatziki and pita as though it had been the first solid food fed to me as a baby by my definitely Greek parents…

Click here to read Part 2 – …What a search through history solved and  finally gave me… and it didn’t include a Greek anything…

RL

A short note just to add some context to how the Stereotypes began:
21 things you may not know about the Indian Act – The Indian Act has been in place for 140 years:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/21-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-indian-act-1.3533613
Artwork credit: Bear/Woman portion- Bear: Clan Mother, 2012  Jordan Thompson, mohawk-art-design.com;  Metis addition – Robyn Lawson
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About Blog Woman!!!

Once in a while I can rock a thought. I simply believe in what I stand up for. I'd most like people to know that surviving the trials of mountains and monsters is more than resilience - it’s a path to your destiny. On a mostly weekly basis I throw out a grab-bag of facts, ideas or creativity; like a box of chocolates wrapped in ribbons of occasional profanity.... In other words, it's my party I can fun if I want to. So, let's talk.
This entry was posted in Abuse, First Nations, Genealogy, Indigenous Peoples, Life, Native Americans, Non-Fiction, Self-Esteem, Storytelling, Uncategorized, WPLongform and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Half-Breed to Metis – My Return from a ‘Savage’ Wilderness; PART 1

  1. trentpmcd says:

    What an awful thing to say to a child! I can’t understand that type of hatred.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am SO glad you don’t ‘get’ that kind of hatred! I couldn’t see it in you ever.

      I am so glad most people don’t, really. As we strive to get the knowledge of reality out there, it’s all about reaching most people, those good people who, in the end, are responsible for enacting real changes for everyone to have better lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. B Harmony says:

    I’m sorry that you’ve endured such pain. I’m happy to see that you are speaking out. Many lives are better because of your voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bonnie. I can only hope for something like that. I like to tell my/our history for my kids, my nieces and nephews and many of my family members of many generations who don’t know enough yet. And, definitely if the other people of the continent get something out of them, something to help us all move forward in a positive way, that’s the dream getting accomplished.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ken miller says:

    can’t wait for part 2

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I find the difference between the US and Canada both baffling and instructive. I guess they are just different kinds of the same. Still, so much harm done, and so little care. I find your perseverance deeply moving.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. stephbradburn says:

    I am Metis too! Although, I look more like my white mother than my Cree father. My friends who were mostly native, called me Little Yellow Feather. I was raised by my grandmother who was Cree and being the only fair skinned child in my home and community made me feel like I did not belong. I grew up feeling like an out cast in almost every setting.

    Anyway…your blog is very inspiring and I can relate to the pain in your story, but mostly I am proud of how you have a spirit that overcomes.

    Blessings to you,
    Steph

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Paul says:

    Hmmm,I appear to have read this backwards from part 2 to part 1 – Ha! Well said Robyn. When you asked if we had ever played one Jew, two Jew, it really struck home (not that I’m Jewish) just how seriously we taught our children to be prejudice. And to answer your question about what happens if there are no longer any First Nations people following the traditions – I am comfortable saying that the traditional culture will exist regardless of whether there are any followers. It would be lesser for the loss of First Nations people but it would still exist. After all your culture is as much about the relationship between the parts as it is about the relationship of the parts with First Nations. That said First Nations culture is an integral part of the “environment”, not just the center (I use quotes around environment because I mean all that exists – including the Milky Way and beyond – whereas environment usually means forests and rivers and such). That philosophy is contrary to European philosophy which is based on the Christian notion that humans are above all else. It is becoming increasingly clear as we progress that the First Nations philosophy is the one that will keep humanity alive on this little blue planet out in the coldest reaches of the universe.

    Congrats on the strength and determination that you have shown so far in your perseverance. Keep up the good work. And keeping mind that your culture will be the one that blazes the path to sustainable human growth.

    Like

    • “That philosophy is contrary to European philosophy which is based on the Christian notion that humans are above all else. It is becoming increasingly clear as we progress that the First Nations philosophy is the one that will keep humanity alive on this little blue planet out in the coldest reaches of the universe”.

      As usual, you’re comment is eloquent and supportive, and I think I will use your words as quoted a lot in the future!

      Like

  7. It breaks my heart to think that you ever thought of yourself as “sub-par.”
    I don’t even understand the hatred and racism behind the comments from people in your past. Why? Why? I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same questions. My knowledge of Indigneous People is minimal, but I’ve always associated the culture with nature, kindness, reslience, and beauty….hmmm…the apple doesn’t fall from the tree – I see all of those wonderful traits in you, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you too, as always, MIchelle for your own kindnesses…
      It’s not surprising that you’re unaware of a lot. That part of the country’s history was deliberately left out of the continent’s history books, but believe me, social media has been instrumental in starting the change in both those instances.
      What that link doesn’t specify, is the consequences of those rules, which are by far, not the only ones. We weren’t allowed to even write a will without gov’t approval. If some were allowed to grow crops, they were told what they could grow. Every aspect of life was overseen by forceful governance, and in fact, the camps Hitler used, and the apartheid system in Africa were both designed after Canada’s reserve system! That is not hyperbole.
      The residential schools were filled with children ripped from their homes as commanded by both U.S. and Cdn. governments and while at those schools, they were subjected to regular assaults, including sexual, medical experimentation, and so many deaths without ever notifying their parents.
      Given the suffocating systemic and social oppression to all those spirits for about a 150 years, the consequences could surely be predicted – aimlessly looking for safety, a home but not finding them because of race, alcohol and drug addictions, and lateral violence of every kind, Then of course, constant public derision for those consequences.
      The resources that belonged to all those people were taken, breaking the treaties (contracts) and were then used to build up the two nations we know now, without any honor.
      There is so much for people to know.

      AS for the name calling, it really didn’t end. Even as late as 2 months ago, someone dear, threw one at me. (That’s what my post Neheyaw Iskwew is about).

      P.S. Sorry for the length here… I guess you could say I’m a little bit passionate about the topic. 🙂

      Like

  8. Tammy says:

    Thank you so much for this reflection. I had always suspected that my grandfather’s heritage was At least somewhat Metis and not just French Canadian, but no one ever talked about it. Growing up it felt like something people should be ashamed of instead of celebrated. As an adult I started looking for answers through out genealogy as my grandfather had passed and I was amazed at how Metis we really were! You can’t tell from looking at the current generation, many of whom are blond haired & blue eyed, but our family was here during an integral part of our province’s history and that is indeed something to be proud of! I can’t wait to have my genealogy certified in a few weeks so that I can take that last step in applying for cards for myself and my sons. I look forward to learning more and to using my voice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Tammy, for taking the time to read and comment today. What a pleasure to hear from you. I have heard quite a few of these stories lately and I am so glad to know more and more are standing up, especially in pride. My own son is very fair and no one would ever guess that one belongs to me. It makes me laugh often.
      Who knows, you’re likely a cousin to us too! Thanks again.

      Like

  9. I don’t get why people have to have that whole I’m better than you thing. Although I guess it’s because actually, they don’t really believe that they are and so they have to put other people down to make themselves feel good.

    I wish people weren’t such idiots, I honestly do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Lou. It’s one thing to be an idiot, but it’s a whole other level when one knows it, and is content to remain so, especially when they are fully aware of how much damage they cause. Sigh…

      Like

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