What’s Under a Fight to Do Right?

Sometimes I’m asked why do I bother to work for Indigenous causes, or any cause really, when it seems the odds against achievement are so damned overwhelming or insurmountable? Someone asked, “Why are you bothering to waste precious time”? It’s a question I’m not sure I can fully answer because how do you describe a longing intensely emanating from your very core? How do you describe desire that overwhelms your own overawed senses and fatigue to work to make something right?

Why do we push on even when it feels like we’re only speaking into a complete void of apathy & disinterest or even in the face of real, ruthless retaliation? I suppose sometimes it does seem futile and somewhat Don Quixote-ish. I know it certainly feels like that from time to time. Maybe it’s more simple than we can know. In some way in our lives, something was triggered by an act of inequity, a brutality, and/or a fear.

I’m not sure when the force was set in me to eventually strive to become an agent for action. Maybe it took a culmination of events to instill a sense that attaining justice was about more than writing letters to the Editor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just that real change usually requires that step and a dozen more to make a dent in an issue.

What kind of events does it take to wake a burgeoning fire for equity? My experiences started early within family abuses based in the consequences of inter-generational traumas inflicted by colonialism. They were enforced in incidents like the group of men who – for a laugh – sicced a dog on 7 yr. old me to, “get that little redskin” and who enjoyed the moment their dog gripped onto my ankle; or the neighbor screaming, “get out of here, you dirty little Indian” as she chased me down the street when I was 10; or being cheated out of the fruits of my labor as an adult &/or having false accusations leveled at me.

I suffered through much of that pain on my own, until I could learn how and where to turn for help. I didn’t get help all the time, but when I did, it was searingly potent & it was that, I believe, that triggered the move from thinking I could be a difference to working on it.

How could I possibly stay silent in the face of inequities to which I can speak, when the people who I hold in the highest esteem today, are those who stood with me and for me, when I couldn’t? How could I possibly dishonor their teachings, their strengths of conviction, & their compassion? How could I possibly ignore the work they took on to show me how important it is to take a stand for what’s right, so I could stand for myself? How could I keep all that conviction I learned and earned for only myself?

These lessons didn’t come easily, there was a lot of hard work with many, many doubts, and certainly, I don’t win at everything. But my heroes showed me what strength of character is and in its most defining word, their power. They helped bring me to my own esteem and value. Although I’m not professionally trained in many aspects of what I do, my passion & willingness to learn is the biggest driver of change – for the good, preferably. So it is for all of us.

One of my efforts entails seeking real sovereign recognition and benefits for Indigenous communities. For that to happen, Canada has to step back and re-create its foundation in the honor it already earnestly claims. Technically, legally, there is no Canada without this relationship. The time is now for Canadians to put their money where their heart is and state with us, as the truest powers that be, that the partnership with Indigenous peoples precedes the enrichment of only some people and/or corporate interests. The inherent rights of the Indigenous greatly bolster the effort to serve the whole.

One crucial aspect my heroes provided was taking the mystery out of those intimidating forces called – “the Government”, or “the Principal”, or “corporate executives”. They’re no one other than our own neighbors who may have had a few more lucky breaks. Outside of those suffering from psycho/sociopathy, they have the same issues, fears, needs and flaws as the rest of us. And just like the rest of us, they sometimes need to be shown when their work could be better or is just plain destructive.

There’s only one group of people capable of that. That would be me – and you. Anything we can lend to this cause or any other to do life better is valuable, & I guarantee, so is everything we get back for that. It all begins and ends within ourselves; where there is decency, lies the fire.

RL

Clean Houses & Terror

Last week I had the honour (& brief stomach churning fear) of hosting IndigenousXca on Twitter. As the forum notes: it’s a rotating Twitter account presented by a different Indigenous Host each week. Their hosts have included actors, activists, authors, academics, politicians, teachers, doctors, students, and one Pipisiw – me.

This forum was started in Australia in 2012 and in Canada in 2014 as a platform for Indigenous people to share their knowledge, opinions and experiences with a wide audience which is now a following of several thousand.

As I was getting my feet wet with a few opening tweets, one of the administrators posted a point about clean houses. What about ‘em?  Well, let me share my tweets on how a clean house affected my family. No hyperbole, no “other mitigating circumstances”. …

I saw @apihtawikosisan (Chelsea Vowel) post about fears for Indigenous people around a clean house. What that means, as she pointed out, is a clean enough house. As in clean enough to not have your kids taken away. Her post tightened my belly…

It took me back to those moments when I was a child & the air all around us got thick & tight, while my mother would fly around the house with sweat falling off her face from a mix of the physical labour of madly cleaning & terror.

Even as little kids, my sisters & I would instinctively jump to help because we knew this kind of cleaning meant a social worker was coming. We didn’t even know what the consequences of not having “a clean house” really meant, but we knew what it felt like. Breathing was hard.

The government had a power over my mother that terrified her, until it broke her & then we learned “or else” meant we were going to be taken away.

My mother had already lived enough in terror, my father was a broken man & he alone put her through enough by then. She got away from him and what she needed was help – not constant judgement, especially for pittances that kept her on another tight leash.

I remember she was often told she was not to drink. She was not to have any contact with my dad, no men at all, they said, & she needed to keep a clean house. Or else.

Today, I wonder what might have been had any of us been offered a place for our fears then. If my mom had been offered support for coping and maybe even a pat on the back for having got her 6 babies away from an abusive situation by herself.

Maybe supportive, restorative measures weren’t well understood back then, but they are now. All this money poured into employment for provinces in the guise of social work. All the training for foster parents and adoption processes…

All the money given to municipalities in support of those foster parents & restoring municipalities, like the re-opening of schools in New Brunswick because the loads of Indigenous foster kids revived their town to that degree.

copy missing family

Why isn’t this money used for family restorative healing in our communities instead? I feel I answered my own question with my question, because Canada uses the Indigenous not only for land & resources, but constant make-work industries that still terrify mothers (& fathers) to this day.

I hadn’t thought about these particular experiences for years and my visceral reaction to reading Chelsea’s words was very unexpected. What’s still infuriating is that these Indigenous truths are still happening to many families even as I type these words. The stories are noted on Twitter, social media and news media daily.

Yes, it’s all real, and most Canadians remain blissfully unaware of such threats. They can’t even begin to fathom that the dishes sitting in their sink and the dirt on their floor could be enough cause to lose their babies, and in some cases, for good.

Most can’t grasp the depth of Indian Act-induced poverty, and the effects of life under constant judgement and duress and the numerous consequences; the falls into addictions, the escalating abuses in homes, the needs for mental healthcare and on and on and on.

A messy house still terrifies my 75 yr. old aunt. She became OCD about it to this day. My 75 yr. old mom has learned to relax about it – a little, finally.  Me?  Years of counseling to work out those terrors and I’m now a certified horrible housekeeper – and I don’t give a damn. Of course, my child is now 16; we are reasonably safe.

RL

Nice Folks

A very worthy read; a must-see to the end: when “Nice Folks” act on racism… This could be Anytown, North America. I see the comments featured in this story every day on social media in various groups, within news story comments, even within the legislative assemblies of our allegedly finest citizens, as happened yesterday when one of Canada’s Senators let it be known in chambers that the horrific residential schools that tore Indigenous / Native American families apart and subjected them to the same horrors and deaths as the Jewish encampments, were ‘good for the children’ and why aren’t the ‘positive stories being the focus’?

I won’t expand on that now, but you can follow this link to read that story.

This story is about your everyday folks, healthcare workers, school volunteers, your neighbourhood mom and dads. These are the people that support the most vile of society, who desire to revel in racism in the lowliest ways to work at reinforcing their need for a sense of superiority… Oh, and they’re your neighbours too…

PostScript: Following my sharing this auntiethis blog story, and applying a comment to it, I was contacted on Facebook privately and publicly by members of the group featured. They insulted, denigrated and attempted to intimidate me into taking this post down and removing my share on Facebook. They threatened to use my public photos for their nefarious purposes to implying they would sue. The only reason I am caught up in this one is, the auntiethis blog republished about 4 or 5 of my previous articles and these Sherlock Holmes deduced that since I’m noted on their past publishing, I must be ‘the writer’ – of this story and of the auntiethis blog. I am neither, but I would have been proud to put my own name on the story. My response to their harassment is, I can’t wait for the next installment of their story to come out.

RL

auntiethis

Nice Folks

Nice Folks are a problem: usually because their greatest aspiration is to be nice.
To be “nice”, they are specialists in “going along to get along” – or is that “getting along to go along”?  They’ll literally join any crowd; go in any parade; accept anything that’s going on around them to – well, to simply make sure they don’t stand out.  They just run their lives based on something called “Common Sense”; which they think means the same thing as “Reality”, and practice like a religion.  The fact that their common sense is simply a mix of myths and legends that they learned in school – or the movies – or on TV – doesn’t seem to intrude on them.  Common sense is easier that Google, and serves them to get through their lives; walking with the herd; not getting into any kind of trouble.

The picture above is…

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In the Words of an Elder: Maureen Kennedy Speaks…

Standing tall, for Standing Rock and all our ancestral lands

Standing tall, for the safety and preservation of all our ancestral land (Lummi Totem Pole, that made a journey across the continent )

I used to have a belief that some races were superior to me and for years never even knew I had this belief. So pitiful, as I was not taught the truth.

Now I know that I learned this because of my environment as a child.

Education and/or money does not make anyone superior or more intelligent. These are external and have not much to do with who I really am. I can put information into my computer and it certainly does not make it superior to me. What a pitiful concept.

And so many people have bought into the lie. That is why it is so important to understand our Sacred teaching of TRUTH. Our Ancestors knew that we needed to look at the 4 aspects of ourselves to know TRUTH and that still holds true for all 2 legged.

It is like a person has not fully developed if they are missing 2 important parts of themselves. Not whole. And it is very hard to feel good about selves if 2 parts of self are denied. I know this to be true.

Some people are so pitiful and cause so much pain with the lies. I wonder, if only our Mama Mother can really teach them, because when people think they know everything they are hard to teach.

Also, no one can learn in the mind if they are traumatized, just try it. So how could our people learn in residential schools. Seriously.

Our people are wise when they live in a good way because KNOWLEDGE IS LEARNED AND WISDOM IS LIVED.

See the difference…..

Lets get this truth first inside ourselves and others will feel this.

Hiy Hiy, Creator, as I am so happy about who I am,
Maureen Kennedy

feather-fan
Maureen Kennedy is a Cree & Metis long-time active community Teacher, Guide, and Practitioner of her Spiritual Knowledges.  She is my Auntie and I am proud to be her relation. I am blessed to receive her teachings and guidance. I am so, so grateful to receive her love.
Hiy hiy, Auntie,
RL

So, The Right Honorable Paul Martin Called Me Up On Calling Him Out On CDA’s Racism

Revised June 8, 2018

2016 AvatarFormer Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Paul Martin called me in response to an email I sent him in reply to his comments made in a May 12th CBC story headlined: “Canadians not racist but Aboriginal issue ‘invisible’ to many, says Paul Martin”. While I’d assumed he was calling in some effort of support, I was disheartened at the realization he actually wanted to correct me on what Canadian racism is, or rather, isn’t.

While Mr. Martin did strongly point out in that and subsequent stories, the various awful inequities thrown at the Indigenous that cause significant and terrible consequences, I could not let that one sentence go.

“Racism isn’t the culprit, but that doesn’t change the fact that the challenges faced by Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples have long remained out of sight and mind to many”, says former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.

I was stunned. Not only because the very fact that we still have an active piece of legislation called the Indian Act, which is all about the business of managing the Indigenous, but every day we read stories of the examples of racism in action.

Every day I see other examples such as a recently posted widely-watched video put out by a very stridently racist Vancouver woman that compared AFN National Chief, Perry Bellegarde to Hitler, demanding that the AFN members be arrested for treason, and complaining that all “natives are obsessed with white people”.

This is all enough to question just the idea that Canada is not racist, a country built upon the lies of trade and/or conquering as most Canadians believe, but to have had that statement come from a high profile public servant widely seen as a friend to the Indigenous?

It was incredible to me.

So, I wrote Mr. Martin.  I noted the points above, of others and attached the link to the despicable video.  I wrote to say I was disheartened along with outraged because his background as friend to the Indigenous was precisely why it was especially important to not let stand yet another whitewash of history to make Canadians feel better, despite the fact they have all benefited from taking the lion’s share of Indigenous resources.

I admit I had no expectation of a response as I’d yet to get one from any of the fine members of Canada’s upper echelon in all my years of writing to them about Indigenous issues. However, 24 hours later I received an email asking if I would like to speak with Mr. Martin.

Stunned for a second time in 24 hours! Of course I said, yes, and within minutes my phone rang.

I was a little surprised by the opening of the conversation.  I found Mr. Martin to initially be quite defensive, not quite ready to recognize why I could be upset. He said it was hard to accept that people wouldn’t be able to see his message’s point, especially given his personal record of working to undo the wrongs against the Indigenous over all these years of service. This ignores the point that it was he who implemented the annual 2% funding spending cap for INAC in 1996 that imposed harsh consequences on the ability of Indigenous communities to thrive since.

He asked if I watched the actual interview, and I admitted I did not, however there was no video linked to the story. He specifically mentioned crafting the Kelowna Accord with Indigenous leaders that former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, crushed the minute he came into office.

Of course I am aware of Mr. Martin’s efforts; I absolutely acknowledge Mr. Martin’s role in that Accord and I would note I have used that Accord as an example in several conversations on the potential for moving forward (and it’s the third reason I came to despise Harper as PM). But, again, that’s precisely why I took especial exception to his words.

To get to his point, he said the Indigenous problem with Canadians is based in ignorance, a lack of history knowledge moreso than racism.  I said I do understand that as in large part, I believe racism is ignorance, however we have to be careful of how we state things too. I sensed this thought wasn’t particularly appreciated.

It was at this point he had to go and his final comment was that he feels that calling Canadians racist will not help in the work to help the Indigenous.

After we hung up, I thought about all the people my friends, acquaintances, and anti-racism workers encounter on that daily basis.  I thought about all of those who, like that racist video creator, remain fully and willfully ‘ignorant’ of facts, I wondered about the rest of the Canadians who actually are aware of the inequities, the injustices, the utter horrors of their country’s history.

I wonder what Mr. Martin would say about them, and how would he’d reply to questions such as:

What happens once the ignorance is dispelled, are these same Canadians then standing up for us?  Do they protest the inequities?  Do they even just move out of the way of progressing forward?  How many of these same good people are still exercising their right to indifference?

How is inaction or indifference not complicit racism then? Isn’t that what Edmund Burke was speaking to when he said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”?

I mulled the conversation around with my aunt, Elder Maureen Kennedy.  She said, “Yes, we have our own hard work to do to get over and through everything, but they have their own hard work to do too”. I agree with my aunt, except I’d say I don’t agree that they should be expecting our comfort for them on top of it all.

Mr. Martin also sits as board member for the *Canadians For a A New Partnership (CFNP) – a group of prominent leaders from both sides of the equation to “build a new partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada”. I envision the Indigenous partners having to dance around the elephant in the room while seeking justice.

…And do Canadians really need to ‘feel better about themselves’ before they do the right thing?

RL

*In early January 2018, Paul Martin quietly closed the doors of the CFNP, the only announcement appearing to be an email to their website subscribers. Shortly after that, he created his own private charity foundation, ostensibly in support of Indigenous education. He requested funding from the Canadian government. They responded with a $30 million cheque for him.

June 8, 2016 – 87% of Canadians believe aboriginal people experience discrimination: survey

An Indigenous perspective on the realities of racism:

Wab Kinew On Canadian Racism, Relocating Attawapiskat, And The ‘Criminal’ State Of Aboriginal Education

Martin email exchange

 Paul Martin reply May 16, 2016Email 1 to Paul Martin May 15, 2016 Email 2 to Paul Martin May 16, 2016

Half-Breed to Metis – My Return from a ‘Savage’ Wilderness; PART 2

 Click here to read part one – How I acquired the title of dirty Indian…

Aside from having to dream up a name to match any exotic ancestry I could claim, my real family history was more colourful than that anyway. We were the stereotypes of typical Indigenous life. Those lives scorned without understanding of the history behind the creation of those stereotypes.

It was a life loaded with issues around unsteady work, alcohol abuse, abuses under every heading, police visits, child apprehension, foster homes and a single mother on welfare. We moved a lot – always new towns, new friends, new crosses to bear.

So, by the time I could think a little for myself, I couldn’t wait to move on.  At nearly 16 yrs. I did move – onto a grown-up job and night school to get a better job, all in the name of getting as far away as possible from my childhood hurts.

Several years later my life had taken shape in a measure of success and definitely I thought I’d finally escaped being a poor and dirty little Indian. It seemed like I’d escaped the legacy of that drama. As it turned out, despite education and job titles, that wasn’t exactly the case. The various abuses never really ended regardless of the dressing I put up around them. I became even more desperate for a sense of value, meaning and peace. 

It was a bit incredible and maybe even miraculous from where the answers to my prayerful pleading would begin – searching the internet for a history project.

While I was doing that search, I stumbled across some family tidbits in the history records. It was astounding to me to see names I knew connected to others I’d never known about. Inexplicably I began to hear the call of my grandmothers in them and I quickly became obsessed with genealogy. Something was being filled in me that I’d been completely unconscious about missing.  I found the past. I continued in my search for years, able to trace my family back to the 1700s.

The uncovered voices of my ancestors undid the pain of my childhood humiliations.  Unlike the shame-based history the old input and my fearful imagination had originally filled in for me, I learned that we came from fiercely able, independent, inspiring Peoples.  I learned, in addition to Cree and Metis, my people were also Mohawk, among other nations.

I learned my ancestors were skillful and adept providers who worked the land, and they were warriors – from the war of 1812, to the Louis Riel uprising, to World War 2 and the Korean War.   They were explorers and guides for famous European explorers; they were leaders and treaty signors.

They were exactly what one might dream their forbearers are.  It was breathtaking discovery for me, but I later realized that, as wonderful as it was to feel the pride of their accomplishments, they didn’t need to be all that for me to feel found.

It would have been just as healing simply to find where I came from; to learn who my people were as a people, not as the butt of the jokes so common then on the western prairies.  Not as the people we learned about in school who were so low that even as kids, when we played cowboys and Indians, none of us wanted to be the Indians.

Fast forward some decades to when my son and I were going to a western-themed party.  We got all geared up in our cowboy boots and hats, jeans and checked shirts.  When we got home, my son was a little miffed.  His history lessons have been quite different from mine. He wanted to know why we hadn’t instead dressed up as Indigenous.  It was a good question, but I couldn’t find a good answer.

Although I’d identified as my Metis and First Nations ancestry for several years by then, I began to feel I was falling too short on the allegiance that my grandmothers deserved. Especially with the amount of public misinformation about the Indigenous still the norm in general.

However, despite the longing, I still had one foot out the door, just in case.  Old fears take a very long time to heal, if they ever do.  When I finally decided to stand up and be counted, I applied for a Metis citizenship card.

I’d like to set the record straight about how one goes about claiming that card.  Many comments in those newspaper and social media arenas revolve around thoughts like “well, pretty much everyone in Canada can claim some kind of Indigenous status now”.  No, they can’t.  You can’t just make a call and say, “Hello Government, I’m part-native, send me a card, thanks, and can I get free gas now like that Beiber kid”?

The application process took several months.  Actually, it took years counting the time it took to accumulate the various required records. I had to provide a genealogical history of 5 immediate generations of Indigenous ancestry with proof that included birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates.  It included scrip records, Hudson Bay Company work records, and other various historical records.  At a minimum, I had to link my direct ancestors to records known in western Canada at approximately 1860. Then all of this had to be verified by the society historians.

So that’s what I did, and now when I look into my mother’s eyes, I proudly see my history for thousands of years.  When my son looks in mine, he will see his own.  I turned away from that all those years ago when I thought I was meant to disown my heritage.

We talk a lot about how much the entire continent needs the true education on its own history, and that is absolute fact, but that’s just as true for many, if not most, of the Indigenous too.  We had our history taken from us long before we were even born and we know how terribly that changed us.

I can only feel sadness for that walk in the wilderness now, mine and all my relations of the last 5 generations who actually had our culture taken and even made illegal.  I know it doesn’t do any good to wonder about things that might have been, but sometimes I do.  I still have far too much to learn about them, and our ways.

On the day I received my official stamped Metis card, I stared at it and cried.  It was real, it was done, I’d stood up.  I really didn’t know then or even now, what difference in my life this official recognition will make.  I only know how I feel in those old wounded places in my heart.  I feel my grandmothers surrounding me now.   My grandmothers called for PiPiSiw and I’ve come home.

Grandmothers

Miyo-W_hk_htowin
(All My Relations)

RL

I want to add a little thank you so, so much to the people who have emailed me to tell me how glad they are for any of us able to speak out. You are a huge part of what makes these efforts meaningful. You are the people who allow my heart to feel full and worthwhile.
Hiy hiy….

With great gratitude to Dick Garneau, whose years of work compiling centuries of First Nations & Metis journal entries led me to more family discoveries than I ever dreamed I’d find. Hiy hiy, Dick. Thank you for your amazing work and generosity. May many others be as blessed as my family was with his work.  http://metis-history.info

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, with permission: Grandmother’s Prayers:
Simone Mcleod, http://www.fisherstarcreations.com/simonemcleod-acrylics Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anishinaabepaintersimonemcleod/info/?tab=page_info

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

With great gratitude to Dick Garneau, whose years of work compiling centuries of First Nations & Metis journal entries led me to more family discoveries than I ever dreamed I’d find. Hiy hiy, Dick. Thank you for your amazing work and generosity. May many others be as blessed as my family was with his work.  http://metis-history.info

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