This semester I am taking a Native American Studies class, and I have had a moment of realization. A thought that had never occurred to me in my (almost) 27 years of being on this earth. Something inside me was awakened, though I am not quite sure what.
I don’t need to go into how the First Nations people were wronged. I will say though that at times, I feel society would have been better off had the Europeans stayed were they are. We, as a people, are progressing at an alarming rate, and I fear that we will be our own undoing. The First Nations people had it right. They were hunters, and gathers. The lived off of, and respected the land that the Creator provided for them. They gave back to the Creator what they took. One tribe, the Navajo, did not have a word for “sorry” but they did for “please” and “thank you”. To me, that says a lot about the culture.
Enter: Europeans bringing the disease that Native had no immunity to, and alcohol they had no tolerance to. Entire tribes were wiped out. Okay. One tribe was wiped out, many more were almost totally annihilated. Throw in the fact that these people were ripped from the homes and then beat, abused, and raped merely for speaking in the native tongue and its a wonder that the culture is still alive today. Barely, but it’s there.
Then these same people who were taken from their mothers and fathers, and raised in a what can only be described as Hell, are thrown back into society. The kicker? They are expected to be able to raise, whole and healthy families.
Is it not common sense that the way to raise a healthy family is to be raised in a healthy family first? (This is not to say that those who were abused cannot rise above, but the stats for that show it is not a commonality) So how can we, as a society, treat the First Nations the way that we have, and then expect them to be functioning in society?
Fast forward 60 years and we are seeing the offspring of these individuals attempting to raise their offspring. The cycle of abuse is on repeat, and it began in the first residential school.
Society doesn’t see this though. The only thing they see is the “drunk Indian” in the park downtown. The individuals who continuously pester you for spare change. The ones that do not have a home to go to, or family to turn to. They see Natives as living off the taxpayer, whining about what was rightfully theirs. They are unable to find employment as they do not even have sort of professionalism about them. They were raised to believe they were worthless as that is what their parents were taught.
But I digress. Back to my original thought that I had sitting in my Native Awareness class.
I am Native.
My father was a full-blooded Ojibway Indian. My maternal grandfather was a full-blooded Cree Indian. Which, if you do the math makes me 5/8s Native. Over half.
And it shows. I have the black hair (its fake, my natural colour is a light brown) the dark brown, almost black eyes, darker skin tone.
However, despite my ancestry, I was raised in a white community, with white beliefs, and white culture. I did not know my father until I was 18 years old. My grandfather was ashamed of his ancestry. (connecting dots now… perhaps HE went through a residential school?) The only culture of the native history that I really know is learned through the snippets my grandfather was able to pass down, as well as through books. I was a white girl with Native ancestry. That is how I viewed myself, and how I thought others viewed me as well.
However, I had the realization that this might not be the case. In my class I have had guest speakers single me out asking me where I am from; I have had classmates apologize if they have offended me with a statement they made in class; I have had other, Native classmates, approach me after class and engage me in conversation.
All of these situation are uncommon for me, and I am slowly beginning to realize that society has probably looked at me and saw a Native girl. I probably have the prejudices that almost every other Native person in my town has as well. I was beginning to look back at my life and seeing things in a new perspective. Such as the look of pity from other mothers when they see me dealing with two young toddlers, alone. The difficulty in making friends throughout school. Things that probably mean nothing, but as I am slowly beginning to have my core “native-ness” if you will – awaken inside, I am more motivated to make a difference. To attempt to shatter the stereotypes that attempt to hold First Nations back, and to show other people, First Nations and not, that it doesn’t matter who your parents were, or the conditions in which you were raised, you can rise above and, to quote a very famous man, “be the change you want to see in the world.”