Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cowboys and Indians: One

Formative Years
I grew up in a family that was narrow-minded toward natives in a very innocent way, simply because our experience with native people was incredibly limited. As a small child I idealized in the traditional buffalo hunter warrior notion of what an Indian was, a notion fostered primarily by black and white dusters where whooping Indians on painted horses attacked hapless settlers. My brother and I used to dress up as “Indians” and slaughter great numbers of cowboys. Or, we’d dance around the living room, in costume, while beating on my mother’s pots. Later, when I moved from the large city where we lived and too a smaller Manitoba town, my opinion about aboriginal Canadians changed abruptly.

The few Indian people whom I saw at this time were usual emaciated drunks. I’ll never forget the sight of an old woman sucking Kiwi shoe polish through a sock. Her face was stained brown, her eyes glazed, and she was oblivious of everything and everyone around. At this time my parents used to attempt little “mission” efforts, where my father would bring home neglected native children from the school where he was an administrator, and my mother would bath them and give them a warm meal. I remember it taking 3 changes of bathwater to get the filth off of these kids, who were covered in dirt and excrement. There was no social assistance support to speak of. I’m not sure why my parents did what they did, because the little waifs would simply go back home and reenter the cycle of abuse they’d come from. I think my mom was washing her own conscience away as she washed these little kids. As for my attitude at the time; it was a sort of morbid fascination. My mother made sure we were at school during her little missionary efforts, so I only heard the stories, but never really saw the deed.

So, my attitude, based on experience and ignorance as I entered University was that “all” Indians were filthy beggars who deserved much pity, but who had chosen their existence. It didn’t help that the one Indian boy whom I knew well went wacko one day and tried to kill his friends. He ended up shooting and wounding a man who was just a bystander.

Now, let’s leap forward about 10 years from the time I graduated from high school, to a time that I was at my most intolerant towards natives (the reasons for which I’ll explain in another post). I was on a little nature adventure outside my home town and decided to venture out to a reserve that I knew only by name. It was the same reserve that had produced the human wretches I had dealt with as a boy. I was utterly shocked by what I found. The reserve was located on an Island in a vast delta. The roadway to the reserve was in fact, a narrow levee through swampland which opened out onto a sandy Island on the edge of a shallow swampy lake. The entire Island covered perhaps 40 acres. All band buildings were shuttered with metal panels. Dozens of burned out houses were dispersed among inhabited homes in varying states of disrepair. And, there was absolutely nothing else. No school, no store, no playground; accept a metal shuttered administration building which for all intents and purposes looked unused. At one glance I realized why its inhabitants were so culturally, morally, and psychologically degenerated. They lived in a prison.

Who had put these people onto this godforsaken peace of real-estate? How could they survive intellectually, psychologically, and culturally on what amounted to a sandbar in the middle of nowhere? I was disgusted as I contemplated the answers.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my experience became a turning point. Ironically, it made me far less tolerant of the natives I was dealing with on a daily basis many miles away in Saskatchewan. I became in fact, more biased, yet less bias, at the same time. For the first time I began to understand aboriginal people as a collection of individuals, each with unique experiences. I think I was just beginning to see just how complex anything to do with natives actually was and that anyone, native or non-native, who tried to reduce issues surrounding Canada’s aboriginal people into simple theories, was off the mark. It was also at this time that I was running head on into native individuals who were as racists towards me, as I had ever been toward them. And worse yet, I had in Saskatchewan discovered the corrupt well-to-do elite natives who were just then becoming a force.

Philosophical Statement: It is bigotry to lump all natives together and apply to them universal characteristics. It is equally bigoted to lump non-natives together and apply to them universal characteristics. In my experience both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians are guilty of bigotry in equal quantity.

Cowboys and Indians: Introduction


Meaghan Champion said...

Agreed... Philosophical Statement is true. Bigotry/Racism is the most hideous form of base collectivist illogic.

My question for you is.. way back when, like after highschool, when you were thinking of ALL Aboriginal people as a kind of fuzzy massive lumpen... did you recognize at the time that it was "racism" or a variation of "collectivism?"

My experience has been (being somebody who can "pass" for non-native) that there are people, both Indian and Non-Indians who are racists... but they don't think they are. In fact, they are adamant that they are not.

Maybe a good discussion would be... "What is racism exactly?" What are examples of racism... both soft and hard? Does racism exist on all ends of the political spectrum left vs right... (I think it does to an unexplored extent)

Oh.. and one other point which should draw some heat... does a principled defence of "free-speech" morally obligate one to "sanction" racist sentiments and expressions.

Shouldn't there be a difference
between protecting the right of people to say whatever they want (providing they aren't instigating force of fraud) and at the same time not granting moral legitimacy to racist remarks?

Debris Trail said...

There are very few people whom I've met that recognized they were racist. And yes, lumping all natives or whites into one lump is racism... but I think there are various degrees of this. Have I been racist, am I racist at time... absolutely. How about you?

I think people are "soft" racists based on their experiences; it's a more innocent racism based on personal experience. For instance, an indian child who's been knocked around by arrogant white kids or teachers, will very quickly become racist if she isn't exposed to white people of a different mindset... or she may be poor and simply be envious of her wealthier white classmates. There is a difference between this and "hate" which is a more dangerous form of racism. I'll be posting later about how I came to "hate" certian aspects of the modern aboriginal reality and even a certian class of natives.

Debris Trail said...

On free speech: It is my belief that as long as hate isn't promoted, speech should be encouraged. Most people fail to realise that opening ones mouth invites counter-attack, but it is are freedom to disagree, that's most important. Being able to disagree, even very aggressively, is the foundation of open society. You know what it's like on some reserves where disagreeing openly with a certian clan means no new home, no jobs, no perks, and bullying at school. Once disagreement is OK, most thing hopefully fall into line.

Aizlynne said...

Did you hear that in the US, college football teams that use Native imaginery either in their team name, jerseys or actions will have to stop.

Isn't that carrying things a bit too far?

W.L. Mackenzie Redux said...

The right to discriminate ranges from selecting one color sock over another to one government over another. You have your preferences rooted in reasons based on your personal experience and personal preference.

The right to discriminate is closely linked to the right of free choice.

Problem is people make choices based in ingnorance or lack of interest....there is certainly no law against these personal flaws or the Liberal tribe would all be locked up and there is no law which makes you justify any persoanl choise to some bureaucratic big brother.

I, Like you Paul have mixed and varying attitudes towards the state of native culture and politics's based in my first hand experiences with natives and my sense of fairnes and reason. I make a vast distinction between this and my relationship with natives I consider to be friends...I separate Native politics from my feeling for my native friends ( I grew up and hunted and fished with treaty Natives) Some aspects of their modern native culture disgusts me and others I whole heartedly support. I have good native friends and had and have had my share of natives who made me their enemy...there is no broad brush statement I can offer that will apply to all natives as they, like everyone, are all different....however I do have one absolute aphorism I apply evenly in my interface/relationship with native Canadians (and all other minorities for that matter):

I do not feel guilt nor responsibility for your percieved "injustices". I regard each individual as the absolute master of his own destiny and a product of the personal choices he has made and the actions he has either taken or not taken. I refuse to be a political scapegoat for any ethinic minority's past victimization. I am only responsible for my own actions and never in my life have I used coercive force against a peaceful individual. I also refuse to take responsibility for what Canadian governments ( past and present) do or don't do because they are not responsible to me and I and out of control of them. If you have a beef against the government....get in line.

Junker said...

Wise words Mackenzie.

On ones right to speak, I believe we should have total free speech, across the board. Speech may insight action, but it is the action that does the harm.

And as Mark Steyn pointed out, complete free speech is required so that we may learn exactly what people think. Preventing them from speaking hate does not stop the hate.

W.L. Mackenzie Redux said...

Free speach ends at slander

Ann Coulter Of Canada said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Meaghan Champion said...

Being Racist: How about you?"

To be honest.. yes, when I was a young person... it's almost inevitable to absorb impressions or attitudes from your environment, without even being aware of it... and I was not raised in a very *tolerant* home.

For instance, my grandmother constantly made refferences to "Dirty Indians" or she would talk about the "Chink" drivers in Vancouver or she would make jokes about "The Pakis".

Hell's bells, when my adopted mother's cousin Mary Gzowski came to dinner when I was about 7 years old... I was encouraged to tell a few jokes at the table.

So.. I did. 4 rounds of "Polack Jokes"... to the horror of my parents. See, they had encouraged that sort of thing in the past... and they didn't really know what to say at the time when I just carried on with the same, even in talking to a relative of Polish descent.

To my parents credit however, they did not try to punish me for doing something in front of Mary, that they had allowed in the past in front of others and thought was "cute".

I actually learned from that... when my mother and father pulled me aside and said "Maybe you shouldn't tell polack jokes anymore".. after Mary had left and gone home. But christ, I was very very young.

In fact, there is only one human being that I have ever met in my life that is absolutley 100% colour/race blind. And that is my son. He's grown up with natives, non-natives. He's spent time with hispanic kids in California, and he's friends with African American kids here in Florida who make up the neighborhood, and he's even friends with the Muslim kids down the street.

He simply does not *think* in terms of color or race at all.

It's amazing watching how he is able to cross boundaries and make friends with absolutley any kid, from any background or look.

Meaghan Champion said...

Oh.. here's one cute story. Josh and his friends were having an argument about Yugioh cards awhile back. One of the little boys from down the road who was with the bunch said "You're just a honky" to Josh.

Josh says "I don't honk anything" and the kids just laughed... not in a mean way. They has expected Josh to get angry... so his puzzled statement was funny to them.

Josh had never heard that word before.. so he didn't know what it meant.

I was outside doing some yard work when I heard all this, and I so I asked the kids when they use the word "Honky" what does it mean to them.

None of them really knew precisecly, which they admitted after some questioning...

They just knew it was a word that meant a bad white person.

I said "Josh isn't *white*. He's Native American"

I also said "If you don't know what a word really means.. maybe it's not a good idea to call somebody by that word".

The kids seemed to agree with me on that.

There was no more "Honky" talk after that.

But it occured to me that this is how easily racism is built up in kids. They just hear insults towards people and they don't even know what those insults mean... but they know they are bad. So they use them.

I just about blew a gasket when my son came home and said "*so and so* is my niggah"

I asked him what he meant by this. He said his understanding is that this word means "friend"... thats what the boys in our neighborhood who are learning from popular culture are using for slang right?

I tried to explain to him that under no circumstances should he use that word.. ever. That in some places, and in some situations, somebody might want to hurt him very badly for saying that... no matter who he was saying it to, or what he meant by it, or what his understanding of it was.

He said "I don't understand."

I said... "What do you think would happen to a non-native who came to Somena and sat down at a game at the basketball courts with your cousins, who started saying "Dirty Lazy Indians" to them?

He was horrified at the prospect...

But then he asked "If it's such a bad word... why do my friends who are black use it"

And I said "I think you'd have to ask them, or their parents that question"

Anonymous said...

Funny, when I didn't know any natives I really liked them. In university I remember doing a presentation on some Indian issue and having everyone sit in a circle. Some kids smirked at me. At the end of the presentation questions were asked and I repeated the Indian party line that is so easy to find in the research. Finally, the smirking kids just came out and asked, "Have you ever lived near a reserve? Do you know any Indians?"
"Racists," I thought.
Well, years later, I lived near a reserve and got to know some Indians. And I'm not impressed.
I'm not impressed with the wealth of some of them. SUVs, swimming pools, lakefront property, fancy vacations, big pay for little work, free education; and all with no taxes. Sure, there's the poor who live in their own bad conditions or in the relative comfort of government-subsidized housing on the reserve (that's our government, not their band government). These poor people are under the care of their band and all the native people employed on the reserve whose job it is to provide services to these people. It seems to me these working natives want to keep the poor down, after all, if things were to change for the better they'd be out a job.
Just as I was getting to know some natives for the first time in my life, I got a job at an off-reserve native agency. Ohhh, I was going to help native people. I soon found out I was hired because I was the only person who showed up for the interview (all other applicants were native). And, I have a car! I ended up driving a sleazy native around at the demand of the agency board. This native was actually very rude to me when I refused to drive them to the beer store, a place I don't go myself.
I'm not naive anymore. I believe the best thing for natives is to treat them like equals. Let them be equal. Stop letting them tell us to treat them differently. The only reason they want the Indian Act is because it says they don't have to pay taxes. And, oh ya, the Act prevents baliffs, bill collectors, women seeking child support payments and anyone else a native owes money to access to the reserve to serve papers. As unequals they contribute very little to our tax base and economy and took $9 billion last year from Indian Affairs and other agencies excluding provincial welfare, unemployment insurance, disability and old age pensions (Canada gave out $3 billion in foriegn aid). I'd like to see the response of natives working on the reserve or in native agencies if it were suggested that they pay taxes that will be put toward natives. I'm sure there would be an uproar from them.
Am I racist? No, I'm just finally experienced.

Anonymous said...

I just like to say that I have been racist to whites growing up. But its only cus I've been called dirty Ingin,welfare bum etc.My cusin was killed back in 1996 by three white guys just for dating a white girl(they then raped her)even one hallowan a lady rufuse to give me candy cus of me being native.Also as a kid growing up in the westflat the only whites(besides a few ppl on the block)I seen were the ones that preyed on 12-15 girls or picked up hookers. I have seen Natives being to rude whites for no reason. but if you spent your own life being looked down upon you'd build up hate to. See in saskatchewan a native can be beating to death or a native girl can get raped and alot of the time nothing happens to one('s) who did it(white or brown) or the media will show it one short time then forget bout it.Alot of my family and friends can tell you that.See the media used to show as drunks welfare bums and seem to shows us now as gang members, crackheads and still warfare bums(I only know a couple of people still on welfare).See some of us are tryin to change our blocks and Rez's But no one seem to see that we now have gangs crack and meth.How can you be postive when it ain't postive around you. The people in charge(white and native)don't seem to care. Also my best friend is white and has never dated a white girl in his life. In fact he used to say the same shit we'd say bout white. Was he just copying us? nope cus poeple looked down on him just for being our friend. That brings me to another thing. White males hanging out with natives just cus we have a rep for being gangs members. It's like it's cool to be hanging with us now . when did that happen? well anyway my point is that there's racists on both sides and whites have to learn that we live in some rough places(I got stab three times for wearing a red t shirt) That our role models(In the city aleast) are drug dealers pimps and gang members. How can not a little mean to whites when you've seen a cus, friend or family beening beat by white police for nothing. ? How can you not be a little rough when you need a gun in your house cus the people on both sides of you are drunks or gang members(I'm not say all are)But we natives need to stop blaming the whites for everything wrong on our blocks. The whiteman is not the main one shooting up our streets or stabing us.The whiteman is not dealing crack or meth on our streets.That being said things seem to be changing now. Natives are beginin to own shops etc.and the city I lived in gets alot of money off the native casio(yes we do pay taxes on and off the rez)And I do think we should be equals but we need to level the playing field first and get the chiefs who don't give a dam bout helping out there people out of power.also the tax thing would be great and yes there would been an uproar. but they would be the chiefs or just plain rich natives complaining,who like our rights but don't what to help out. or the natives(and whites) who go on wellfare for no reason.which hurts the people who really need it. Like my mom who hurt her back while she worked two jobs to put food on the table for me my sister and brother.but was deniled cus to many people were on it. Any way my point is that both sides need to help and just cus you meet a couple of us like that doen't mean we are all like that(also I was a gangmember but it was to protect myself) and the indians act prevents thing(owes a native). not true my friends and family could have told you that. We do pay taxes child sup etc(on and off rez).cause of the native companies in Sask. They can keep up the highways(lots of highways here)buy computers for inner city schools(where there needed the most)and many other things. So no your not a racist but your not really experienced. (ps I know I was off topic with some things and I might have forgoting some things I wanted to say. but in closing I'd like put this here)How can a rose grow from concrete?Don't know but its an amazing thing to see(Think about Think it'll come to you) God bless us all