Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cowboys and Indians: Six


I’ve posted five times now, in an attempt to share with you some of the experiences that have shaped my perceptions when it comes to Canada’s aboriginal community. As well, I’ve attempted to articulate those perceptions. Some have asked me, where does all this lead? So what now? Shouldn’t we be discussing policy and more substantive issues? Let me share with you then, where the Cowboys and Indians series is going.

First, let me say that all of us have our opinions on aboriginal issues. Those opinions, for the most part, are based on our experiences. In Cowboys and Indians One and Two, I shared with you my formative years and some of my “bad” experiences. I did so to demonstrate that my attitudes were and are often a product of my experiences. At one time I was basically an open slate, on which contact with aboriginal people imprinted various notions and sensitivities. I would think that most of us are the same. Parents, peers, readings, and experience, create biases and prejudices that despite ourselves, slowly became part of the cement of our characters. I remember a friend of mine visiting from Toronto. I forget what exactly I said, but he commented to me that I seemed “quite prejudiced” toward natives. I replied, that what I had just said was not racism, but “fact” in my part of the world. Two weeks into his visit, he was spewing vitriol about aboriginals that even I found offensive. Why? Because he had in those two weeks experienced and seen for himself a good dose of the “bad” that is the aboriginal community in parts of Canada. I remember thinking to myself how hypocritical my friend was, to chastise me for racism only to be even more so a few short weeks later. You see, he knew nothing of the aboriginal community at first, and thought he was “above” racism. Then, when he experienced some of the worst of that community, he was ready to generalize and paint the entire native community with the same dark brush. His new experience had changed him; for the worse.
Picture now the middleclass denizen of Saskatoon, whose main experience with native people may be gangs, hookers, drug addicts, derelicts, and the racist pronouncements that come so often from Indian leadership in Saskatoon. Without positive experiences, there is small wonder that racism persists. Take that same person, and put her to work with native people, where honest efforts are being made for a better life, and the racism begins to evaporate. Even native people stereotype among themselves about themselves. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with three native girls at a local high school. One had just been mugged and upon telling us where the mugging had occurred, this is what her fellow native friends said. “HOLY… that area is getting as bad as the slum… I never trust those Indians down there… they’re crazy!” ‘Those Indians’, were the derelicts, gang members, hookers, a drug addicts.

I shared with you in Cowboys and Indians Three, some of the good things I have experienced with the Canadian Native Community. The reasons for my sharing my positive experiences may, on the surface, appear to be no more than a demonstration that good things are going on among aboriginal peoples, and that all is not doom and gloom. But, there is a more subtle purpose for the disclosures, which is that without these positive experiences I would be, like so many non-natives, hopelessly racist. If all I saw was the bad, and never the good, what would my conclusions be? You see, I’m not one of those bleeding heart liberals who base their views solely on readings and putting on the do-good blinders. It takes more than “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” to make me feel pity and guilt and culpability for the plight of native peoples. I believe in taking the bull by the horns, and I believe that calls for “compensation”, and “reparations”, are no more than excuses for not moving forward. But, when I know of and experience and see native people who are moving on, and are not hopelessly enslaved to the cult of “compensation”, I see hope and I want to do all I can, including paying taxes, to assist these Canadians. My personal racism has been tempered not by guilt (because you can’t guilt me out of racism) and not by readings (because I’m a pragmatist and skeptic), but rather by the native people who have earned my respect. What non-natives need to realize, is that the last fifteen years have seen enormous positive changes. Don’t judge Indians by the urban core or the dilapidated reserve or by the arrogant pheasants who masquerade as Canada’s top Indian leaders; judge natives by the ordinary individuals who are making huge forward strides. A mere seven years ago, any aboriginal teacher was guaranteed a job over any non-aboriginal. Today, so many educated aboriginals have entered the teaching field, that jobs are no longer a guarantee over non-aboriginals. Image, if you will, an all native education council deciding on a given candidate because of general qualification, not race, and because they don't want just "natives" in their school. What a change. What a moving forward.

I shared with you the story of Sarah. I just wanted to show, by using a true story, how steep the uphill climb still is for many aboriginals. Depending on where they reside, moving forward may mean overcoming one obstacle after another, only to have tragedy waiting at the end. Some aboriginal communities experience horrific losses due to addictions, violence, and accidents. They grieve for lost loved ones like the rest of us, they long for their loved ones like the rest of us, but they experience sorrow far too often. It’ll be a wonderful day when the average aboriginal community buries its members as seldom as the rest of us do.

Finally, I talked about the enormous cash devouring monster that aboriginal programs and institutions can be. I suppose that this could be my most controversial musing. Money and the waste of it bugs most any tax payer. I tried, perhaps awkwardly, to show how funds that are infused “top down” have a way of being peeled off before they are used for their intended purpose. What I didn’t say, is that in many ways Indian communities are Communist communities. All property, save vehicles and personal affects, are held in common. Nobody on a reserve, for instance, can say that they own their own home. Reserves are, in many ways, a collective. It is my opinion that it is this fact alone, that holds aboriginal communities back. If they often seem like little Cuba’s, it is because that in many respects they are. Personal responsibility is all too easily passed off to a higher authority. Personal gain, is far too easily seen as dependant on belonging to the ruling clan. And for those who don’t belong to that clan, hopelessness is only a slight shift in attitude away. And, like all Communist states, corruption is the norm and collective misery is more common than collective prosperity.

I’ll never forget the delight expressed by a native man who purchased my home several years ago. The home was off-reserve. He stomped his foot down in the living room and said, “This is mine… I can touch it and feel it… I can stand in my own house… I want my kids to know that they sleep and walk in a place that belongs to them; not to everybody else!”

In conclusion, let me say that all I hoped to accomplish with Cowboys and Indians was to show how complex and diverse aboriginal issues are. I didn't try to set myself up as an example of either the good or bad, just simply as an example of an ordinary person dealing with what can be a difficult issue. I hope that my series was able to bridge, at least a little bit, the divide that often separates Canada's Native people from the rest of society, by honestly exposing the forces that shaped me. Am I preaching? I would hope that after reading Cowboys and Indians you realize, that like you, I’m as subject to the vagaries of my emotions and experiences as much as anyone.
Cowboys and Indians: Introduction

Cowboys and Indians: One

Cowboys and Indians: Two

Cowboys and Indians: Three

Cowboys and Indians: Four

Cowboys and Indians: Five


Wayne said...

I can empathize with your experience. I was raised in south east Alberta in an area dry enough that the Indians were too smart to habitate. (seemed that way anyway)
I had no experience at all with Natives while I was growing up. My first experience was when I went to College in Red Deer and later in Edmonton and Calgary. Needless to say, the urban natives do not always present themselves in the best light.
My wife has a strong interest in native spirituality, and from this, I have attended some pow wows and native rodeos, but always very much as an outsider.
I had many of the same confused positions on natives, the Indian act, what to do about the whole situation, etc. I am still not sure what has to be done, except that the current situation is seriously flawed.
More recently, through some business I am involved in, I have had the opportunity to work with a community that is trying to make things better. And, I am impressed. They have several operating successful businesses, more MBAs than most non-native communities their size, a terrific attitude and a desire to gain back the respect and pride they lost in the last century.
I don't know what my position is yet, but it is certainly up for review.

CA said...

"gangs, drug addicts, derelicts, and... racist..., gang members, hookers."
Add killers, robbers and rapists and it sounds just like any large US city. LA, Watts, Houston, Atlanta, DC, SF, etc...on and on...minus native Americans.

Each has his own world.

W.L. Mackenzie Redux said...

As a member of an oppressed minority I can relate to natives being judged unfairly by urbanites coming in contact with the criminal element and trasfering their traits on all natives.

Thus it is with canada's firearms owners/users....the only contact urbanites have with firearms are negative so the .1% criminal misuse is transferred onto the 99% of responsible citizens who own a firearm or hunt.

It's sad and unjust but it is a machination of a human foible that is exploited by political oppotunists who play on our worst fears and ignorance....the current Liberal political cartel is accomplished at this

Anonymous said...

How can you write such nonsense? Do you really believe all this stuff. YOu should live with an enlightened aboriginal instead of a white woman.

Debris Trail said...

Anon: Have you read the entire series? And be specific; what in particular is the nonsense? By the way, are you sure I live with a white woman?

Dirk Buchholz said...

Most of whay you say is pure nonsence and retoric.
to say the problem with Native communities is based in their collective tradition and outlook is rather simplistic.
Just another way of saying the native problem is inherent in the very nature of what it is to be the "answer"is as far as I can tell from your articles is assimilation.
Check out a few of my post
If you have the inclination and really want to understand native points of view and traditions pick up a copy of"Wasase"by Taiaiake Alfred
you can find a link at my site.
Also on your remarks concerning Cuba,again you speak of what ytou dont know.The fact is over 90% of Cubans own their own home.the fact is socities are much better off if housing is not treated as a comodity.It is a basic need as well as a right.
Private proporty is not the bench mark of all that is "good" and "right".