This blog series was supposed to be just two parts, but it has opened up a lot more thoughts and feelings for me and blossomed into four parts! The entry following this will wrap up my personal experiences and thoughts on racism and Aboriginal people and, in the final installment, I will share my experiences and thoughts on policing and the call for big changes on how it’s done.
I thank those of you who gave me so much positive feedback on the first installment!
In my first post on Aboriginals and racism and my experiences with it, I talked about the “others,” those large numbers of Aboriginal people who are still on the margins of society, and how I got over the wall and found success and acceptance in the white world. To many, I was an “apple;” red on the outside, white on the inside.
My being who I am is not something I’m either proud or ashamed of. I’m happy to be where I am at: financially comfortable, with a wonderful partner and family, and doing what I like to do. Unless you were an artist or fisherman, or working in the fish plant, the road I took was one most Aboriginal people had to travel to achieve success.
In my first post, I mentioned how I fit in so well with white people that, sometimes, they forgot that I was Aboriginal. Besides the moment noted in my first post, where a friend said, “let’s go beat up some Indians,” another stands out.
I was in my late teens and at a white friend’s house, and one of his family members was arguing with another guest about Aboriginal land rights, which was a big deal then as the Nisga’a were embroiled in their land claims. One of the adult family members, who opposed land claims, got very worked up and exclaimed, “those people don’t deserve to live!”
A pall fell over the room. Everyone else looked at me, stunned and stricken by what he had said. The man noticed their expressions and where they were looking, and slowly turned his head to look at me. He had forgotten what I was, I suppose; just another white person whom I had fooled, unintentionally, into thinking I wasn’t an Indian, even though I was as brown as they get. He said nothing. He just sat down on his chair. I stood, and said, “I guess I better go,” and left.
As I walked home that night, I was confused. First, I thought, why did he say that? What was it about us that made him think we didn’t deserve to live? My other question was to myself. Where did I belong?
My shift into the white world was part necessity, part desire. Necessity because I wanted to do well in school and many of my Aboriginal buds from my elementary school days were dropping out. And desire, because the white crowd was the cool crowd and the girls were so pretty and clean. Yes, I was prejudiced against my own and believed the white girls were prettier because I was bombarded with the perception that being attractive was being white.
Even my dad, who was a big chief (in photo), did not try to instill the traditions and language in me. As I went through school, won writing accolades and contests, he would tell me in private that I had to be the one to get out, that “you don’t want to be like the others.”
Often, I fantasized about being white, about being rich (which I assumed 99 per cent of white people were) and being accepted. Who wouldn’t want that, and also think that being the opposite of it was inferior? White people had better homes, better cars, better clothes, better toys.
Having grown up poor, frugality is embedded in me. I use things, clothes, furniture, dishes, until they are outgrown or falling apart. But I think it’s more than just being frugal; part of me doesn’t want to let go of who I was. So, I cling to the ratty jacket, the worn-out shoes, and the rummage sale ball hockey goalie gear (I used an umpire’s mask, baseball glove and foam pads for the longest time). It was just a few years ago that I broke down and finally got myself a sport jacket. All of my really good clothes were acquired in shopping excursions led by and paid for by my partner (and I love her for it). Dressing nice still feels weird.
People often say that I should be proud of myself but pride is not a feeling I am comfortable with. I consider myself lucky because I know that there were many times along the road where things could have gone south, and I could have just as easily ended up like many Aboriginal people. I am a fan of the expression “there but for the grace of God …” but, not being religious, I revise it to “there but for some luck and the help of others, go I.”
I know that I have made much of my own way, but I caught some breaks and, most importantly, some good people believed in me, some good people gave me a chance. I hope for and encourage those of you who have also been fortunate, to pay it forward and extend the same courtesy to the others.