Saturday, August 22, 2009

Remember your childhood Indian.

I can remember a lot when I was a kid. I was born in what they call the Indian hospital. Of course I don't remember that, but I can remember playing outside our house looking for nails. I was about 4 years old. Our house had no foundation so there were all sorts of gopher holes around the house. My Dad or my older brothers had traps in the holes; leg-hold muskrat traps. I put my hand in one of those. I guess that's why I remember that. I also remember getting in the way of the brothers using the bucksaw on our fire wood. The end of the bucksaw hit me in the head. I was also speared in the head by my brother who is two years older than me. He had a hard time pulling the spear out of my head as there was nail in the end of it. My troubles were all my fault of course. The one memory I have as a 4 year old was playing by the road. Road men drove by and took my jacket. This were the highways workers. I took my jacket off while I was playing by the road and they came by and throw it in the back of the truck like it was garbage. My mom was upset with me for losing my jacket. When I was a youngster at the school (Fort Alexander Indian Residential School)we used to play over at the church grave site to chase gophers. This guy Jeffery was a real savage ( I can use that word as it is used a lot in the Reserve amongst ourselves). He had this real big stutter. When he was asked his number at residential school he would say "nnnnaaannaananaanumber nine-die nine, na ah?" Anyway, we used to pour water down one gopher hole and someone would wait by the next hole to grab the gopher. Jeffery was always good at grabbing a gopher with his hand and we would all chase him screaming away(I get images of the Lord of the Flies scenes as the kids go wild). I remember a lot of things that seemed normal at the time but I guess in today's context would seem strange, weird and/or discriminatory. Us Indians (lot of the older ones) from our Reserve go to the left side in a waiting room or a movie theater. In the hospital in the 1960's and 1970's there were two waiting rooms, one for Indians and one for town's folk. It's true. We never thought anything of it, you just went were your suppose to go. Same thing with the movie theater in town. We all sat on the left side and all the White people sat on the right side. It didn't seem discriminatory. It's funny now. But back then it was comfortable.

Do you think a child knows what irony is? Do you think a child would recognize it if he or she came face to face with irony? I remember I was about 10 years old. I had my brother's bike and went over to the rectory. The rectory was where the nuns lived by the church. The reason I went there was to get a medal. My auntie used to clean up there and she would be the one to open the door. This time the priest opened the door. And when you were a kid, you never talked to priest. This was the priest! The one with the black suit and he was next to God! My older sister was a bad egg as she didn't like the priests, she said "he was always playing pocket pool". I didn't know what that meant. Anyway this priest opened the door and asked what I wanted. I said I was there to get a medal. I had five cents. The medals were of the Virgin Mary, or St. Christopher that I really didn't give that much thought about. I used to put the medals on thread and wear them like I had a chain or something. There was another priest there with him. I never saw him before. The priest said this is so and so and he works up north with Indians. The priest started talking to me in some language I didn't understand. They both laughed at me. Here was this priest talking Indian (or at least I thought it was Indian, maybe he had a bad accent or something) and I could not understand him. They laughed at me. I remember exactly, exactly how I felt. I was ridiculed, embarrassed, small, ugly and lastly angry. I know it wasn't right what was going on. I didn't tell my parents until years later. That's how bad I felt. I know now that I was facing irony. These guys (maybe not them specifically but the whole residential school thing) worked hard to kill the Indian language (and the Indian spirit) and now he, this priest was talking Indian to me and I couldn't understand. At the time I just knew what they were doing was wrong. I never did understand why the priest would waste time talking to me, a kid.

For a while I really hated the church and then I just got comfortable with accepting what the church is for many people, especially my Mom. Mom was a real strong believer in the church. I used to tease her by telling her I was going to burn it down. My Mom was so comfortable in her ways that she was not threatened by anything. She kept my Eagle whistle for me when I danced and gave at the ceremony feasts. For her it was our ways, but she grew up with the church and was comfortable in that. But she never ever put down any other ways. That was one good lady. She and my Dad as well as my siblings have plenty to dislike the church for. But for whatever reason hatred for the church really didn't dominate anyone's life. My Mom and Dad really believe in Indian Medicine. My Dad tells us that it is how he had his kidneys cured. He was in a bad car accident and got cured by one his aunties. The doctors wanted to find out how he was cured but he would not tell them. Indians like to guard what should be kept.

There is a book that looks at the Indian Medicine ways and the church. It is called the Bushman and the Spirits, Barney Lacendre. It's a recollection of life by this old Indian trapper and hunter. I read it a few times long ago, and I felt bad for that old man. He must be deceased by now, but he had a good way of life and traded it away for the church. In the book he recalls of his life and the way of Medicine. It sounded like a good life, but he converted to the church. Poor guy.

Story about two Indian guys. I was about 20 years old and I was at the Political Indian Regional office in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I was sitting in the coffee room just milling around waiting for my Dad. When this guy walked in and started shadow boxing. He used to be boxer but now he was an Indian politician. He started saying stuff like "I'm going to knock him out", I just sat there watching and wondering, who in the heck is this guy talking about. Anyway, this other Indian politician came in and the boxer says to him, "you owe me an apology!" The other Indian, Conrad S. says,"I owe you fuck all". So the boxer says "let's go outside!". They went outside, these two middle age, pop-bellied, professionally dressed, political leader Indians. They throw a lot of jabs and kicks but not one made any contact. In the end they got tired and walked away from each other. Now that is one way to end a dispute.

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