Monday, August 16, 2010

Carrying shame of our people

When I was a kid, we used to go into the town next to our Reserve. The town had all of the stores for the local communities. A Hudson Bay store was the main attraction for the surrounding areas. The store entrance faced south onto the main highway through the town. Like most little towns, the store fronts faced the main street. There was a lot of bush area near the back of the store, we called it the "back of the Bay". The Winnipeg River ran past the town of Pine Falls. The bush patch behind the Bay and close to the River was a place that offered some quiet and privacy. A number of older people from the Reserve used to go and sit in the bush. They would go to the back of the Hudson Bay Store (the Bay) and drink alcohol. My deceased uncle and grand-uncle were regulars at the back of the Bay. They would be seen later on in the day, walking around the Bay or walking back to the Reserve and they would be drunk. I am not sure why they went to the back of the Bay. Perhaps it was a hold over from the days when Indians were not allowed to drink in the "Beer Parlors". There was a beer parlor (a bar, a pub, a drinking establishment)in the town. I believe the law change in 1960 that allowed Indians to enter licensed establishments. Until the law changed in 1960, Indians were not allowed to vote as they were not considered Canadians; only wards of the Crown, in other words, they were kids. So kids can't go into beer parlors.
My Mishoom, known as Misskos was very well respected in the community. He was a wood contractor. He and his sons, and nephews would cut wood for the Paper Mill in Pine Falls. Can you imagine that a man not allowed to buy his own beer. Younger White guys in town would have to buy his beer for him. I remember in 1980 an old man from town used to speak at the AA meetings in the Reserve. He would talk about my Mishoom (granpa) and how he knew him from work. This guy had to be way way younger than my Mishoom. My Mishoom died in 1968. This white guy would talk about buying beer for my Mishoom. Can you imagine that, a young guy having to buy your beer; like you were a kid? I mean you are this hard working, well respected MAN and yet you are treated like a kid. In any case, it might be why the old guys used to hang out behind the Bay and drink. It was the way it was when they were young. I know they used to hang out in the bush by they beer parlor. They weren't allowed to sit in the beer parlor. It was against the law.
Not sure if that is the reason, but it kind of makes sense. I remember a number of years ago I went to the Cree Reserve, Norway House. There is a small village next to the Reserve. The village has a beer vendor and a small pub. Across the highway from the village people will sit around in the bush and drink. They can sit in the pub now because it's not against the law, but still they go into the bush to drink. Maybe it's more comfortable to sit in the open, but who knows.

As young guys we used to make fun of each other with taunts like "you should be behind the Bay". "I saw you behind the Bay". I guess that kind of humour was a way to ridicule ourselves, but it says something about how we saw the act of being behind the Bay and being drunk in public. Maybe?
My mom learned to drive in the 1970's, and so she would always pick up my uncle or my grand-uncle when they were walking from town. She never ever showed signs, or made remarks that there was something wrong with what they were doing, hanging out behind the Bay. She always seemed to be happy to see my uncle and her uncle. There was no shame there, that I could see.
So why was it that us kids felt that shame?
I used to get that same feeling when in the city of Winnipeg, I would see an Indian drinking around downtown. It kind of made me mad, guilty, ashamed. Wonder why the heck.
Now I get that same feeling when there is a media story of some Indian gang member doing bad stuff to people. I kind of feel like we carry that guilt because of those people. Wonder why?
A cousin of mine in the Reserve has purchased three ATV's from a young guy in the Reserve. The ATV's are rumoured to be from the nearby cottage area. There is not a real relationship with the local non-Native communities. There are exceptions but mostly the community people stay away from the Reserve and the Reserve people. Maybe it's because they don't trust them. Who knows?

Up north at my in-laws farm house, it was burglarized and it is suspected to be guys from the neighbouring Reserve. A neighbour of theirs had his home broken into as well. He has pictures of the guys who did it. He had a "deer camera" installed. Indian guys for sure. Even there I felt bad. I felt ashamed. I felt guilty.
I know I didn't do it, but yet, I felt like I had a hand in it some how. Just because the Indians did it. There is a Reserve right next to the area that my in-laws live.

There is carrying the guilt of our people and then there is the opposite of that, hating our own people. You kind of see that in the actions of people. They are hard on themselves or other people like them. People like Bill Cosby, and Joseph C. Phillips, Patrick Brazeau are critical of the people they are associated with.

It is okay to be critical but at the same time it may border on self-hate. You feel so bad at the way your people are portrayed, act or looked upon, that you turn into the bitter, the wicked and on the opposite side of who you are.

I am not sure if carrying that shame is the right thing to do. Maybe if we know the reasons, the experiences, the baggage, the burden, the weight they carry, than maybe we won't be as critical or maybe we don't have to carry that shame.

Maybe we can be the example of how good our people are. Maybe we can show others that it is an anomaly. I love Indians. If you get to know them, you will know what I know and feel. Sure there are those that are no good, but heck that happens in every society. Christ not all Germans are Hitler, or Italians like Mussolini, nor are Ugandans like Idi Amin.

Same as with Indians, not all are criminals, burglars or petty thieves. Maybe some of them are real good kind strong caring people.
I like to think that's the way it is.

You know what, I don't see shame in my people. I see struggle and I see promise. They are still here. No matter that society tried to kill them off. Sure there are some elements of that destructive attempt to eliminate them, but they are still here.  


  1. Kia ora Steve,
    I had a friend I went to high school with, he was Oneida, a tremendous football player and wrestler. Though we were good friends and he was "included" within our group I never realized the struggles he went through. It wasn't till years later I realized how my attitude of I do not see colour or race I just see a friend was so wrong. My friend went out to Kansas to wrestle and play football at a college out there, and for the first time he became connected with Indian people who were proud of their heritage, and culture, and didn't just accept the way it was. I remember him coming back to Wisconsin a few times and trying to talk to me about these things but I was not hearing him. He eventually had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for some time. I would visit him from time to time and over the years when he got out would see him, but as my life moved on lost touch eventually. I need to find him. I should have listened to him, I should have seen him.
    I was thinking of him the other day, so to come here and read your post has just brought these feelings flooding back. Your words are strong. Kia kaha.

  2. It would be great to find your old friend. I hope that you are successful.
    You are so lucky to live in NZ. My family and I really want to go there.
    My son Don and I were there when he was 12 or 13. We stayed with the Hetaraka family in North NZ, Whanagarai.

  3. I very much enjoyed reading this entry and was able to identify with your words, I remember in my youth experiencing the same feelings of shame and anger, helplessness. Isn't it funny how a lot of times as kids we can't verbalize our worries to those who love us thus feeding that self-dissatisfaction? I'm glad that like you, was finally able to put that mentality to rest and focus on the positive: "Maybe if we know the reasons, the experiences, the baggage, the burden, the weight they carry, than maybe we won't be as critical or maybe we don't have to carry that shame."

    "Maybe we can be the example of how good our people are."

  4. yes, our culture, our peoples carry a lot of baggage, passed on from generation to generation... understanding how and why it began is the first step to stopping the cycle, forgive but never forget and start healing.... in the 1800's, our peoples went from independence to dependence, without learning to be self-sufficient.... Proud to be Indian!