My Dad would have been 91 this year. He was an Indian, well actually he was Anishinaabe, a citizen of Sagkeeng First Nation. My Dad came from a big family, with a lot of brothers and sisters. Their Dad, my Mishoom was a bushman and the brothers all worked in the bush as well. My Mishoom died when I was eight years old in 1968, but I remember him well. To me, everyone in the Reserve was an Indian. My Mom also had the big Indian family. The only non-Indians were the store owners, the teachers, the priests and the nuns. So my world was pretty small when I think back.
Not everyone saw the world as I did back then, Indians and non-Indians, there was no in-between. Even the bullying at the Residential School that I got for being a white looking Indian didn't change my view. I never thought I was anything but an Indian. It wasn't until I heard my Dad and my Uncle talk about "those Real Indians" when they were picking Wild Rice, that I thought about the notion of different Indians. The Indians my Dad and Uncle were talking about was those Indians from Ontario who still practiced Traditions. At night when they were camping, some Indians would sign on the Drum. These Indians came from Reserves in Western Ontario; Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseewagong) , Waabasemong, Big Grassy and others. So my Dad and other's like him, held those Indians in high regard when it came to being Indian. Although my Dad was a fluent Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) speaker, he felt he didn't speak it as pure. Dad, Mom and lot of the community members were put in the Residential School in our Reserve. The School was run by French Catholics. The other non-residential school (very small one) was run by the English Anglicans, and most of the Indians who went there were not mixed heritage. The schools were designed to "get rid of the Indian." The pressure to stop being Indian was relentless. With the constant pressure there was some fallout. One thing I never did hear from any of my relatives is that they were not Indian. All of them knew they were Indian, regardless of the beatings they took from the system - society. So when Dad and Uncle spoke of those Real Indians they weren't saying they were not real Indians, but they were acknowledging the strength, the resilience of their people despite the attacks and suffering they went through.
In our Reserve the crush of Christianity almost wiped out the Drum from the people. There was a quick move to accept the ways of the Church (beaten into you at school, and other governmental pressures). So there was a change in how the community viewed things. Even in our community people would talk about Indians who stole Treaty. There were some Indians, descendants of the Chief who signed treaty, who felt some Indians didn't belong. The people who didn't belong were people like my Mishoom, who's grandmother was Wissakodewikwe half-breedWoman, later known as the Metis people. So some of the Indians in our Reserve didn't take kindly to the mixed Indians. The story goes like this:" the Indians who signed Treaty didn't want their grandchildren, the ones with mixed blood, to be left out of Treaty. So they had them registered at the signing of Treaty (Treaty One 1871) as well. These Indians were not be leaders in the community and leave the decisions to the Indians with no mixed blood." Things don't always go as they should. The Treaty brought along with it, the Indian Act, the Indian Agent and the elections of Chiefs, which the Indians called Ogema-con. That added little part, the con in Omega denotes a pretence. Like in the Wendigo and Wendigo-cons; not the real Wendigo. Same with Gwoskay-can; the person who acts crazy but is not mentally ill. So with Ogemg-con, we know them as Indian Act Chiefs.
Funny thing about the country, the system (White folk almost exclusively) didn't want the Indian to be Indian, but they didn't want a half-way Indian as well. It was like they didn't want any kind of Indian at all. Crazy eh? Thing is, Indians didn't think of themselves really as half-way Indians. Either you are Indian or you are not. Our Ancestors didn't want to throw away their Grandchildren, so they were Indian regardless if they had the Drum or not. Even though Indians are in awe of those who did not lose their Tradition, they still know they themselves are Indian. They know this because there is an "us" and there are a "them," White people. They know they have a long history and a long connection to their ancestors. So we see each other as Indian, the Real Indians.
"Those Teachings that we are given reflect the identity of the Spirit that is in each and everyone of us. You carry all those Teachings inside of you. As long as you have an ounce of blood of Anishinaabe, you have the genetic memory to know those Teachings. The holy spot of our people is the knowledge the Ceremony, the language, the relationship that we have with the land, that is the holy spot of our people. What an awesome gift that the Creator gave us as Anishinaabe people." Dave Courchene Jr.