And although I may not look it, I was graced with my dad’s french-italian skin colour, a lot of people see my Aboriginal background as a narrow number of things; a cultural signifier that strictly defines me and my background. People are scared to ask questions about my culture, and are of course intrigued and confused by it, but rarely make any effort to try and fully understand it.
I would like to start out by saying I do not and my family does not live in teepees. I don’t understand how this question can even be asked in the year 2012. We have heard of houses, you know; of cable television and central air conditioning (although, the way funding has been allocated to reserves, I doubt many have been able to afford the luxury.) We do have flooring; we do not hunt our food every single day; and we do recycle, but not because we have to out of spirituality. We do it because we fucking care about the world we live, much like you, yeah?
Number two: yes my university education is paid for. No, it is not ‘free’ – the most offensive thing you can say to me on any given day. On a fiscal sense, yes, my education is ‘free,’ but do you know exactly why it is free? Did you know that one of Canada’s biggest uh-ohs in terms of our history was forcing Aboriginal children into residential schools in the 19th century, dominating them into white culture and abusing them verbally, physically, emotionally, and sexually? Did you know that it took the government 60+ years to apologize for it? And do you know that Aboriginal cultures are still, to this day, segregated into poorly-run reserves, where schooling is so under-funded that the majority of students don’t even qualify for post-secondary education? So yes, my education is free, but in making up for our horrible history it is nowhere near enough.
And don’t every say we need to ‘get over it’ – that funding should be ‘cut’ in order to focus money on more ‘important issues.’ Just, don’t ever say that in my presence. Do yourself a favour there.
Also noteworthy: I don’t drink! Sure, a glass of wine here and a scotch there, but socially. Not pathologically. I do not have a problem, we do not all have a drinking problem – we aren’t all members of the AA. Those ‘drunk natives’ you see on the street, do you ever wonder why they are the way they are? Maybe they’ve grown up in poor conditions and have not been able to support themselves, thus turning a dark leaf in their life not because of choice but because of circumstance. If you grew up in a place where your school couldn’t even afford heating or electricity, I’m pretty sure your future wouldn’t look so bright either. It’s easy to lose hope, as many do.
These are just a few of the joyous things I hear from day-to-day; I’ve gotten people ask me to use my status card for a shopping discount, if long hair is required for our culture, if white people are allowed onto reserves. No, no, and yes. In fact – I recommend you visit a reserve from time to time, then maybe you could see what third world conditions Aboriginal people truly live in. Then, just maybe, you’ll understand why we get ‘free’ education or ‘drink a lot.’ Wouldn’t you?