Updated: Apr 25, 2019
I grew up in a household dominated by British culture. I was told as a child that I was lucky to carry the bloodlines of people who once ruled the world “from sea to sea.” I was given the impression, through many direct and indirect comments, that people of color were inferior. This gave me a sense of superiority over my non-white schoolmates.
However, right beside them in class, I learned about British colonialism. How the British moved in on countless cultures and took over at any cost. The evidence of that cultural cost was right before me in the form of the few indigenous children in my school, who dressed and ate poorly, and were marginalized by other students, who like me, had been taught that our culture was superior.
When I went home and related what I’d learned to my parents, my concerns and questions were met by the circular argument that these cultures were so inferior they were actually lucky to be dominated by whites. Even as a child I recognized the injustice inherent in this attitude.
The worst part about being white is the shame I carry for the actions and attitudes of my ancestors. Though I reject these same attitudes, every day in the newspaper I see injustices still being enacted as a result of those cultural paradigms. As a result, I can take no pride in my heritage. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps the only pride a person should feel is in their own right actions to overcome injustice.
Because of Meeka, Rob, and their Secwepmec family in Ashcroft, BC, I've been exposed to a culture I imagined but never expected to encounter up close - people who live close to the land, who are intricately connected by blood and history and experience and environment. The Secwepmec people and their friends welcomed me, a white woman, to gather with them and celebrate _- not mourn _- the death of a family member.
Women at a kitchen table, cutting fruit and exchanging memories. Children running everywhere. Gifts given in remembrance of Val. I am offered salmon, deer antler, a white towel and a box of Pringles. Who am I? It does'nt seem to matter. I am present.
In a valley where the family has lived for generations, I heard the sister of the dead woman sing to her spirit. She sang a long time, moving like the wind, vocalizing without words, reaching beyond flesh and earth into the world of the unseen. As she finished, a child approached fearlessly, reaching out, instinctively connecting the past with the present. All who watched knew what was happening.
I saw a grizzly bear of the land gather his tribe and speak to them about that connectedness. He strode straight as an arrow up and down the circle, speaking softly but powerfully, his face quiet and still and strong. Birds and leaves moved shadows around us. I had the sense that time was rolling backwards. We were seeing the same chief that has led these people for generations, embodied in a current incarnation that has only been lightly brushed with the patina of the present. The eternal truths have not changed; I recognized them immediately without ever having heard them spoken with such authority. We stood and listened with hands clasped.
I thought of the conventions of my childhood. The blind hypocrisy of Mass. The whitewash of social studies class. Arguments at the dinner table. The vast black hole where my family history resides - a history that I know was driven by English arrogance and acquisitiveness. I take no pride in the colonialism of my forebears. But their courage and hunger have given me the life I am enjoying today, and the opportunity to experience this ancient culture safe in the company of friends - friends who have spent lifetimes trying to overcome the legacy of colonial greed and lies, and yet still offer me food and warmth and laughter.
My mother was adopted in Vancouver, and knows nothing of her people. Because of certain physical characteristics that appear in our collective family visage, some have speculated that the red blood runs in this generation of the Alexander family. But that is a fantasy born of the poverty of our spiritual history and our cultural guilt. My mother would reject it utterly, having developed a typically middle class view of our native brethren. I often hear it spoken when the "Indian Question" comes up. Someone always says something like, "I'm not prejudiced, but these Indians have taken it too far." Like all people they will take it as far as they can. They have wounds to heal. So do we.
I know that even if I do carry aboriginal blood, so divorced am I from the earth that any connection I still share with these people must be of a spiritual nature only - which is yet available to all peoples everywhere, if it can only be discerned and honoured.
I was driving through a reserve one day when I came across a yard sale. A native family had set up a table full of canning, clothes, and knickknacks. Rock and roll music was playing. Beer and smokes were around. They watched me approach silently from their chairs. I spied a pair of beautiful moccasins, my size, in perfect condition. They were only 15 dollars. In stores such a pair would have been at least 200$. I grabbed them and paid for them immediately.
A little girl came out from behind her mother's skirts, dressed in a bikini. Her face was smeared with red lipstick. She cocked her arm on her hip and wiggled in an eerie parody of that cultural icon Britney Spears, leering at me. "YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?" she screamed. "YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?" It was like the day turned black. The adults laughed. I was an outsider.
I drove away with my moccasins. "15 dollars?" Meeka said. "Those are ceremonial moccasins. Why would someone sell them to you for 15 dollars?" I don't know. I guess they needed the money. Later, when I went to put them on, I was stung by wasp on the bottom of my foot.
Yes, I want a piece of you. Not of your land or your fish or your family, but of you. And I can buy it but I will never possess it. I do not have the right.
Meeka has offered to smudge my moccasins for me. Mercy has no bloodline. It runs through the world of the spirit, and I am blessed.