Today was a bit of a low day for me, emotionally. Try as I might, I can’t seem to escape the negativity being spewed from so many mouths, streaming from the tips of so many furiously typing fingers. No, I’m not going to link to the rants and articles I’m referring to. No need to spread the malaise.
I echo the sentiments of Brent Wesley, however. I know a lot of us have been feeling it too.
Lazy. Incompetent. Dead weight. Basically, a burden on the taxpayers. Harsh descriptives for anyone to swallow, yet it’s par for the course for First Nations in this country.
Others have done a good job of breaking down the numbers, so I won’t dwell on it. Rather, as a First Nation person, the public backlash has weighed heavy. Instead of compassion, First Nations were suddenly generalized and told we don’t know how to fend for ourselves. Funny, considering I have an education, have a job, own a home and I’m raising a family. But wait, “you’re okay, I like you. It’s those other Indians I don’t like.” Words I have actually heard before.
It’s most certainly a two-dimensional portrait being painted, ignoring our resilience, our humour, our determination. Reduced to stereotypes, we get to watch while these effigies of ourselves are attacked and reviled and talked about (never to). It is incredibly disempowering. It always has been.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the emotional ups and downs of trying to stay strong in the face of such negativity. It is hard to see it and know how huge the task is to inform people and undo the damage done, how to heal as a nation because yes, I think non-natives have a major part to play in that process as well. It’s exhausting to think about doing all that, especially when you also need to heal yourself.
So perhaps it is not so strange that I found myself in tears today, watching a video produced by students on the Rosebud reservation. The neighbouring Pine Ridge reservation was recently the subject of a Diane Sawyer special which focused on problems many native communities in Canada and the US face; alcoholism, crime, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, despair. Despite the fact that the trailer of the Sawyer special, Hidden America: Children of the Plains, leads you to believe the special is uplifting and inspiring, the Lakota students believed that it failed to offer historical context or question why conditions are that way.
It’s true that both US and Canadian audiences need to become more aware of the issues faced by native peoples. Nonetheless, we need understanding to be about more than just how bad things are. We need people to also understand the strength that has sustained us. We need people to see that we are not helpless, not unworthy, not all the horrible things that so many are saying we are.
As Brent Wesley points out:
We’re a resilient people. My grandparents survived the mess that was the Indian residential school system and did their best to raise a family of 16 children. They succeeded. All we want today is the same comforts as any other Canadian, but it’s up to us to figure out how we are going to accomplish that goal of self-sufficiency. The only thing we want is a bit of help to ensure we get culturally appropriate education, housing and infrastructure. All things the rest of society needs.
So I want to thank these students for the video I’ve included below. It made me cry because it made me feel proud again. We have so much more than poverty.