Hello my dears! Today we have a really thought provoking post from Alex Powell, who is another first time guest to ALBTALBS! I really hope you’ll read it and think about what she says.
Hello, my name is Alex, and I’m Limecello’s guest for Smithonian American Indian Heritage Month.
I’ll start off by saying that I’m First Nations, which is what we call Native American in Canada. My people live in the Cariboo Central Interior of British Columbia. My birth mother is from the Saik’uz band of the Carrier nation, also called the Stoney Creek band.
You might have heard of it, perhaps not. There was a biographical book written about one of the people from my band called Stoney Creek Woman: The Story of Mary John that was quite famous in Canada for a few years, when I was young.
I only recently found this out, because I was adopted at birth by the people I now know as my parents, both of whom have British backgrounds.
It’s not uncommon for First Nations people to be disconnected from their culture here. The marks left on the collective psyche of my people by the Indian Residential Schools are still affecting us. Many people tell us that we should simply “get over” it, as if it were a high school break-up instead of over 100 years of my people’s culture being systematically destroyed.
And it wasn’t destroyed by burning our books, for we had none. And it wasn’t destroyed by burning down our villages either. It was done by taking our children from us and abusing them until they didn’t remember how to speak their own language or the stories passed down that existed only in memory.
“Get over it,” as if it’s ancient history, and we should just move on.
The last Indian Residential School in Canada closed in 1996. I was seven.
My birth mother, whoever she was, was an alcoholic, trying to drown out the memories of physcial and sexual abuse, of her classmates dying from tuberculosis, of being forced to forget her own culture and assimilate.
I worked at a law office for a while, when I was younger. The lawyer I worked for was working for First Nations people who had been at those schools, to try and get some restitution from the government for what was done to them. Most of them couldn’t get through their statements without crying, leaving the office with red eyes and tear-stained faces.
All the money in the world could not fix this, could not make them forget the abuse and torture they were put through, the culture and language lost to them.
I myself speak English perfectly. I also speak French and Japanese. I don’t speak any of the Carrier language, which is considered endangered, as so few people speak it now.
I’m telling you all this because history would like to forget the things that Canada has done, just as it likes to forget the Chinese head tax and the Japanese internment camps. It remembers the Underground railroad well enough, as if this will make up for the hurt their country has caused.
Currently, there is an inquest going on in Canada, trying to discover why so many First Nations women go missing and turn up murdered. There are also camps up all over Wet’suwet’en nation to combat companies that want to put oil pipelines through their land.
I’m telling you this because people like to call us dirty, and lazy, and stereotype us with drug and alcohol abuse and prostitution. They call us “Native Americans” as if we are all one people, rather than an extremely diverse group of nations. I am not the same as the Ojibwe in the east, or the Apache in the south. I’m not Blackfoot or Cree from the plains, and I’m not Inuit from the north.
I’m Carrier. My people built pit-houses to survive the harsh Canadian winter, and food caches to keep away wild animals from our food. We didn’t wear war bonnets like the tribes from the plains, or build longhouses like the coastal tribes.
I’m telling you this because when people write about us, I want them to know the truth, as harsh as it is.
I also want you to know, that we’re not lazy or dirty, and we’re not all substance abusers, and our women are not all prostitutes.
I’m a published author, I have a degree in English, and I’m applying for an MFA at UBC.
I have friends from all over the country that are doing just fine, apart from having to deal with micro-aggressions and racism. We’re going to university, we have jobs, and we are still fighting to be recognized when most people would rather forget us and put us in museums, as if we were ancient history. We’re rediscovering our own culture like outsiders.
Not all our stories are tragic, but you have to remember our history.
I’m a writer, and many of my peers want to write about Native American characters. They always ask me what they should be careful of, because there is a huge different between a well-rounded character with a developed backstory and a stereotype.
The noble savage is a stereotype.
The sexy savage is also a stereotype.
No one should let ignorance stop them from writing a well-rounded character with a First Nation’s background. All one has to do is ask. Ask about our history, and what our culture is currently like. Do research and interviews with people who are First Nations.
There are not very many First Nations characters in mainstream media today. The ones that do appear follow the well-known stereotypes or are played by white people.
I want to change that. It’s the reason I became a writer to begin with, to bring characters to life that are from different walks of life than most characters in the spotlight of mainstream media. And I’ll start off by telling you a story. My story.
I am Alex, and I’m Carrier.
That’s my story. Not all the story, of course, but it’s a start.
Thank you so much for sharing, Alex. My heart breaks for all the wrongs and indignities that have been put on so many innocent people.