We don’t have a thread on Indigenous people so I thought I’d start one…
I started it because of this…
Thanks for creating this. My grandmother was pureblood Haudenosaunee Mohawk, a large part of my family live on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario in the shadow of (or attending!) one of the most notorious Residential Schools in the area. To this day, I remember that my Grandmother had been so indoctrinated by the education system of the time that she hated her Aboriginal heritage to the point where she refused to help any of her children or us grandchildren reclaim our heritage or status almost until her death.
The topic of the struggles of Indigenous Peoples worldwide was super important to Xeni who frequently posted about it on Boing Boing. Thank you for starting this topic to help continue that important work.
My maternal grandparents met in a boarding school. We don’t really have an idea who they were before that because they entered very young and didn’t talk about anything before the family farm they built.
Edit: I meant great-grandparents. Mom is mixed native and unknown, with her maternal grandparents being the boarding school folks and her dad’s ancestry being something of a mystery.
I saw the above story and thought that we probably needed it…
I think for too many of us who do not have verified indigenous ancestry think that this is older history, but in reality, it’s an ongoing struggle being faced by indigenous communities that intersect directly with pretty much all of the major issues of our day. As you and @Surprise_Puma noted, both of you experienced the cultural violence often visited upon indigenous people. Because of what your grandparents experienced, both of you lacked access to your heritage… That’s really fucking awful, and I think that if more people understood this, they’d become more invested in this issue…
Oh and if neither of you have read it, I highly recommend Paying the Land by Joe Sacco, which is about the Metis and Dene and the oil industry:
For that matter, it’s not specifically about First Nations people, but it discusses them a bit with regards to land use, Kate Beaton’s Ducks - mainly, it’s about how Beaton became aware of how land use impacts indigenous communities in Canada:
I mistyped earlier and meant great-grandparents. Mom is mixed, with her mother being the product of two boarding school residents and her father being a mix of people of unknown ancestry.
The boarding schools are a vile part of North American history. I don’t know quite how to say this next part without it sounding like I’m excusing them but here goes…
My life has been made easier because I’m white. I’m white because my great-grandparents were “made” white. To the best of my knowledge, after they left the school and started their family, they were never treated differently than any poor white person in rural PA. They bought their land, with white neighbors on all sides of our farm, and raised a family. When each of my mixed race uncles married a white woman, nobody batted an eye. Same when my Irish dad married my mixed race mother. Because in some ways…the ways that apparently mattered to the folks who opposed interracial relationships…they were all white in the eyes of anyone who cared.
So there’s a privilege there I can’t deny. I didn’t grow up on a reservation and don’t have any known family who did, unlike @orenwolf. I wasn’t mistreated. I wasn’t ostracized. Race had no directly negative impact on my life. But it came at the cost of having a part of my ancestry erased. I feel kind of ashamed to say this but I don’t know if I would change that even if I could. Because I know that the overt racism of the day to day life of non-white people is horrifying. Because I was raised in an area that accepted that my family was made white, I was spared that. I got to be a part of the club in a way that a lot of people don’t and I sometimes feel guilty when I focus on what was taken away. Do I have a right to lament losing that when the upside was escaping something that is in many ways worse? It feels like complaining about losing a photo album in a fire when my neighbors lost their lives.
There’s this weird double vision. I feel like any opinion I have is rife with the potential for harming others and guilt over the benefits I’ve reaped. I absolutely know the boarding schools were evil. But I can’t pretend I didn’t inherit something valuable out of it. And while I never met my great-grandparents, everything I know about them through family lore is that they were pretty happy and loving people who were content with their lives and didn’t have regrets. Is that the same as saying “some slaves were happy” and similar garbage rationalizations people spout to assuage their guilt? I hope not but I can definitely see the comparison.
I’d also like to reconnect with the part of my ancestry that was lost. But do I have the right to do so? I identify as white because I was raised white. Trying to reconnect in the times I have made that effort felt performative. It felt like I was taking something away from someone who’d “earned” it. I have a reservation-raised Lakota friend from college who I’ve spent a lot of time mulling this stuff over with, when I was in my biggest reconnect push. He has told me that it’s odd to be jealous of his connection to a tribe because, for him, my passing is far more valuable. He’s jokingly offered to trade while knowing that’s obviously impossible.
I suppose in the end, my neurosis about the topic is my legacy of the schools. I can see the privilege they brought me and the guilt from that. But I can also see the things they took and the guilt I feel over trying to connect with that even if I’ve not earned it. And of course, they’re evil regardless of my personal experiences because there is an objective reality there that is bigger than me and my family’s immediate experiences.
Sorry for the rambling post and this is an excellent idea for a subject.
I get what you’re getting at here, and that’s absolutely the case. Of course, that idea can very much also co-exist with the idea that seriously cultural violence was visited upon your family.
Yeah, that’s so very difficult to deal with isn’t it? In an ideal world, none of us would have to think about such things.
No need! Thanks for sharing!
So very much this. My grandmother did everything she could to hide our ancestry even from us. Her focus was on all the things you’d expect from someone of the early boomer era: be presentable, table manners, and conform.
She grew to love Hawaii, and in retrospect, I think it’s because, to her, it was a place where the people were “allowed” to show their culture (and of course, it’s breathtakingly beautiful there!) Ironic that the very “culture” on display was whitewashed, distilled, and Americanized like so many others in the end. Just another form of appropriation and a new generation of cultural victims. But I think even this whitewashed version was so far beyond what she’d been taught that she connected with both the place and the people in a way she couldn’t do with her own.
That sounds difficult. My grandma was only focused on making sure I did my chores, was kind to the farm animals, and that I didn’t waste food. Also that I was myself no matter what. When I wanted to play with dolls and my male cousin wanted a Cabbage Patch kid, she made sure nobody fussed. She built me a dollhouse and sewed him a “Cabbage Patch” kid herself. She wasn’t in any way ashamed of her parents’ race but just treated it like background noise. When my uncles wore their hair long and braided and I wanted to emulate them, she didn’t care as long as I knew she wasn’t going to braid it for me. I wish she had lived long enough for me to know her as an adult because I have so many questions about what it all meant to her and her parents.
My wife’s paternal grandmother was at least largely Native, but that was considered a “dirty secret” and her Dad would get very angry if anyone mentioned it. Her aunt had her DNA done and turned up 10% NA. Her Dad was furious that she “couldn’t leave well enough alone.” There was a lot of alcoholism and abuse on that side of the family, and lots of things “we just don’t talk about.” Huge chunk of family history erased due to racism and shame.
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Not as traumatic as all that, but my grandmother’s indigenous ancestry and culture has been all but lost due her need to escape the conditions at the place and time she grew up. They wouldn’t let an “Indian girl” go to high school in Montana when she was growing up, so she ran away from home, lied about her age and entered nursing school.
She’s my biggest hero and influence; but we lost all connection to our heritage due to the racism, misogyny, and colonialism of that part of the country at that time.