Grandma, Are You ?

My grandson had a situation in his school where a boy brought a gun to school.  In an effort to continue conversation, I asked him a question.  “Was he a Native?”  “Grandma, are you a racist?” he replied.  “No Carter, Grandma doesn’t think she’s a racist.”  Then why did you ask that first?” he rebutted, forcing his grandma to rethink her question.

Growing up, I never thought about race.  There were no black people that I remember;  we grew up on a reservation, with many Native Americans, but while we were culturally maybe a little different, I only thought of my classmates as my friends.  We played whist instead of studying, partied and were just normal kids.

I wasn’t allowed to date a Native American, although there were some I would have liked to have dated :).  I never understood why we weren’t allowed to date and when I asked my parents their only answer was, “Because.”  When I pressed, Mom would tell me that there were too many cultural differences.  I’m guessing there were Native boys in my class who were told to stay away from the white girls.  I don’t know that for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  It was one of a couple of times when I realized there were differences or at least perceptions of differences  by the adults.

I have told you before that we didn’t have a lot of money and that I was expected to work from an early age,  10 years old driving grain truck, which seems impossible by todays standards and at 14 was cleaning motel rooms, at the Sunset Motel.  I bought much of my own clothes (or they were hand-me-downs),  my saxophone reeds and many times, my own lunch (Snicker Bar and a Tab :),  and dinners.  I was a Jr. in High School when I first heard of JOM, The Johnson O’Malley fund, which was money appropriated for Native Children during the Johnson administration.  I found out about it when a friend told me that when they needed tennis shoes, that they went down to Gronos’s Department Store and charged them to JOM….instruments JOM etc.  I was at that time waitressing at the bowling alley, getting up at 5:30 AM many mornings to work until school started, then on nights when I didn’t have other activities, working until 10:30 or so, whenever closing happened to be.  I didn’t understand why some of my friends got free stuff and I had to work.

I don’t agree with all the furor over some of the things that are political hot points.  I have two grandsons who are 1/8 Ojibwa.  The Ojibwa ran the Sioux out of the Minnesota/Wisconsin territory sending them to the Dakotas, where they took over land from other tribes.  Land grabbing has gone on since the beginning of time, and frankly still is today, if a government entity thinks taking your land is in the best interest of the public, it will take your land, regardless of race or culture.  Is it right? no.  I think anyone who has had that happen would agree, but it does happen..

Something that I do wish I understood in high school was the treatment of Natives after the land grab; especially the schools they were sent to that were government and church sponsored; children were torn away from their parents, sent away to be abused and starved and treated like animals.  This I know: all people regardless of color, race, religion etc. love their children and would feel their hearts break into pieces, to have their child ripped out of their home (except for a few psycho cases which could fall into anyone of the above categories).  Personalize that for one minute…. children are an important part of culture,  families and communities.  The treatment was appalling and caused anger and angst that will take time to heal.  You and I know many cultures have not been treated well in the process or aftermath of war…Japanese concentration camps, the Jews in Europe, the Black slaves, the Irish slaves, the Chinese on the railroads…. the list goes on and on.  The Vikings didn’t start it as they raped and pillaged their way across Europe but they certainly perfected abuse, at that time.

We can’t go back and change our pasts, any of them.  There aren’t enough checks, in the mail to heal people.  Leaders of tribes and some members of Congress, who are trying to garner votes, have convinced many that money is the answer but it’s not.  The answer is to ask yourself, regardless of whether you are gay, black, white, male or female.  Am I a racist, a homophobe, a hetrophobe, a sexist?  Do I hate Christians, or am wary of white people?  Until we ask ourselves the questions and deal with the answers, it’s hard to move forward.  Until the intent of heart is there… Until we have the guts to question ourselves and put the conversation out there…. We have to at least try and understand the other perspective, if we don’t try, we miss out and we fail, all of us..

It sounds simplistic and I do not know everything; I do know victimization and I do understand survival.  Being angry about the past, stops us the survivors in our tracks; it glues us to this period of time, and it gives the victimizers the power.  Take the power back, let go of your past and look ahead to a future that you control..

I looked into Carter’s dark brown eyes, at his high cheekbones, and his bright smile.  “Your grandma loves every ounce of you.”  “Please don’t ever think otherwise.”  He got me to thinking and while some of you will judge or disagree, or want to shut the question out of your head..  Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the questions?

Survive, don’t be afraid.