When Simon was in town, he and Mattie usually spent Sunday mornings enjoying each other’s company, but the Squamish Nation Annual Powwow was being held in West Vancouver and he felt compelled to attend.
“Why don’t you come?” Simon said.
They didn’t socialize much as a couple, partly because Mattie had few friends and those Simon had he seemed reluctant to introduce her to.
“It might not go down too well with your sisters and brothers in the movement for you to bring along your privileged, white girlfriend, a representative of colonizers indirectly responsible for all their grievances.”
“Has anyone ever been rude to you?” Simon said. “At the National Aboriginal Day celebrations did anyone treat you with disrespect?”
“Not to my face.”
“Then you’re doing better with my people than I’m doing with yours.”
“Let’s not do this, okay?” Mattie said. “Go, enjoy yourself, I’ll see you when you get home.”
“I’ll bring you back some bannock.”
He was right. At the few events Mattie had attended everyone was friendly, likely out of respect for Simon now considered a leader with increasing prominence, but despite the smiles, she’d felt uncomfortable and conspicuous.
Unlike some white people who came, she didn’t try to fit in, didn’t participate in the friendship dance–the holding hands and shuffling around in a circle. She was reluctant to spend money on gimmicky crafts often adorned with feathers of wild birds and refused to learn greetings in the language of local First Nations.
If she’d learned anything from Simon and her research, it was Indigenous issues were real and urgent and needed more than tokenism.
It wasn’t that she didn’t respect Simon’s people, they just weren’t hers. Mattie didn’t care about where she came from; her ancestry was British, though both her parents had been born in Canada. She was only concerned with whom she was, and she wasn’t a wannabe Indian.
The other reason she was glad Simon didn’t insist she go to community potlucks or band gatherings was because it was frustrating not to be able to express your opinion. It was like there was a party-line and you had to toe it or be shunned.
There was a sense all First Nations grievances should be self-evident–to everybody. Nobody even took the time to set you straight and for a white girl from Delta there was a lot that needed explaining. Mattie thought people should be free to ask questions, even stupid ones, and get an honest response delivered in a respectful manner. Misconceptions needed to be challenged and corrected, but first they had to be identified.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish