Tales of an Urban Indian

There was a hurricane coming to our North-East Australian town when he knocked on the door.  He introduced himself as local PD and reminded us to lock our windows and disable the mechanism on our garage door because when the power goes out the abo boys come across the river’.  My little Australian home was 150 steps East of a small green river that split the area in half; one black, one white.  The bridge across that small river connected two different worlds and although the gap was small the divide was enormous.

As we pulled in to the dark, familiar haze of Dominion Park, Nick’s death hit me the hardest.  He was 15, First Nation’s Canadian, living in reserve squalor and drank himself to death. I looked left, out the bus window and out on to Saint John’s green west side.  Really what I was doing was trying to look away from Craig. Immediately I was blushing with guilt that rose from...I’m not quite sure. What I knew was that I regretted the fact that the first time I was in arm’s length of understanding the First Nation’s experience in Canada was 90 minutes on a quiet, dark bus in Saint John, New Brunswick.

When the racist Australian cop came to the door that night I was transported home.  I had sat in my grade school classes in New Brunswick and learned about Columbus’s landing of the New World in 1492.  Let’s be clear: we learned about the conquerors and not about the conquered.  

I looked out the window ashamed, as a 3rd generation Canadian.  My grandmother’s mother came from England; a common settler story.   There were no First Nation students in my high school graduating class and I had no First Nation’s friends.  Eventually I began my own version of closing the gaps my public education had blatantly omitted, and picked up The Inconvenient Indian.  I regretted the arbitrarily drawn borders, the unemployment and the ubiquitous liquor I found on it’s masterful pages.

In Craig’s voice there were also hints and whispers of self-disgust.  He couldn’t bear his own reflection. When he contorted his face upwards he became Walter; his first friend and fellow crack addict on East Hastings.  When he clicked the laminated logo prints of the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins in place he jokingly mocked our use of the symbology.  He peppered his anger with disappointment at how we tried to understand but couldn’t, or didn’t, or both.

Is guilt the most useful feeling, after experiencing Tales of an Urban Indian? Or is self-flagellation for past crimes excessive, dull and even boring?   Perhaps what is needed is for us to understand, ask questions and collaborate.  Perhaps what’s needed is a genuine public dialogue that hears all parties.

Perhaps what’s needed….is to see the play.