BROKEN FEATHER'S LAST STAND
ROBERT J. LEWIS
I go about pitying myself
And all the while I am being carried across the sky
By beautiful clouds.
Ojibway Indian Poem
of the fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.
And my heart soars.
Chief Dan George
me die, it not matter. If you die, it plenty bad."
Tonto to the Lone Ranger
is no accounting for it unless it is the Canadian Indian’s
not-so-secret death wish: the epidemic of gas and glue sniffing,
spousal abuse, acute alcohol dependence and a suicide rate that
bends the mind and chills the heart.
Feather once had a home and native land. It was taken away from
him, and he’s been on a non-stop downward spiral ever
since. He now finds himself at the precipice contemplating an
empty appease-pipe and a break-away trail of feathers riding
the eddies above the abyss.
the Mesoamerican Indian looks back (circa 700 A.D.) to the glories
of the past, he swells with pride before the magnificent Aztec
and Mayan temples in Coban, Tikal, Uxmal and Teotihuacan. When
the North American Indian looks back he cowers in shame beneath
the quavering shadow of his teepee -- bison hide on a stick
against a hail of bullets. When the Indian was performing his
morning ablutions in a hole in the ground, the Romans were constructing
spectacular aqueducts which still stand today, two millennia
later. When the white man was making his Industrial Revolution,
the Indian was chipping flint for fire and turning the smoke
into a medium of long-distance communication.
there is no avoiding the hulking mountain range of facts and
arguments, it should be self-evident to both insiders and outsiders
that to be born Indian is to be born without hope, without a
future, into a life-long inferiority complex; and that no rewriting
of history (or anesthetizing the brain) can remedy the hard
facts of the past: the bow and arrow were no match against the
white man’s superior firepower.
their first exposure to the teepee – a dwarf structure
next to any cityscape – to serialized portrayals of very
dense and doomed Indian braves defiantly circling the white
man’s wagon train, to the on-going fragmentation and collapse
of one community after another into a heap of self-loathing
against which all the money in the world is as effective as
the Iroquois' war cry against the march of progress, the young
are initiated into the downs of negative self-esteem before
they have learned to walk and talk.
the Indian, refusing and/or unwilling to make a clean break
with his dead-end culture and traditions, instead fatuously
romanticizes it, offering up a myth that tells of a golden age
of hunting and fishing, and that the Indian (impositioned between
the two competing cultures) merely has to commit himself to
the past-perfect and he’ll find his way to the sources
of his ancient pride. But it is not happening. The young only
have to observe the depraved, despoiled adult world around them
and they know it’s all a lie, that the myth is just another
drug on the corner, that at the end of the day there is no cure
for being born into humiliation and defeat. In the great clash
of civilizations, the Indian was found consummately unfit.
why does he stubbornly cling to his loser’s ways, why
has he refused to renounce his culture -- the dead-weight that
ensured his initial demise and subsequent abjection? If the
underlying, evolutionary purpose of envy is to actuate a recognition
of an advantage we should want for ourselves, has the Indian
been short-changed of that vital emotion or has he refused to
act on it?
having given it his best, it is one thing to lose everything
(all the wars and self-respect), but it’s altogether another
matter when a self-loathing, complex-ridden people choose to
refuse to let go of a defeatist mentality whose empty promises
are tantamount to a death-wish. If, without any education or
marketable skill, I lose my job and the respect of my wife and
children, I regain what has been lost by returning to school
and learning a skill. I do not cling to or defend my past ignorance,
or the environment that nurtured it, nor do I wallow in self-pity;
but answer to the best of my ability the challenges of survival.
But this simple lesson has been lost on the Indian, and, it
must be added, with more than a little help from a succession
of irresponsible Indian Affairs administrations that have been
pumping billions of dollars into a causa perdidit.
Notwithstanding centuries of catastrophic decision making for
which the Indian is solely responsible, Canada’s political
class has been unable and unwilling to speak the truth to the
Indian: that turning your back on your language, traditions
and identity (your Indian-ness) is a sacrifice none too great
when survival is at stake.
to a Fraser
Institute report, spending on First Nation’s
people rose from 79 million in 1947 to 7.9 billion in 2012.
And what has this incontinent spending produced? An on-going
suicide contagion and 24/7 lineups at the local gas station.
to every available index as it concerns life expectancy, education,
single parent families, depression, percentage of young girls
entering prostitution and the incarceration rate, the living
conditions of life on the reserves are worsening. Meanwhile,
both sides refuse to acknowledge that largesse and best intentions
have had and can have no positive, salutary affect on a people
ensnared in a hermetically sealed, self-perpetuating circle
of shame and inferiority.
school system that sought to “kill the
Indian in the child” failed
because it was mandated and not voluntary. First Nations’
community leaders and councils refused to acknowledge what should
have been self-evident to the least astute observer: that being
born Indian is a syndrome that has rendered him wholly unfit
for life in the modern era. In either/or crunch, the Indian
parent failed to grasp what was required of him to save his
children: that he beg, borrow and persuade them to become non-Indian.
As to the widespread, unforgivable (criminal) abuses suffered
throughout the residential schools, it could be argued that
it was trading one hell on earth for another: being born First
Nations is already a life sentence.
the long list of historical injustices done to the Indian, all
government apologies and restitutions are lies because there
can never be an apology adequate to winning a war and decimating
a people. What hasn’t occurred to policy makers on both
sides of the divide is that apology is beside the point next
bad does it have to get before First Nations’ people (a
de facto nation of the walking dead) begin asking of
themselves what difficult choices must be made in order to gain
admission to the winner’s circle?
would I save if my house was burning down?” asks the poet
Andre Breton? “I would save the fire.” Short shrifted
in the Indian’s anxiety over the loss of his sacred culture
and traditions is his apparent indifference to the survival
and transmission of his genes.
An Indian who fully integrates himself into modern society will
surely lose his culture, his Indian-ness, but his genes will
survive and mix with genes that are well-fitted for the challenges
of life in the modern era. Should not this be the matter that
Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia escaped the deprivations
and degradations that consumed other tribes because they sagaciously
adopted modern and proven entrepreneurial and agricultural business
models. And when meeting and dealing with them in person it
occurs to you that they don’t seem Indian, that is exactly
the point. They have made a choice, they have disbanded, abandoned
their ways, and are now fully integrated into the 21st century.
from his physiognomy, nothing is left of the Osoyoo Indian;
he has made himself of his own free will into an interchangeable
unit with the new world he has embraced. That he is irrevocably
estranged from his language and culture is a small price to
pay since his genes (his children) will enjoy a robust future.
In consideration of the pluses and minuses that come to bear
on every decision, there is no better indicator of a child’s
future than being born into a community that is thriving and
responsible parents, sub species aeternitatis, owe
their children are the means and tools to ensure their survival,
which makes the Indian’s centuries-deep betrayal of his
children an indictable offense. His crimes against the young
stem from an ignorance born out of a twisted sense of romanticism
that has been enabled by the white man whose lack of vision
and gutless policies have conspired to keep the Indian in a
permanent chokehold. In
the on-going blame game, it’s anyone’s call: the
Indian refuses to speak the truth to himself and the white man
refuses to speak it to him.
the hourglass running on empty, and the second edition of the
Book of the Dead overwhelmed with new applicants, we wonder
out loud when First Nation’s people will finally find
the wherewithal to look into the mirror, make peace with what
is there, and then turn their backs on what they see for all
time. Anything less is a dead-on-arrival promissory.
people, every individual is on a unique journey and that is
where one begins, just as it is never too late to become what
you want to be.
of one's personal views on the role of irony in history, the
white man decimated the Indian who must now decimate himself
if he is to survive.