This past week at Haskell there was a lot of emphasis placed on anti-bullying campaigns to help curb tensions between full blooded Natives and mixed bloods.
LAWRENCE, KANSAS – Being of mixed decent myself I thought it would be a good time to share a story with my fellow students to help illustrate the heartache that is racism in a young Native Americans life. This story is a personal experience of my life growing up. I hope that after students read this piece it will help them to understand that just because some Natives are light-skinned does not mean we don’t feel the sorrow of ignorance any less.
Beating doors on Halloween, ghouls, goblins, and vampires were the norm in my neighborhood. Occasionally there would be a few little Indians on the corner, decked out in feathers and full regalia; they would swing their vibrant orange jack o lantern plastic buckets hoping for a treat like any other nine year old. Anyone could see through these little Indian’s tricks. Upon closer inspection one could notice that their eagle feathers were from a turkey and their elaborate rainbow colored, beaded, regalia was made of plastic. The little Indians would run across my gaze yelling what seemed like a foreign language as they shot their cheap plastic arrows from their flimsy bows, at the cowboys hot on their heels.
Growing up a pale-faced Indian one can see many things that they would not otherwise if they were of a darker complexion. White friends were constantly asking questions like “does your grandmother live in a tipi,” or “Is your great grandfather Sitting Bull?” almost all of my life when I’d tell the story of my Native roots, friends would think it was some elaborate joke, an offering to the gods of irony. For the longest time it was more convenient to not say anything at all.
American pop culture portrays Native Americans as loin cloth wearing, spear chucking, mystics that could stop a farmers drought with the dance of their feet. This is not the case however, as American Indians are no different than any other culture. In this day and age Natives pass on smoke signals for the convenience of an iPhone to keep in contact. We have long since saddled our horses in the barn for the more economical choice of a station wagon as a reliable means of transportation. Yet most of American hasn’t received the memo.
I’ve been burdened with racism that wasn’t even directed at me. Fancy formal dinners turned into jabs at my people as the host carves the turkey. “Let me get a leg before you sacrifice that bird to the red Ingin in the sky Bob!” I still remember my mother pulling me from the table with her right hand as she used her left to stand up for 500 years of heartbreak. To this day I can still see the faces of those narrow minded onlookers. “What’s the big deal Jean; we’re just making fun of some redskins.”
I got sent home from school that next Halloween. When my mother asked me why I had been suspended for three days, sobbing I told her, “I got into a fight.” She looked me up and down to make sure I was okay and then asked me, “Why did you get in a fight?” I did my best to straighten my stance, and brushed hundreds of years of hate off my Levi blue jeans. “The little white kids that were dressed as Indians said they were going to scalp me, so I ripped the turkey feathers out of their hair, and broke their arrows.”
Charlie Perry is a staff writer for the Haskell Indian Leader.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Haskell Indian Leader, the newspaper of Haskell Indian Nations University, on April 13, 2014. Used with permission.