The colour of school buses

Urbane 2

By Drew Hayden Taylor

Originally published in April 2014

Remember when riding the school bus was easy and simple. No pressure or anger, other than the odd bully. No socio-political issues of exclusion, equity, diversity or racism. It was just a simpler time, and the only thing that mattered was getting to and from school.

At that age, there was no substantial understanding of the deeper implications that riding a bus can have. Just ask Rosa Parks. For those not up on their American civil liberties history, she was an African American woman who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white person. As a result, she was arrested and became known as ‘the First Lady of Civil Rights. Granted, it wasn’t a school bus, but I think you get my point.

In my home town, evidently, there has been a similar abrasion of civil rights… except this time, it’s in reverse.

First the context: There are several buses that leave Curve Lake every morning and return every afternoon bearing the children of our community off into the lands beyond our borders—about 20 minutes—to learn about the importance of pie charts, dangling participles, and to master iambic pentameter. It has been this way since time immemorial… or the early 1960s.  I did it.
Practically everybody in the Curve Lake is familiar with that long and winding road.

But just a few weeks ago, as the buses filled up with eager young Anishnawbe students eager to return to the shores of their beloved Curve Lake, there was one more body than normal. A young lady, not from the community, but who was dating a Curve Lakian. Evidently she wanted to ride the bus back to deepest, darkest Curve Lake with him. But as we all grow to learn, both in and outside school, we don’t always get what we want.

The girl was refused entry onto the bus. It was just for Curve Lakites. Much disheartened, she left and I assume went home, greatly agitated. But this is not the end of our story. Not much later at the halls of power in Curve Lake, the woman in charge of what I assume could be called bus-related activities received a phone call from this girl’s irate father. While I was not privy to the conversation, the man was greatly upset at the injustice done his daughter, and called this bus-related activities woman ‘a racist’ for not allowing this non-Native girl from climbing onto and riding in a bus reserved for Native students.

This is really interesting. I know so many people, both Native and non-Native (including myself), who have been called a “racist’.

Everybody claims to know what that is and feels quite comfortable tossing the word around. If I am to believe everything I hear, based on personal experience, practically 60 per cent of everybody I know and have come into contact with could and quite probably has been classified as a racist.

And there’s also this whole argument that Native people can’t be racist because, clinical and technical, racism only comes from a place of power and, though some may disagree, most Native communities cannot be called places of power.  I know. It’s confusing. Whole libraries have been written on the topic.

But to end the story, I personally don’t believe this was a matter of racism.  Yes, she was a non-Native girl (and trust me, some of my best friends are non-Native women) and, granted, it was a Native peoples mode of transportation. However, the girl’s father tended to be unaware that the bus was only insured for the Curve Lake students.  Otherwise, the community would be legally liable for any mishaps that may happen during the bus ride.

Hey, this guy’s people invented insurance, liabilities, and lawyers. Don’t blame us for following the letter of the law.

Oh and the woman in charge of bus-related activities …she was non-Native, which makes the whole charge of racism even sillier.