By Drew Hayden Taylor
Originally published in July 2012
Most people in Indian country are familiar the Seven Grandfather teachings as presented in Anishnaabe tradition. It’s sort of a guide book for human conduct towards others. All together these teachings include wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth—Sort of the ‘greatest hits of human nature.’
Of late, I have been thinking about these teachings and wondering how they influence my life, and the life of others I come across. It’s been said that ‘do onto others as you would have them do onto you’ is the cornerstone of practically all religions, not just the Bible. It’s just phrased in different ways. I think the same could be said about the Seven Grandfathers.
What made me think of this was an incident that happened a few weeks ago in my own community of Curve Lake. It was something unfortunate and unpleasant, and made me want to focus specifically on the concept of ‘respect’, or as I like to call it around here, ‘rezpect.’ To me, it’s one of the most important of the seven teachings.
A very good friend of mine, who owns a cottage here with her partner, was out biking one day, taking in the landscape we were blessed with. She is a successful woman with a shock of blonde hair and her partner is African-Canadian. They had stopped to adjust her helmet when a white (how ironic) truck full of Native guys drove by and shouted at them the ‘N’ word! Hint: it rhymes with Winnie-The-Pooh’s tiger friend, Tigger.
And then it was shouted a second time as they drove away.
Though it all happened so fast, my friend seemed positive the occupants of the truck appeared drunk. Needless to say, my friends were greatly astonished that things like this still happen in 2012. In Curve Lake, no less. I was too.
Worried about their safety, they reported it to the village police who coincidently told my friend he knew exactly who the fellows in the truck were and had just come from their place for some other incident.
Evidently these erudite and sophisticated men had called the police constable several names too, though probably not ones that ‘rhymes with Tigger’ word. I hope I am not the only one noting the obvious lack of rezpect in this incident.
I was embarrassed and upset for my friends. Trying to understand such actions, I pondered it. There are several ways of looking at this incident and breaking it down. A sociologist or political scientist might say that it is a form of lateral violence that takes place in a lot of our communities, an oppressed group lashes out against others who are oppressed rather than at the oppressor. Who says you can’t learn anything watching Oprah?
However, understanding that this lateral violence has a long history with colonialism, the residential school system etc., does not make dealing with these situations any easier, or excuse the behavior of idiots. All it does is make life a little more difficult for everybody.
Another way of looking at this event, paraphrasing Shakespeare, is that all the world’s a playground and we’re just kids in it calling each other names. I guess the Seven Grandfathers were absent from those gentlemen’s lives.
I found myself in the unique position of apologizing for the stupid actions of these people, whom I may or may not know. Luckily these friends have made many acquaintances in our community, so they already know this definitely was not reflective of the community as a whole.
As the old saying about racism goes, you can cut the tree down but the roots grow pretty deep.
Every winter as Christmas comes closer, I look forward to one of the side benefits of the season. I love Christmas nuts; almonds, filberts, walnuts etc. Supermarkets are flooded with them. But unlike some people, I prefer them still in their shell. To me, they seem fresher and more time consuming (therefore I eat less) if I crack the shells myself.
However, for the last 10 years or so, I’ve noticed a growing scarcity in supermarkets of my favourite nut still in the shell. It’s called the Brazil nut. And when I would lament its disappearance to older people in my community, some would get a conspiratorial look and lean over to me to whisper “do you know what we used to call those kinds of nuts when I was a kid?”
Of course I do. I am hitting the half-century mark myself this year. They were called ‘Tigger toes.’ Again, you’ll understand the poetic license I take with the name. And don’t get me started on ‘eenie, meenie minie moe, catch a…”
This one, depending on your rezpect, could include either a tigger or a tiger.