I can’t remember the day I met him. I just started coming here once a week, they played cool music and it was on my way home from work. After a while the people in the bar start talking to you, you know there name, what time they come into the bar, where they sit and what they drink. He used to sit at the end of the bar, right on the corner, facing the door. I never thought much of him. He was a nice old man, never mean or rude. Sometimes he’d get really chatty, but he never talked to me. I would come into the bar, sit at my spot at the bar, he would nod in my direction as if we shared a secret. I’d smile and sit and give my drink order to ‘ol Vic here. One day, I was telling Vic about this documentary I had just seen. It was from the mid 50s. Some student filmmaker followed around a group of Indians that had just moved to Los Angeles from their respective reservations. It was the worst movie EVER! I think that’s the day he decided it was ok to talk to me.
Hey little one, what we’re they? the Indians, Navajo or just a bunch of them ther’ urban Indians. hehehe. Me, I’m Mohawk, from upstate New York. Don’t meet others skins in here very much. Hey Victor, give my new friend here a drink. Whatever she wants! and while you’re at it, set me up again too. My casino money check came in today, so I have a bit of celebrating to do. Casino business was good this month. Your rez have a casino? No? Hmm, when I lived back there, I use’ta hang out in one of the lounges there after work, they had the best juke box in town, it had all the greats, you know Merle, Johnny, Waylon, Conway Twitty, oh and Tammy Wynette and her Standing by her man, she reminded me of my wife and you, you remind me of my Nova. My little girl! Not the car. She’s off at Med. school now, then she’s gonna go back to the rez and work with the elders there to learn the old ways. I miss her. So little one, what’s your story?
Eh? My story? I don’t have a story. I don’t know what to tell you?
Talking to myself
I’ve lost my mind. Why am I even contemplating answering this man, look at him. He’s slumped over the bar and doesn’t look as if he’s changed his clothes in days. He looks a bit like grandpa, kind eyes, a bear of a man, that if he were to hugged you you would feel safe and nothing bad would happen to you, but … but I can’t do it. I can’t tell that old man about me. Look at him. He is most certainly Indian. I know this, because it’s like sixth sense, you just know when you’re around another. That and aside from the full head of midnight black that covers his entire head, it’s bushy like an out of control brush. Looking into his face I wonder about the world he has seen. He looks beat down. Deep crevasses fill his tanned face. Are they laugh lines or worry wrinkles? His catcher’s mitt of a hand shadow the half full glass of beer. He looks at me, waiting. His deep set eyes have seen a different world than I. Maybe if we were to chat, I would get a better understanding of being of the world, dispel my myths…
I don’t want to tell him I’m Indian. Then he’ll ask me questions that I won’t be able to answer.
Tribe? ok, sure I can answer that one. Anishnabe – the original people. See I’m a joke already. My people come from the original turtle island and that’s all I know. Maybe my struggle is more with the stories themselves. Reading one, it sounds eerily like the bible. I don’t believe in God, so how can I then believe in the creator? Some mystical presence that helped form the earth after the flood with just the dirt recovered by a tiny otter, then placed upon the back of a turtle. How can I reconcile this in my head? I am a person of science. The big bang theory, Darwin. Not the randomness of stories.
I can’t talk to the old man. He’ll find out I’m a fraud. A FAKE. Not a real Indian. How can I be judge and jury to all the wannabee Indians, and in the same breath tell people about how Indian I am, about how Indians live, when I know nothing. This fact makes me sad. I am not a real Indian because I have not suffered. I think suffering is a large part of being of my people’s history. Not like other people’s suffering. Their ancestors came here looking for a new opportunity. My people were already here, a life taken away. A hundred years ago, you say? No, this has occurred within my lifetime. There was no choice. How can I be Indian? They suffered. My suffering? I had parents who took care of me, warmth at night, food on my table. My life was not filled with alcohol and drug filled days and nights. See no suffering.
I can’t be Indian. I am a fraud. My language, my history, I am a blank slate. I know nothing. Sure symbols of it surround me, I have made sure of that. My bookcase is full “History of the Ojibwa People”, “Ojibwa to English Dictionary”, “Island of the Anishnabeg, books by Tompson Highway, Basil Johnston and Joy Harjo, braids of sweetgrass hang from my wall, their tiny charcoal ends brush the wall leaving black marks are reminders of my attempts to be Indian and honor my grandparents death in ceremony every year. My jewelry box if full of an assortment of bone chokers and strands of turquoise, silver rings and bracelets and long dangly beaded earrings. I have purchased them all in an effort to be the Indian I want to be. You know the all knowing one. The one who knows her language, more than saying hello and thank you, every w, z, i and g of it, how they’re pronounced and what they mean. I would be able to quote dates and historical events of my people, to tell you that they were once the most feared and outnumbered even the Sioux. I would be a fancy dancer, or maybe own a jingle dress. I would two step (DANCE) oh, and I would learn to drum and sing (heyya) I would be able to make traditional jewelry and string porcupine quills and bead like nobody’s business, I would be the Frybread Queen.
I just stare at the old man in front of me. “Hey Vic! I’ll have what he’s having”. Not knowing what I was really asking for, Vic slides a very tall glass of amber liquid in front of me. The old man continues to stare at me, waiting for an answer and lifts his class.