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White hair does not an Elder make
Respect ALL of the aged but chose your Elders carefully. All of the white-hairs have travelled the Sacred Hoop of Life, but many are none the wiser for the trip.
Something strange happened to me once at a powwow. It was at the Three Fires Confederacy gathering on the ceremonial grounds of the Garden River Fist Nation. I had met and talked with some old friends, shared some corn soup and was beginning to enjoy the gathering, feeling good about the warm sunny day...the powwow...myself...the People....
Two elderly women passed by. One said 'Hi' and I returned the warm greeting. The other said something in Ojibway and I responded:
"Sorry, ma'am, I don't understand. Could you say it in English, please?"
"What! the old crone shrieked toothlessly, "you don't speak Eendian! What kind of Eendian are you that you don't speak your own Eendian lang-gwitch? Shame on you!"
Thirty years have vanished in a split second and I was back in my community, fresh out of residential school and under the withering toe-tapping glare of another "all-wise and sacred Elder," who demanded an answer to the same question: "What the hell kind of Eendian are you if you can't speak Eendian and don't know your culture?"
This time I just walked away. This time I didn't bother explaining that I'm the kind of Indian that was dragged away from his parents and other tribal role models at age five to be raised by white men who wore black dresses - while you and your gutless generation watched it happen. Id didn't bother saying that it was you, old lady, who stood by, drunk, hat in hand, and allowed it to happen. This time I just walked away.
I was brought up not to raise my voice in anger to old people. I don't always live up to the teaching and it sure doesn't stop me from thinking:
How dare you dump on me for surviving an Indian residential school!
How dare you and your ilk preach about respecting other people but take it upon yourself to criticize and belittle a complete stranger!
How dare you dismiss the majority of our people who no longer speak the language and know little or nothing of their culture as some kind of non-people!
1 How dare you bully the younger people into pretending they speak the language once they learn to say hello, thank you, their "Eendian" name, their totem plus a few other words of numbers!
God, there's some ugly people out there.
(Gilbert Oskaboose is a 53-year old Ojibway from the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario. He's a retired journalist and former communications director for the North Shore Tribal Council.)
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