Indians and Indians

by Nic Olson

Carmichael WindowThe Red Indians. That is how I remember friends from India refer to Aboriginal peoples in North America. Please excuse the politically incorrect nature of the title of this essay.

As Cook and Food Recovery Program Coordinator (the more words you have in the title, the more important you are on a global scale) one of the duties is to run a nutrition program. If my roommates are a typical sample selection, I can guarantee that I eat healthier than most single men my age, but in no way does this qualify me to pretend I know more than mothers-of-five or middle-aged men. I stumble through repetitive weekly sessions about budgeting and Canada’s Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations trying not to brainwash them into vegetarianism that could realistically jeopardize their culture. Currently, the program consists of several Aboriginal mothers and fathers and one Punjabi woman with no children.

Daily I feed hundreds of people who lack a regular source of healthy food. I attempt to do this with absolutely no ability or knowledge in serving them food that respects their culture, let alone their dietary preference. I serve westernized semi-processed foods out a back window to people verging on physical malnutrition and cultural assimilation. Carmichael Casserole or Spaghetto and Meatsauce sustains their bodies for a while longer and at times it doesn’t even achieve that. I am overwhelmed with how little I know.

Then I read such articles. Things which are 100% relevant to my current position and I begin to reel. If the government or people are not willing to properly reconcile, then I become immaturely overwhelmed as to how to do so out of a 6′ x 6′ kitchen. Leanne Simpson, Indigenous author, writes:

“I wonder how we can reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship….

It reminds me of an abusive relationship where one person is being abused physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. She wants out of the relationship, but instead of supporting her, we are all gathered around the abuser, because he wants to ‘reconcile.’ But he doesn’t want to take responsibility. He doesn’t want to change. In fact, all through the process he continues to physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abuse his partner. He just wants to say sorry so he can feel less guilty about his behaviour. He just wants to adjust the ways he is abusing; he doesn’t want to stop the abuse.”

-Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back

I cannot host reconciliation out of a kitchen. And this is because, according to the synopsis of Simpson’s book (see the above link), “reconciliation must be grounded in political resurgence and must support the regeneration of Indigenous languages, oral cultures, and traditions of governance.” I cannot catalyze reconciliation because I do not really understand the historic or contemporary injustice of occupation. And that is what gets me. Reconciliation is not done solo out of a grimy kitchen. It is done through processes which may have nothing to do with me and steps which I cannot control, but processes and steps in which I can participate in some way. Processes which I can learn about to potentially approach a climate that is fair for future reconciliation.

The fact that I cannot adequately express my intentions with the word Indian demonstrates my obvious inability to help promote and preserve a culture that is not mine through an ill-prepared nutrition program and sloppy meals. The infinite nature of my naiveté and glaring inability is burning me out. They make me want to run away to the land of the Not-Red Indian in a fit of hedonistic, selfish admission of my lack of knowledge. My lack of commitment. My lack of connection to the issue, which is maybe the worst part—that I could get on a plane and forget about hundreds of years of colonialism and assimilation, because I can.

I am here to stick around for as long as I can before my brain explodes and I find myself crying in some colonially-cultivated blossoming organic flax field, because I do not want to “adjust the ways” we have been abusing, rather I want to stop the abuse. One of the only ways to do this is participation, knowledge, and handing out egg salad sandwiches to two-hundred people a day.

Or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself so I don’t drown in egg salad.

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