Oppression — A Band Elder Reflects


By JuJu Mille Lacs Band Elder

Well, I would like to ask myself a question: Do I know what it is that would make me decide to treat someone as if their feelings don't mean a thing to me?

I guess at one time or another I have been guilty of this act of selfishness and cruelty. If I have ever done this to anyone reading my story, please forgive me.

Here is an explanation of my actions. I was a student at Onamia High School during a time of "prejudice." We as a group stood up for ourselves and for our honor. The non-Indians — I like to call them "non-Indians" rather than "white people" because I would like to think I don't see a person's color.
Besides, they appear to be kind of beige. To me, white is the color of snow or writing paper. I think I look somewhat dark brown, so would I call myself a dark brown person?

But back to my self-analyzing story. Bottom line is, we all said, "Enough is enough." I mean, the stupidity was so bad. The teachers would stand in front of us and announce – and I quote – "Yes, I am prejudiced towards anyone I decide to be prejudiced towards and there is nothing you can do about it." So as young American Indians/First People, we stood our ground. We decided to walk out of the school as a group. We were sick of being treated badly. We all ended up at our community center and decided to start our own school, which is now Nay Ah Shing School. The rest is history.

I have been a victim of stupid actions in my life. Let me give you another example. Over the years I have noticed some strange things about our Band. I remember Mille Lacs Band members only pointing out negative things about other Band members. This was supposed to be humorous or a joke. I think a put-down is a put-down. It seems to me that I could be wrong, but it appears that people only want to focus on negative things. Saying negative things about each other is no joke, but it seems to be how we treat each other.

So I have sat and tried to figure out why people would only remember negative things about someone. A few years ago, I was asked to say something about post-trauma to a group of people at an Intergenerational Conference held in Hinckley. I don't recall exactly what I said, but I know it was an ear beating. And I will always remember the looks on everyone's faces when I expressed how I really felt about the state of our Band. This is solely my idea of what might be troubling us. I could be totally wrong, but here it goes.

There was a time when it was common to hear the Beige people calling us names like "dirty Indians," "stupid Indians," and "drunken Indians." When I was a teenager, there was a resort on Virgo Road which is now closed. It was located where our park is today. Anyways, we were having fun, and people staying at the resort starting shooting at us. Someone from our group (I won't say the name) went home and got his uncle's 22-gauge shotgun and peppered the cars parked at the resort. He wasn't trying to hurt anyone and he didn't do this out of anger. He was simply standing up to the oppressor who at that moment happened to be the fool shooting at us. Self-defense is what I would call it. But let's not dwell on the negativity.

You see, I could go on all day about how we were treated, which would fill you and me with negative feelings. As a kid, I remember playing in a closed down bar in Wigwam Bay, and there was a sign hanging on the wall that read "No Indians or dogs allowed." I couldn't understand why anyone would write that on a sign or even take the time to paint that sign.

So here's my idea of what could be happening to us as Intergenerational Trauma survivors. When Mille Lacs Band put the casino money towards positive things like our roads, schools, clinics, and other things, the non-Indians kind of backed off from their stupidity. We were not being called negative names or being treated as negatively.

Maybe — just my idea, as I said, and I'm sure I will be told if I'm wrong — but I say our history has been oppression. I think that we have gotten used to having our backs against the wall. So now, unconsciously, we are oppressing ourselves because that is what we feel comfortable with. I'm not saying we hurt each other on purpose, but we are hurting each other.

Let me know what you think of this crazy idea I have about why we treat each other so negatively. This is what I said at the Hinckley conference.

Let's forget about the negative and promote the positive.

Ah how! All my relations, JuJu