gizhewe manidoo, stuck in the middle with you?

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy

Interesting Story of the Day revolves around some test-me exchanges with the volleyball moms on the sidelines of ni’ishkinii’ikawe first scrimmage today. To be clear, a “test-me” exchange is an exchange I often find myself in where someone who is heavily socialized in the myths and lies of Indigenous peoples and/or is ignorant about the truths of Indigenous peoples, presents their mis-truths as absolute truths, ?innocently enough?, in conversation. It’s a test of knowing my facts or my position and being able to eloquently relay my thoughts on the thing just imparted or at least, calmly respond. It’s a test at responding without creating too much discomfort. (All the haters thinking I’m being apologetic or co-dependent or whatever, if you resist and speak back to colonial dynamics daily, you understand that it’s best to try to deal in a way that doesn’t cause too much discomfort. People, non-Indigenous and Indigenous alike, don’t appreciate it when someone they think is less than them speaks back . This quickly gets translated to not liking you and then they, with whatever little bits of power they have, hurt you because if they don’t like you or the fact your spoke truth to their colonial ways of being. True stories. Perhaps to be be told another time if the medicine is needed.) It’s a test of emotional restraint of frustration and sometimes managing the impacts of being triggered. It’s a test-me exchange because I realize most people are kind people who are just trying to get by in an unfair world and they merely want something decent for their kids, like me and many people I know. It’s a test-me exchange that tells me I must rise above my irritated, annoyed, impatient ego-self and yes, fearful self, and simultaneously be humbled by the privilege of my education and the painful memories of my unknowing-self-before-I-had-five-hundred-years-of-education. I share this caveat because I realize that should those moms ever read this, the last thing I would want is for them to read my experience and feel stupid or talked down upon even though I felt the oppressive power of their beliefs as they were unfolding.

Anyhow, the story of the day included first, this:

“*insert LOUD Indian sports mascot cheer*!!!”

That’s the cheer ni-ishkinii’ikawe’s team says as they are about to start a new game…er, period. I don’t know what they call it. They cheer like that at intervals. So, there’s all that going on as background setting and context*circles left hand in the air, palm facing out and away from self, with attitude*.

The best part of all that ^^^ up there ^^^ was my ability to anticipate the twilight zone-ness that would likely characterize this event and thus my brilliant decision to don my super-ikawe t-shirt (underneath my civilian clothing, aka jacket) in preparation for hearing this cheer. One of my super-ikawe t-shirts anyways, of which I have a number, and of which I will wear to every game and scrimmage. Super power you know. Anyhow, this one t-shirt is particularly powerful because I (re)claimed it from the cultural appropriation rack in some store in some mall sometime ago. It’s faded red with a black stylistic silhouette of a hipster headdress. It’s actually quite pretty, in a tough way. Anyway, super-ikawe t-shirt beneath civilian jacket worked. The Indian sports mascot shout-out didn’t even faze me.

I did not anticipate the next unfolding of things although you’d think by now I’d be prepared for such bizarre/not bizarre turns in everyday, normal outings. Anyhow, the next part was actually two parts of a volleyball mom conversation. The first one had me correcting one of them about the notion of Indians getting a free education.  After asking me, as people do, what brings me to this community, and learning that I’m finishing my PhD in Indigenous Studies [read American Indian Studies] she rushed into a story about how she spent such a long time searching her family’s records for some Indian blood so she could get some free education because she knew her family had it in there somewhere but they couldn’t find all the required records.

Looking forward, I exhaled, and closed my eyes briefly, thinking: for gawds sakes, I’m just here trying to shut out the sports mascot thingy and wanting to support my kid and not get into any trouble with anybody for being woman or being Indian or being Indian woman and now this… for cripes sakes can someone please cut me  break? Opening my eyes, I said, “Ha, ha, yes. *smile* But we don’t get free education. It’s a part of the treaties that Americans forced on us so they could get our land. Education was their part of the deal.” She repeated, not verbatim, but essentially, “…yes, I tried to get some of that free education.” I repeated, not verbatim, but essentially, “No. Our land, your treaty, not free education.” At this point, the woman who was squished up against me on my left side, chimed in merrily about her same experience with having some Creek in her family and also wanting to find out if they had enough blood to get a free education.

Continuing to stare forward because the level of squished-togetherness didn’t really allow us to look at each other while we talked, we turned our attention to the girls. They were awesome. For some reason, the ball, when out of bounds, kept coming at us three. We did pretty good at preventing each other from getting hit.

It was a start.

We continued with easy-on-the-heart small talk.

Then the second exchange, which began with the same woman on my left, who turns out to be a grandmother. She asked me who my child was and I asked her who her child was. It turns out her child was her grandchild and apparently, I had been talking with the girls mother earlier–the girls’ mother being granny’s daughter. She shared she was retired but she was still busy with having to go watch all her grandkids play various sports (which I thought was actually quite sweet). She mentioned how one of her grand-daughters is a cheerleader in Grade 8 and how this granddaughter had said the other day, “Are you going to come watch my game?” Granny, guffawed in re-telling the exchange and said she  laughed, “You’re game?! You’re a cheerleader. It’s not your game.” I turned my head to look at her at this point to see her face. If you hate girls, I want to see what your face looks like and it sounded like this granny hated girls, or at least certain girls. Or certain activities girls enjoy. Certain activities her granddaughter enjoys. I’ll look at your face because I also want to know if I’m mishearing the hate. Reading your face helps me to assess the situation.

Her face was telling her truth: cheerleaders do not have games. they are not athletes.

I bit my tongue.

For a bit.

Okay, a nanosecond.

I couldn’t just let her diminish girl-things like that! I couldn’t. So I said, “HA HA! Yes. Cheerleaders. Interesting that you bring that up. Just yesterday I noticed an article on Facebook about how the cheerleaders in the NFL are launching a class-action lawsuit citing sexism and exploitation because they are underpaid. Did you see it?” To which granny’s daughter (who, earlier in the evening, told me she was happy her daughter stopped cheerleading and chose volleyball) leaned forward into the exchange and they both simultaneously scrunched up their faces. Granny said, “Whaaaaaat?! You mean to tell me they think they should be paid the same as the football players?! Come on. And sexism?! If they don’t want to be treated like that they shouldn’t dress or behave like that!”.

Seriously, there is no way to prepare for the various, persistent, stubborn forms of hate that exist in Normal Good Citizen Nice People Lives. You just have to take a deep breathe and dive in, if its’ safe to do so, and try to intervene as best you can. Me, well, my heart was breaking for that Grade 8 girl I don’t even know; the girl who has so much positive self esteem about herself and her sport that she asked her beloved grandmother if she was gonna come watch her game. Ugh. How can adults diminish the healthy regard a girl has of herself, the things she does, her body in the world. How, and why?  (read Rhetorical Question because we know: heteropatriarchal, capitalist, misogynist, colonial everything…)

I plodded on.

“Well, I don’t really know how much of a pay increase they want but they’re filing a suit. And you know, the sport makes alot of money so there’s no reason why those cheerleaders ought to get a low pay and given the fan base is largely women, women deserve to be treated well in all things NFL.” (Note: The flaw in my argument here is that high numbers and economic power warrants respect. Not true. Woman, singular, warrants respect. Girl, singular, warrants respect. If the NFL had one female fan, she would deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.)

“Hmmmm,” said Granny and “Hmph,” said granny’s daughter in a positive way, leaning back against the wall and nodding slightly as though considering my words. “Yes. Well, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it,” Granny sighed.

We turned back to the scrimmage.

Admittedly, at this point, I was feeling pissy and wanted to intellectually get into it but then decided not too. I figured I’d leave the Redskins out of the conversation for now. Who has the energy and honestly, I don’t feel safe engaging that subject anywhere around this neighbourhood. The truth is, I couldn’t breathe for a few seconds and wanted desperately to un-squish myself from between wanna-be-Indian-mom-so-she-could-get-free-education on the right and this woman-granny-hater-of-girl-and-woman-cheerleaders but I did not….kid was up for her serve.

Later, I was thinking that maybe it’s best if I stay in my den, my office, the library or my head because I don’t even have to go looking for this stuff. It lands right beside me, squished, right. up. against. me. in. small. spaces. in. echo-y. gyms. where. tweengirls. are. getting. energetic. and. living. a. good. life.

And with that, I was thinking maybe these are not reasons to stay away from the world but rather maybe they are small but important opportunities taht the great, kind mystery is giving me as a way to say, “Hey, good life! Hey Gizhewe Manidoo! I guess I’m here stuck in the middle with you so thanks for everything, eh? Let me take a deep breathe and pay it forward in all the everyday little ways I can! Conversations of resistance and seed-planting will be my main educational tools everywhere I go! Bring it.”


And with that, some “Stuck in the middle with you” by the Stealers Wheel. 😀