“Did you come grab your bike last night?” I asked him.
Jeff had been working on the fires in Osoyoos and other places in the area during the year of the ‘fire storm’ in 2003.
During that time, I was living with my Grandma on the reserve in Penticton and I worked at a golf course and a pub about an hour away. Jeff would ride up to visit me on his Yamaha 600 he had just bought and we would hang out on his days off.
Heading out for work one shift, he had to leave the motorbike at my Grandma’s as his co-workers in their company truck were picking him up. For this particular job, it didn’t makes sense for him to have his bike with him so he parked where I was staying.
In the summertime, the Okanagan corridor is jam packed people and various types of small motorized vehicles and watercraft. It is a world-wide destination spot for good food, pristine lake views, amazing local produce and an abundance of wineries to visit.
Though perfect for relaxation and recreation, the seasonal high- trafficked area makes for a perfect marketplace for thieves to do their jobs lifting Sea Doos, Jet-Skis dirt bikes, street bikes, ATVs, side-by-sides, small boats, and every other smaller-style vehicle with an engine. They are hot items to steal, re-sell on the black market and/or part out and many of them disappear without a trace.
“No, I didn’t” Jeff replied, “I’ve been here the whole time”.
My stomach turned into a knot and I became livid.
When I had come outside that morning, I noticed the bike was gone from where Jeff had parked it in a spot which was behind a vehicle and directly underneath my Grandma’s bedroom window.
See my Grandma was a respected Elder in the community and it was fair to say the likelihood of it being stolen from someone from the community was extremely low.
And when we went to file the report, things started well, sympathetic and understanding…until we revealed it had been stolen from the reserve.
“Well, you should’ve known better…it was on the reserve”.
I’ll never forget those words…and some other things that were said. I was reeling again. Ugh and ew.
That statement and air ignorance was beyond frustrating and it pretty much left me speechless.
But hear this…
About a year later, the guy who stole it or bought the hot bike had tried to pass a semi and crashed (yes, he lived). When they did the crash investigation and found out it was Jeff’s stolen bike via serial number (they clearly weren’t very good criminals), it had been stolen by a group of NON-Indigenous dudes who regularly scoped out the area and had also stolen other people’s things.
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I could go on and on and on with examples of more situations like that which I have personally experienced but I won’t.
However, I will share a few because they’re important for people to read/hear:
1- “You don’t look Native”.
I can’t even count how many times I have heard that or statements that finish with, “You look more Hawaiian or Mexican or something”.
I will assume most of them who say that are reasonably well intentioned and don’t realize the nature of the statement. However, it’s hard not to question what we are ‘supposed’ to look like or what the underlying intenion or feeling behind the question is? I say the answer is probably ‘fear of the different’ or ‘fear of the marginalized’ as is the common theme with this kind of thing.
Can anyone fill me in on that one?
2- Sure, I guess I clearly don’t look like a typical Native…whatever that is…so the first time I used my status card when I got it at the age of 20, I remember the anger, the confusion as to what in the hell was actually happening and the feelings of defeat and the want to vomit.
This unwelcomed, ridiculous and disgusting exchange started back then and continues to this very day to rear its ugly head almost every time I shop for anything on the reserve (which is often enough).
“Oh, and here is my card” as I pull out and hand over my status ID.
Almost like clockwork and with too many unfortunate similarities across the board, the interaction goes something like this:
A partial eye roll, a big deep huffy breath of annoyance, a look at the line and other people behind me with an apologetic look, a complete change in tone of voice and overall vibes (not completely assuming but one can usually kinda feel when things shift and change into an uncomfortable situation ya know?) of, ‘I can’t stand dealing with your kind’ , ‘Why do YOU not have to pay taxes here?’ or ‘You are such an inconvenience’.
Needless to say, I don’t love or look forward to that.
What I find most ‘interesting’, and an area that is clearly open for growth is, considering again that I don’t look the part, when I forget or choose not to use my status card, the polar opposite interaction occurs and voila!…White privilege.
So, what are some ways I can address this?
I could start with my own city of Kamloops and challenge those business owners out there to take the time and resources to educate their employees on the topic at hand.
What about policies about interactions in your businesses? Are there any for this kind of thing…actually?
If you need help with your policies, training or ways to address all of this, I will gladly give my input and aid your cause.
In the meantime, the moral of this story folks is this-
Don’t assume things, don’t be a jerk and don’t be racist.