Friday, January 6, 2012

Day Eighty-Four: Pocahontas, Alive and Well

I tear a piece of bannock and drop it into my macaroni soup, spoonful after spoonful until I'm warm and sleepy. People sit on the couch along the ceiling-high windows which look into the street. Others are in comfy chairs facing the couch. Some are sitting along the other rectangular table, eating or visiting, like I am.

Keitha sits down across from me, and soon we're talking about memory, and how we can put a memory away, and think it's over, but it can come back without rhyme or reason. Ayoung man comes in. "Will you have some soup? There's lots." Keitha is on her feet, heading for the kitchen.

Ellen Keewatin sits down beside me. She leans into my shoulder, holding a paperback, so I can see it up close. "Racism can be so subtle. Listen to this." She taps the back jacket. "The railroad's drive to close the great distances of the wild American west was marked by violence, treachery, and betrayal. The profiteers would let nothing stand in the way of the tracking crews, while the Indian Nations fought to save the tribal ways from the threatening march of progress."

As Ellen reads, I'm thinking, well, that sounds fairly straight forward. I guess "wild west" is racist, though.

Ellen reads, "John Ryan was hired to troubleshoot for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad and grew to admire the Indian way of life. Soon he would be forced to choose -- between the old and the new, between a passionate white woman and a Cherokee maiden." Ellen looks at me, a smirk on her face. "Maiden," she says.

"Pretty stereotypical," I say, happy that I've caught Ellen's point, the woman versus Indian princess stereotype.

"So subtle," says Ellen. "Just a little word like that can be so insulting."

Makes me think of the pink fall jacket that all three of my girls wore with Pocahontas in full Disney glory embroidered on the back. My oldest daughter was given the jacket by a Black Lake girl who was half-Dene. My little red-head looked so cute in the fuchsia jacket. I remember feeling a twinge of hesitation, passing it on to my next daughter, but I'd loved the sentimental value of the hand-me-down; however, by the time it fit my youngest, Arwen, I was only letting her wear it for play around home. I distinctly remember her grabbing it to take along to a pow wow and I said, "No. Arwen, you can't wear that." I'd finally got it. Racism can be so subtle.

"Want to know what I'm reading," Ellen says. She digs through her book bag and pulls out The Help. I take two pictures of Ellen; in the first she is still laughing about the word "maiden", and in the second picture, she is a woman recommending a good book.

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