Canada's History

In­vis­i­ble In­dian (ex­cerpt)

- by Shelby Lisk

It’s strange to me how peo­ple al­ways want me to be an “au­then­tic In­dian” when I say I’m Kanyen’keha:ka.

They want me to look a cer­tain way, act a cer­tain way. They’re dis­ap­pointed when what they get is ... just me. White-faced, light-haired. They spent hun­dreds of years try­ing to as­sim­i­late my an­ces­tors, try­ing to cre­ate In­di­ans like me, who could blend in, but now they don’t want me, ei­ther. They can’t make up their minds.

They want buck­skin and face paint, drum­ming, songs in lan­guages they can’t un­der­stand recorded for them but with English sub­ti­tles, of course. They want ed­u­cated, well­spo­ken, but not too smart. Chris­tian, well-be­haved, never ques­tion. They want to learn the his­tory of the peo­ple, but not the ones that are here now, wav­ing signs in their faces, ask­ing them for clean drink­ing wa­ter, ask­ing them why their women are go­ing miss­ing, ask­ing them why their land is be­ing ru­ined.

They want fan­tas­ti­cal sto­ries of In­di­ans that used to roam this land.

They want my cul­ture be­hind glass in a mu­seum.

But they don’t want me.

I’m not In­dian enough.

They say I’m fake, but they don’t re­al­ize that ev­ery time I have to write and speak to them in English, the lan­guage of the col­o­nizer, I am painfully aware of what I’ve lost.

So, I sneak around qui­etly, gath­er­ing pieces — beads here, a word there, a dance, a song — un­til I’m strong enough to stand tall and tell them who I am ….

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