I had a visit from two friends recently, Shelly and Billy*. Well, they aren’t quite friends, but more than mere acquaintances… shall we say “afrientances?” 🙂 I was in Wrigley, and they came over to see if I was interested in buying any of their crafts. They make jewellery, beaded leather card holders, dreamcatchers and other native crafts. Oh, did I forget to mention they are First Nations people? Shelly’s beadwork is truly lovely, and Billy is no slump with the stone work!
So, I decided to buy a pair of earrings. They are little white stone polar bears, very cute. I suddenly realized, before I went to get the money, that I was basically Shelly and Billy’s bank. They wanted to buy some booze (on the black market, there is no liquor store here) and they were out of cash. It is relatively easy for them to pop over for a visit and sell something to get some money. Now, don’t get me wrong — we did have a nice little visit, and sometimes they come over just for tea as well, no crafts for sale.
While we were visiting, Shelly told me about her sister who passed away about five years ago. She had received a big settlement from the residential school abuse cases that are making their way though the courts and she died shortly after. She drank herself to death. And here I am, a willing participant in Shelly and Billy’s little charade — “would you like to buy some earrings I made?” “Why, I’d love to!” — all the while pretending I don’t know what the money is going for. I don’t feel very good about it, frankly.
Apparently, Shelly is waiting to get her settlement soon. I don’t look forward to the day. So many people who received huge sums of money have lost it all in such a short time. It’s a bit like people who win a lottery — some can handle it, but most can’t. How to spend and budget with such big numbers? Then relatives and fair-weather friends come out of nowhere asking for money, and to be a scrooge feels bad, but to give it all haphazardly away is not good either.
What a fine mess we have in this country, when it comes to Native issues, poverty and residential schools! The First Nations people who were horribly mistreated deserve something, but huge sums of money just adds to many of their problems. The jaded, skeptical side of me thinks the government doesn’t care and is happy to hand over the money and watch the mayhem. But I know that isn’t true — the residential school victims want that money. It’s not being forced on them. And I’m sure some people in the government would like to help, but it’s a messed up system.
When it comes to money, some people, including Aboriginals, can be so strange. They will share food, shelter, heat, rides (vehicles), but when it comes to money, they want to count every bit and make sure they are always getting ahead. They sometimes lose sight of what is fair, in business and in life, and just want more, more, more. It’s especially noticeable to me because I seem to allow myself to lose money, in particular, when I am enjoying what I am doing. (I’m not sure where this quirk came from, but I’m looking into it!)
So what to do? The government has messed up this situation so much, but what is a government but a group of people? I think it’s safe to say the colonization of Canada is a complete success. Colonization has taken away much of the Aboriginals’ original nature of sharing, working together, and responsible use of the land and made them just like us — greedy, money-hungry, alcoholics.
Oh dear, what tangent have I gone off on? That’s the jaded, skeptical Teresa talking. Here’s what I know is true:
What is past is past, so we must move on.
We would all do well to reconnect with our roots, or at least the noble parts of our heritage that we want to have (and forget the ignoble parts).
We can’t go back and make a brand new start, but we can start from here and make a brand new end.
So, when I bought those cute, polar bear earrings, was I part of the problem? I don’t know. Is it complicated? You bet. I’m just not sure how I can act differently now that I’ve had this realization and online confession. I guess before, when I was unaware of how Shelly and Billy were going to use the money, I wasn’t part of the problem. Now, I am. (Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?) Then again, am I the beer police? If someone wants a few beers, is it my job to stop them? Not really. But if that person also gets violent and nasty when he drinks a few beers (or more, whatever), and I was the one who gave him those beers, indirectly or directly, how am I not a party to that? There is so much judgement going on, and I try very hard not to judge others — what they do, why they do it, or how they spend their money — but I am forced to judge myself on this.
So I suppose the question remains — how am I going to decline the purchase of any more crafts? Politely, sure. Will I mention the real reason I don’t want to buy any, or will I make up some alternate excuse? Hard to say. Maybe I just won’t bring cash any more… I’ll bankrupt the bank.
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*names have been changed, just ’cause.