The Bukowski Agency - Peace Pipe Dreams - Excerpt
Peace Pipe Dreams
The truth about lies about Indians

by Darrell Dennis


WHEN I WAS A MUCH YOUNGER MAN and possessed a much slimmer waistline, I worked for a stint as a desk manager in a New York City health club. I mention my occupation and location for two reasons:

1) to wistfully remind myself that I was once fit enough to work in a health club; and

2) to point out that New York is generally considered a hotbed of intellectual sophistication.

With that in mind, one day I was chatting with a co-worker—a typical, educated New Yorker—when she finally mustered the courage to pop the question that had been nagging her ever since she discovered I was “Native American” and not Puerto Rican.“Why are there so many American Indians in Canada?” she asked. “Was there a lot of immigration back in the day?”

When I finally stopped laughing, I realized her question may not be so ridiculous after all. As an educated New Yorker she was probably taught in school that America’s first inhabitants were called “Indian” but now prefer “American Indian” or “Native American”— emphasis on the word American. It probably never occurred to her that the first inhabitants were spread across the continent long before borders were drawn. As an educated NewYorker, she was probably too busy contemplating apartment prices and square footage to ponder a people that make up less than two percent of the US population.

When I moved back to Canada, I discovered the confusion over what to call this continent’s first inhabitants was not limitedto the insularity of our southern neighbours. Over the years I have been approached by numerous Canadians who have demanded I provide them with an all-encompassing politically correct word to ensure that they do not offend me, my people or my ancestors. To paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien, “One word to rule them all and in political correctness bind them.”

I am fully sympathetic to their plight. Nothing is more painful to watch than non-Natives attempting to relay a story they saw on the news about some “Native… um… First Nations… er…Aboriginal… uh… Person of Pigment…” and by the time they have gone through the entire list of PC names they usually forget what they were talking about and just end up going home. Personally, I prefer to be called “Supreme Ruler of the Universe,” but since no one has jumped on the chance to refer to me as such, I usually provide my stock answer when pressed about terminology for my people: “First Nations” is the popular term in Canada, “Native American” or “American Indian” in the US, and you should stay away from plain old “Indian” in both countries.

It’s a pat answer and I’m sure that as people read this I will be bombarded with reasons why none of the terms are correct. The problem is there are so many words bandied about to describe my racial situation that it’s impossible to provide a term that all Native people can be comfortable with. For example, the word“Indian” is used amongst fellow “Indians” but there will always be “Indians” who are offended by the word “Indian” even though they support their fellow “Indians” using the word “Indian.” It’s generally considered bad form to call an “Indian” an “Indian” if you yourself are not an “Indian,” and that includes “Indians” from India. Got it?



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