Bee in the Bonnet: Finding Pride in the Mirror

By B.H. Bates

It’s that time again, it’s National Aboriginal Day! Time to beat the drums, put on your best bonnet, hold your head high and exclaim: “I’m proud, I’m brave, I’m Native!”

I’m a few moons shy of being considered an Elder. Which means I’ve seen how things have changed over the years. I’ve listened to my father’s stories about his time on this earth. I’ve felt the heart ache my mother suffered, at the hands of prejudiced people.

If you’ve seen a few moons yourself, you know how things used to be. If you’re a youngster, gather around the proverbial campfire, here are a few – “Did you knows!”

Did you know there was a time, when natives were not allowed to be taught the English language, in the same room as English people? If you think that’s ironic…did you know, priests told the North American native not to believe in the great spirit? Then, weren’t allowed to be in a place that sold spirits?

Did you know that in the famous World War Two photograph, of the men raising the American flag on Iwo Jima, there was a native named Ira, among them?

Speaking of World War Two, the Navajo people used their language as a code. A code that the enemy was never able to break. Thus, saving countless lives. Now that’s something to be proud of!

Lately, I’ve been doing some volunteer work at the local friendship center. It’s been a real eye opener. Mere days ago, I was of the opinion; If you’re an Indian, who happens to be down and out on the streets, it’s your own damn fault! One thing I’ve learned as a volunteer, is, there are many forks in the road of life.

If you have a roof over your head, a full stomach and a buck or two in the bank, there are good reasons for your success. You more than likely have had some kind of support along the way. Be it a parent, a spouse, an education or a strong personality. Let’s just say for instance you took a different fork in that road of life.

Let’s say your parents had problems of some sort. Let’s say you grew up around people with various addictions. And maybe you were unfortunate enough to be brought up in poverty. Wow! …. I think I just described myself and most of the people on my Rez.

Even though I made a few bad turns on the way to becoming the man I am today, I was lucky enough to have had people that cared about my well being.

I’d like to thank every one of them, but the list would be so long, that my editor would crap ink! And more than likely I’d, unintentionally, forget to mention someone.

You see, as I said before, I learned that there are many forks in the road of life. And all it takes is one wrong decision, and you too, could find yourself up the creek without a canoe. I’ll never look at the ‘unfortunate’ in the same way again.

One day, under a warm sun, I sat down and talked to one of these Ol’ Bros and he told me his story. He said he wasn’t always a drunk. “One time, a long time ago, I was a foreman on this big ranch. I was the god damn boss! People looked to me, for things to do!” He said with tightened lips, a scowl on his weathered face and with such pride.

“Yep! But no one needs an old Indian like me these days, you know?”

He went on to say that his grandson was graduating soon. Again his eyes light up with pride, when he said. “He’ll be a big man one day, just you watch!”

Speaking of native pride, lately I’ve met some extreme ‘drum beaters’. You know the type – the in your face, mad at the world, my ancestors were mistreated, look at me, listen to me whine and complain!

All I can say to them is, go look in a mirror and ask yourself; “Am I furthering the cause,
or am I just pissing people off?”

After all, pride is something you earn from your actions, not something you get simply by beating a drum!

Happy Aboriginal Day!