Bee in the Bonnet: There’s Poor; Then There’s Indian Poor

By B.H. Bates

CartoonThe famous potato famine is known world wide as a time of great hunger for those poor, begotten Irish folk. Boo, Hoo! There were times when I was growing up that I wish I had a friggin’ spud!

I’ve heard tales from some non-native folks, who’ve complained: “The wolf was at our door, many-a-time!” On our Rez, the wolves knew better than to come around … “Yee Hah, wolf stew!

There’s poor, there’s dirt poor … then there’s “Indian poor!” There was a time, not all that long ago, when you could drive on to any Rez in the country and you could find lots of snot-nosed kids running around and you knew just by the look on their poor little faces that they’d kill for a McMeal.

Let’s me start at the beginning of this shameful trail. There was a time of great joy and plenty for the North American Native: Deer, fish grouse and buffalo as far as the eye could see. Roots, greens and berries enough for all of the Creators children. Then along came ol’ Chris Columbus and he pissed on the fire.

It’s a well known fact that the boys in the halls of power decided that the best way to rid themselves of those pesky Injuns, was to starve their brown ass’ into submission. So out went the order: “Kill every last buffalo on the great plains!”

Then the reservations, the indigenous were ‘given,’ didn’t help matters. There were certain conditions these reservation lands had to meet, for instance, it couldn’t be valuable agriculture bottom land, prime forest, grazing lands or mineral bearing property. Swamps, deserts and barren wastelands were okayed.

Being rejected by employers because of prejudice, the next diabolical trick, pulled on the Injun, was the welfare wagon. Just enough to survive, but not enough to strive!

The combination of no work and the numbing effect of firewater, worked like a charm – the native was hooked! It was easier to sit around, drink and complain … “Oh, my grandfather was abused, bla, bla, bla, bitch, bitch, bitch!”

The table was set for the starvation of an entire culture. Generations were lost!

Now I know, that in the past, I’ve ranted in writing how I thought that the mask of jealousy was weighing us down. I’ve since changed my mind.

“It’s now a good thing!” – in my opinion. If it weren’t for one Native saying about another Native: “Ah hell … if he has all that, I can too!” – we Natives wouldn’t be as progressive as we are today. A lot of us would still be sucking on the tit of welfare.

Growing up, I witnessed first hand how things used to be. Years ago, about eighty percent of Natives drank and twenty percent were working men with families. Today, the complete opposite is true. Today, it’s now the drunkards who are in the minority.

A few years after I was born, my family moved off Rez and my dad found work as a foreman on a large ranch in Washington state. Life was pretty good as I remember it, we always had enough to eat and a roof over our heads. I went to a regular school, joined the boy scouts, we drove around in nice cars, life was “As seen on TV!”

I was oblivious to life outside that valley. That is … until, dear ol’ dad blew it! He drank himself and his family right out of the best job he ever had, right into a nightmare! “Back to the REZ!”

From a fancy home complete with running water, to using an outhouse. You have no idea what it’s like for a young kid to go from store bought toilet paper to using last years Sears catalog. It’s kind of like driving down the road doing eighty then shifting into reverse … life changed.

As poor as we were, there were still some folks on our Rez, who were much worse off than us. I remember one childhood friend who grew up in a house with a hunk of plywood for a front door, the windows that were broken were covered up with cardboard and his bed was a dirty blanket thrown onto a bare floor in the corner.

Any food that came in the door way was eaten as fast as it hit the table. I actually saw him fight his little brother for a scrap of food. It was a sad thing to see, but when you have six brothers and sisters, it was a matter of ‘survival of the fittest’ in his home on the Rez!

I wonder if the North American Native is known in other parts of the World by – “The Great Buffalo famine”? … Just a little food for thought!