By B.H. Bates
A native without a home, is like a dog without a bone. A native, whether they live on or off of the reservation, needs a patch of Earth to call their own … “Where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. Cheers!”
Everyone needs a special place where they can feel at ease, a little corner of the World to hide away – a comfort zone. And that place, for most natives, is the Rez. It’s no wonder the elders used banishment as a form of punishment.
The reason I’ve chosen to write about ‘on or off the Rez,’ is because of an Email I received from a reader who commented: “I didn’t know what I was talking about!” This person assumed I had no idea of what went on in the ‘real World.’ They pictured your’s truly, hidden away on some reservation, living a sheltered existence. And, like most (ninety-nine percent) of the Emails I get – ‘they’ just want something to bitch about.
But, like every Email I get, it made me reexamine my thoughts. In this case: “What is the difference between living on or off of the reservation?”
For myself and many others it’s a matter of opportunities and ‘what ifs.’ What if I was allowed to start the business I wanted to? What if I’d quit drinking (back then)? What if I’d knocked-up the right girl … who knows?
Most native Bros and Sisters have to make a choice; either pack a lunch and work off the Rez or just pack up and leave for greener grass’. I know if I’d stayed, things would’ve been a lot different, I would’ve become a different person. I’d never have seen or done the things I have, both good and bad. As they say: “Every path you choose on life’s journey leads you to where you stand right now.”
I wish there was a native tradition, where every teenager had to go out and discover the World, beyond the next horizon. Live and learn of things away from their comfort zone, then, if they chose, return to their reservations with new ideas, experiences and wisdom. I think it would help us grow as a people.
You can recognize an ‘off-ie’ from an ‘on-ie.’ As sure as you can tell an in-ie from an out-ie. An off-ie is more comfortable in social situations, where non-natives are involved. An off-ie will look you in the eye, whereas an on-ie will look around, act shy and talk softly to their feet.
I’ve been back to my home Rez a few times. And, as the old song goes: “The ol’ home town looks the same as I step down from the train.” And there to greet me was the same old gang. Some were even sitting on the same damn bar stools they were sitting on, when I left thirty years ago!
Their eyes lit up when I walked into the bar – I was new meat, someone new to talk to. And every last one of them had one thing in common, all their stories started out the same way: “Remember when we …!” And when I asked them, “What’s new with you?” They looked at their feet and softly said: “Ah, not too much.” Sad.
I’ve talked to people off of the reservation, that I never would’ve met, if I’d stayed home. I’ve shaken hands with people who’ve shook the World, I’ve shared drink from a poor man’s cup. I’ve climbed that mountain and crashed on the other side. And I could’ve never done any of those things from the comfort of a reservation couch!
Living off Rez has been a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it, but, do you want to hear a little irony? Living ‘off Rez,’ has made me miss and treasure my ol’ Rez more than ever … the river where I fished and swam, the woods where I rode my horse, and, of course, my friends and family. Whenever I smell the smoke from someone’s fireplace – it triggers memories of the elders setting fires in the hay fields in the springtime. I sometimes get so homesick I get an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.
But, I’m not so sure I could go back. I’ve been asked by a few old friends: “Why don’t you come home and run for Chief?” I just don’t think I’d be comfortable wearing a tomahawk-proof vest, because, one thing I know for sure about living on the ol’ Rez: “In native politics, there’s always a lot of back stabbing!”
Who knows … What if, I were to start a business? … What if, I were to be elected Chief? I just might, possibly, think about going home. Email me if you know where I can buy a tomahawk-proof vest with fancy beadwork on it.
Iif you have a bee in your bonnet about Bee in the Bonnet column, or suggestions for future articles please feel free to contact B. H. Bates at: firstname.lastname@example.org