Bee in the Bonnet: Rich Man, Poor Man

By B.H. Bates

I was asked where I get my ideas for the ‘Bee in the bonnet’ columns. Ironically, a of lot them come from casual conversations that I have with non-native people, who insist on sharing their views about ‘us’ Natives. They usually begin with: “You’re an Indian … Oh, excuse me, I mean, First Nation’s person? Aren’t you?

If you were to see me, face to face, you’d see; brown eyes, brown skin, black hair (mostly), high cheek bones and of course, my chubby little Injun cheeks. So why do some folks look at me – then cock their heads to one side like a confused little puppy, then ask me something so completely and utterly obvious? Makes me wonder why ‘we’ are the ones living on small reservations!

It was one of those confused puppies, who observed that the local Chief seemed to be very ‘well-to-do.’ He drove a nice car, was dressed in a smart looking suit, lived in a nice house and, as she added: “With a nice lawn, too!”
Her question to me was: “Why aren’t all of you (First Nation’s People) wealthy? Why don’t you, too, drive a Cadillac? After all (she reasoned), you get money (her tax dollars) just given to you. Why are only a few Natives rich, and the rest of you are street people?” “Oh! But not you, of course.” She quickly added. (And may I add, we were, ironically, having that particular conversation on the corner of Main street and Brown.)

Luckily, I have quick answers for just such questions: “Why aren’t all you (confused puppies) rich?” I responded. “You stole an entire Continent from us – and you have nothing to show for it? Shame on you!”

And that got me to thinking – just how many times I get asked the same old questions over and over again. And because I’ve had to answer these same queries time and time again, I’ve unwittingly developed a wit for it. See how many of these same queries get asked of you – and please feel free to use my renegade retorts.

(Q).”Why are so many of you Natives prone to alcoholism, Chief?”
(A).”If you buy me a drink, I’ll tell you!” (Q).”What do you Injuns, do with all that tax money the government gives you?”
(A).”Don’t tell anyone! But we’re putting it in an off shore bank account and we’re going to buy an Island – England.”
(Q).”It must be nice, not having to pay tax.”
(A).”Yes, it is! Thank you. But the truth is; after the government destroyed Native culture and took our land, they thought: “What the hell, let’s give’um a 14% break on cigaretts and gasoline!”
(Q).”I’d like it too, if I got land and a free house, like you guys!”
(A).”Want’ta trade? See how you guys like living on reservations.”
(Q).”You’re Native, right? Do you know, Bob?”
(A).”Oh, yeah, Bob; black hair, brown eyes – Bob?”
(Q).”What’s it like being Native?”
(A).”Ah, brown-ish!”

Those are just a few examples of the things I’ve been asked over the years, and sometimes, by educated individuals, whom you’d think would know better. It makes me question why we Natives aren’t further up on the old political totem pole? I mean, really! … Have you ever walked up to a Caucasian person, cock your head to one side, and asked: “Are you white?” I’ve discovered (through the research I do ) some very interesting things, that most people (both Native and non-natives, alike) don’t know. For instance, the scalping of hair was something that the English introduced to the North American Native.

If that wasn’t barbaric enough, the native’s hair was then sold as souvenirs or kept as trophies. How about this bit of trivia: Back in the formative years of North American governments, there were two camps of thought about the ‘Injun’ problem. One group wanted to eradicate and the other to integrate. If not for a mere ‘two’ vote margin, I wouldn’t be here writing this!

It’s said, if you want to get at the truth, follow the money! It’s true – there is a whole shit load of wampum spent on the Injun problem. But, just who gets all that money? The first bite of the golden pie, is taken by the big boys in the countries capital, and of course, all of their supporting staff. Then the pie gets passed down to the provincial big-wigs and their staffs’, next is regional, then local and finally to the heap big Chief on the reservation. After all those people and their massive bureaucratic payrolls – I’ve yet to taste one ‘crumb’ of that pie!

Dear reader,
if 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: