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Authors: Deborah Ellis

Looks Like Daylight (14 page)

BOOK: Looks Like Daylight
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Western movies always seemed to show Indian women washing clothes at the creek and men with a tomahawk or spear in their hands, adorned with lots of feathers. That image has stayed in some people's minds. Many think we're either visionaries, “noble savages,” squaw drudges or tragic alcoholics. We're very rarely depicted as real people who have greater tenacity in terms of trying to hang on to our culture and values system than most people.

—
Wilma Mankiller, first female chief of the Cherokee Nation

Justyce, 9

Fort Berthold, North Dakota, is land belonging to the Three Affiliated Tribes. In 1837, three-quarters of the people there were wiped out by smallpox brought in by settlers in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.

Traditionally a farming people, their good farmland was flooded out when the Garrison Dam was built in the 1950s to control flooding elsewhere along the Missouri River. It is said that some stayed on their land to meet the rising water. Although the community fought long and hard to try to stop the dam, whole villages were buried under what is now Lake Sakakawea, including the Fort Stevenson Indian School, a harsh place where students who tried to run away were locked up in the guardhouse.

In payment for the farmland being flooded, the federal government promised commodity foods
—
generally canned, processed foods very different from the traditional diet of the Three Affiliated Tribes. High rates of type 2 diabetes on the reservation can be traced back to that dam.

In more recent years, it's been discovered that Fort Berthold sits on top of the Bakken oil field. Fifty-seven oil wells now dot the reservation, and trucks rumble through formerly silent valleys twenty-four hours a day. A huge influx of unaccompanied male workers from outside the community has led to an increase in crime, a drastic rise in food prices, a massive housing shortage, brothels being set up in motels and a growing illegal drug problem.

At least seven children have been killed by the oil trucks. The increase in traffic has also killed a lot of deer, making the traditional deer hunt
—
one of the ways people have of getting quality food
—
very difficult.

One of the havens for children is the Boys and Girls Club. There are six of these clubs on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Justyce and her sister, Journey (shown on the left in the photo), go to the club in New Town, created after the building of the dam. The club meets in the town's community center, right beside an oil well. The staff do daily checks of carbon monoxide levels and have an evacuation plan in place should the well explode or leak
—
something that has already happened in another part of the reservation.

We live in New Town now but our parents are from White Shield. Our mom is a nurse and our dad works in oil. Our stepdad works in construction and our stepmother works at home.

We've been coming to the Boys and Girls Club since we were little. We do all sorts of things — basketball, field trips, art. I love tissue paper art. You know, when you wind tissue paper around pencils and make art out of it.

My sister loves to fix hair. Mom got her a model doll's head with real hair and she practices doing hairstyles on it. Mom taught her how to do a French braid. She wants to be a hair stylist when she gets older. I want to open up a spa where you can get a massage and get your nails done.

We belong to the Three Affiliated Tribes — the Arikara, the Hidatsa and the Mandan. By the casino where we go swimming with the Boys and Girls Club there's a museum that will tell you all about it. They have things there like old baskets and rattles and ceremonial clothes and old weapons.

We do so much with the Boys and Girls Club. In the summer there's a culture camp at Earth Lodge Village by New Town on the reservation. We go to the earth lodges, these round buildings like where our ancestors used to live. We have Amazing Races up the hills. We have an activity room at the center where we can play Twister or chess or do homework. They take us horseback riding, to play golf and sometimes we go bowling. Sometimes we just flop down on the cushy red sofa and read or talk.

There's a list of rules on the wall, like Be nice, Ask before leaving the room, Clean up after yourself, No bullying. And there's a big fish tank in there too.

Journey and I also dance at powwows and at Zumba. Journey dances traditional and I dance Fancy Shawl.

It's been scary here since all the oil workers started coming. It used to be just us. It was really quiet, no cars on the road. But now it's noisy all the time.

All these strange men are here now. They live in big Man Camps full of trailers and in motels, all these white men. We don't know who they are. They drink and they fight. It makes us scared to be outside.

Traditional roundhouse,
Fort Berthold Reservation

I'm scared of them. Some of them like to steal little kids. One time Journey and her friend were headed down the street. I was following along behind them. I was looking at my hand because I had a cut on my hand. I sort of saw this guy sitting and watching us, and when I passed him he reached out and tried to grab at me. I ran away. We all ran home. Another time my grandpa came and banged on our door. He told us to stay inside, that there was some guy going around looking for kids.

I don't know if that guy was caught or if he just went away.

Big trucks come through here all the time now, really big ones. And all the highways are torn up to make them bigger so they can bring in even more trucks. The trucks go really fast. So fast that little kids can't always get out of the way. A bunch of kids have been killed that way.

Our brother was killed because of one of those trucks.

His name was Jordy and he loved to play basketball and frisbee. He had a frisbee that lighted up when it got dark out. He was twenty-one.

He was a really good brother, not mean or anything. Everybody liked him. He used to have a dog that died, named Kimber. He was so sad when Kimber died that he kept Kimber's collar on his keychain.

He died on March 4, just a few months ago. I remember because I was at my friend's birthday party and someone came to pick me up and tell me what happened. Now I'll never be able to go to my friend's birthday party again because Jordy's memorial will always be on the same day.

We will probably stay here because our brother is buried here. You have to love the place where your family is buried. We won't want to leave because then Jordy will be alone.

Tyrone, 13

Rossbrook House in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was started in 1976 as a safe drop-in center for kids in the inner city. It is open every day from eight in the morning until midnight and twenty-four hours a day during school holidays and weekends. Five thousand people a year use its services. In addition to the drop-in center, where there is food, clothing, counseling and recreation, Rossbrook House runs schools for First Nations and Métis kids not able to make it in the mixed public system. Eagles' Circle is a school for older kids.

I met Tyrone at Eagles' Circle.

My parents come from Berens River, Manitoba. You can only get there by flying in most of the year. In the winter there's an ice road that goes down to Bloodvein First Nation.

Kids at this school belong to a lot of different reserves — Ebb and Flow, Hollow Water, Pine Creek, God's Lake. They're Ojibwe, Cree, Dene.

The good thing about Winnipeg is that the hospitals are close by. There's lots of recreation, lots of houses and lots of friends and family.

The hard thing is that there are a lot of gangs — Native gangs, white gangs, black gangs. There's violence, lots of drugs. I've seen both things — people doing drugs and selling drugs, and people beating each other up. It's hard not to see it. A friend of mine was jacked for his bike. He'd saved up for it and just bought it. It cost $130. A group of white kids came up to him. They had a can of bear mace. They sprayed it in his face and took his bike.

It stings. Lots of kids I know have had people spray them with it. Another kid here knows of a gang that attacks people with machetes. There are a lot of different gangs.

The north end of Winnipeg is the baddest place. My friend Ronald — he's an Ojibwe from the Ebb and Flow reserve — he lives in the safer part of the north end. Well, it's supposed to be safer, but some white guy pulled a knife on him and told him to hand over his backpack. But he swung the pack at the guy instead, knocked him off his bike and got away.

In my house I have one brother, one sister, nephew, niece, Mom and me.

My other brother, Ramsay, is in jail. He's twenty-four. They're saying he did second-degree murder at a bus stop over in Portage. He's been in jail for three months. My mother goes to visit him and says it's really hard to see him there. I haven't gone yet. I miss him, but Mom says he told her he doesn't want me to see him cry. He doesn't want to see me cry either.

Maybe I could write to him. I don't know what I'd say, but I want him to know I haven't forgotten him. He's a really good brother. He loves to cook. He'll make these great meals for us, then we eat together and it's really fun. He plays games with me too. He doesn't ignore me because I'm younger.

My dad passed away when I was eight. He drank a lot. He was a good dad though. He bought us candy and a computer game, but it wasn't good to see him drinking. It was hard to know how to be around him because you never knew what would make him angry.

Sometimes he'd come by and you could tell he'd been drinking so Mom didn't want him in the house. She wouldn't answer the door. He'd be banging on it and calling to us but she wouldn't let him in. She said we needed to be safe more than he needed to see us.

My sister is fourteen. She's sort of bossy. She's in high school now. She's smart. And she's strong like my mother.

My oldest sister lives somewhere else with her boyfriend. She just had a new baby. Her other children live with us. My nephew is only four and he can already use a computer. He learned when he was only three! He was born with teeth. I wonder if that means he's special or smart in some way.

Berens River — Pukatawagan — I've been up there with my mom. She wanted to go back and I wanted to see it. It's quiet up there and beautiful, but there's lots of violence.

Before I was born, there were people driving around in their boats one night. They had rifles and were shooting at houses. Mom said everyone turned their lights out so the shooters couldn't find anything to shoot at. She doesn't know why they were shooting or who they were. She thinks they were probably drunk. They may have been from the reserve. They might also have been white men who go there to hunt and fish. They've bothered our people before. You have to stay away from them because they think it's far away from everything and they can just do what they want.

Violence has happened at my house here too. My brother Ramsay got into some stuff with a gang, and then these guys — not his friends, some other guys — broke our window and pointed guns at us. They were mad about something.

When my nephew was only one year old, my sister was sitting with him in her lap. Someone threw a rock through the window, then sprayed mace inside. Some of it got my little nephew. I think it was also done by people who were angry at my brother. If you get in with a gang and you don't do exactly what they say, they get mad at you and do these terrible things to your family.

Ramsay calls us from jail sometimes. He says that he misses everybody. He asks me about school. He says I should study hard and stay away from gangs.

We're still in the same neighborhood, in the same house. It's been quiet there since my brother was arrested.

My mother works for CFS — Child and Family Services — helping kids get into foster homes and group homes. She's a social worker.

We once took in a foster kid named Sammy. He was with us for a year, a Native kid. A great guy, older than me. I liked him a lot. He's in jail now.

I go to sweat lodges out of town. They help me get cleansed. I'm tired when I come out of a sweat, like I've been away on a long trip. Seven to nineteen rocks are put into a fire to get hot. A sweat is about being in a big circle. It's like Mother Earth's womb. When you go in, you are going back — back in time, back to your culture, back to the core of what's important, back to the Creator, back to the earth. When you come out you feel warm and happy.

I go to a Sun Dance too. It's held near Selkirk. They have this circle. On the first day you feast and dance. On the second day you do a fruit and vegetable feast, that's all, and you dance. You're woken up at seven, go to the sweat lodge, rest, then start dancing at nine. Boys put a cloth around their waist. Girls wear dresses. This goes on for four days. The third day is a fast. Kids can exit out of the circle at any time and go to a tepee and eat. After we dance, we rest.

On the fourth day, we dance until noon. Then we take the circle apart and take down the tree of life and take down our tents. Then we eat.

It makes me feel good because this year I actually completed it. On the second day it was really hard. The weather was hot and I felt like quitting. But I found the strength to keep going and I completed it.

I like being who I am and being from where I'm from. It's special.

My advice to other Native kids is to keep on going to cultural things. Even if you don't see the point right away. The culture will keep you clean and safe. It will give you something to do that's important, with people who really want you to do well. Not like gangs, who only want to use you.

BOOK: Looks Like Daylight
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