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Initiating the white man

It’s an exciting time for rez families when a non-native person is seeking initiation. It is the proverbial turned table of colonization, and it typically begins a very long process of humiliation for the non-native person. How you ask? We tease them. And then we re-tell the story of their humiliation over and over like a war story to all our other Ongwehowe friends and relatives and then they all laugh too. Non-native friends take note: in most cases if you’ve made it this far…you’re in.

While some choose to view cross-cultural relationships with disapproval there is one fact that remains true: nothing is more entertaining to someone from the rez than when a white person comes down the bush for the first time. There is so much about ‘rez lyfe’ for the non-native mind that needs contexualization. What is a bush dog? Why are there so many of them? Why don’t you guys just call the dog catcher and get rid of all these bush dogs? And what in the world does ‘oh heck init’ mean anyways?

It’s an exciting time for rez families when a non-native person is seeking initiation. It is the proverbial turned table of colonization, and it typically begins a very long process of humiliation for the non-native person. How you ask? We tease them. And then we re-tell the story of their humiliation over and over like a war story to all our other Ongwehowe friends and relatives and then they all laugh too. Non-native friends take note: in most cases if you’ve made it this far…you’re in.

It is a relatively harmless means of bringing new friends into rez culture. An ample dose of humility is good for you. I remember one white guy came down to visit my family last summer. Somebody ended up sending him to the bootlegger. Another popular and lighthearted rez initiation is getting the non-native person to try and pronounce ‘bwoot’ properly. That always ends in laughter and good spirits. One of my husbands ‘cousints’ from the Martin family was asked once by a white couple driving down the road how to find the “gates to the reserve”. He gave them directions to the “gates at the dump” on Fourth Line.

The story of my Uncle Angelo’s rez initiation is epic. My Aunty Sharon married an Italian guy from Buffalo. Uncle Angelo was tall and tough; a real guy’s guy. He was a police detective and he always wore these really handsome suits to work. Somehow the suits, the badge and that Italian swagger just made him seem invincible.

Uncle Angelo always stood out in my mind as different. His Italian American culture was such a large part of his personality that it was even evident to me as a child. Case in point; one summer he showed up to visit at my parents house and brought over an enormous watermelon-sized jug of red wine. Nobody else had ever brought red wine in a jug to Hillville. Beer bottles or beer cans sure, but wine was something authentic and that jug just made him seem so ‘I-talian’.

The epic part of Uncle Angelo’s rez initiation came after he’d been down the bush for a visit. He was at home, taking a shower or something and he noticed a mole on his chest.

Every day this mole was growing. After about two weeks it was large and grey! Concerned that he’d contracted something deadly he made a call to his doctor for an appointment as soon as possible. Then he showed my Aunty Sharon and this is how I was told the conversation went down.

“Sharon, can you take a look at this thing? It’s been growing there for about two weeks and it just keeps getting bigger. I called the doctor this morning and he’s gonna check it out.” is what Uncle Angelo said.

“Oh Angelo!” laughed my Aunty Sharon, “It’s a woodtick!” And then she proceeded to rip it off his chest.

In my imagination I can see tears coming down her face as she’s laughing and trying to rip the fattened tick off of him as he stands there in shock and awe. It had been there for two weeks! And anybody from the rez that’s ever had or seen a bush dog knows that a two week old woodtick needs to be ripped off very carefully lest they burst in the palm of your hand like a grape.

Uncle Angelo’s epic story got back down the bush via telephone later that week and once everybody quit laughing, he was in. To this day every family member and subsequent generation of the Hill-General family tell the tale to their descendants as one of the best woodtick stories of all time.

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