Although I am born and raised a Six Nations rez girl, my matrilineal ancestry is not Haudenosaune but British. My parents settled onto Six Nations to raise a family before any of the residency by-law stuff was in effect and thankfully that gave my siblings and I an opportunity to grow up as little bush kids.
Often times in my life I’d wonder what my life would have looked like if I didn’t grow up on Six. What kind of person would I be and what would life have been like if my father left the bush and settled into suburbia somewhere? To tell you the honest truth it actually scares me to think about that.
What if I never got to play back the bush and fall in the crick? I’d never know the humility of what it feels like to have soakers and cry my way back home. What if I never got to go to SS#8 school and learn all the jokes and nicknames? If I’d never met a “Studzy”, a “Pooksie” or a “Boogsie”…what kind of a person would I have become?
Growing up on the rez has made me rich. Rich in culture, rich in personality, and rich in perspectives. Because I grew up on Six Nations and learned about my Haudenosaune culture now I see that all the glorious things North America has to offer me could never be enough to fill the rez shaped hole in my heart that was hewn by generations of genocide against my people.
I guess I’m being “thinky” again. I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries lately on British culture. As a woman of mixed heritage I have a fascination with what the culture of my matrilineal lineage was like. What kind of people were my mother’s grandmothers? What did they value?
On one particular night I was watching a documentary about the class divisions in Edwardian England. This is the era from 1901 up to the 1910s. One of the historians featured in the program mentioned how women in that culture had no status, no money of their own and owned nothing until they were married. When they did marry they inherited what belonged to their husbands and they could not leave it as an inheritance to their daughters but only to their male offspring.
How opposite is that to what our Haudenosaune grandmothers experienced! Long ago, when couples married the husband would come to live with the woman’s family in her longhouse. There is an old story that says when a Haudenosaune marriage was over, the wife would say nothing to her husband except to leave his moccasins outside the longhouse door: an emblem that he owned nothing and had to hit the road.
When I sit back and think about how little I know about my British ancestry I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have been able to grow up on Six Nations. I was blessed with having the full reservation experience of being a Haudenosaune person. It greatly saddens me that other Haudenosaune people of mixed heritage are denied that opportunity.
What if Six Nations never existed? Not that I am embracing the reservation system at all. I reject our oppression. But in the midst of it, and in spite of it, what if we never knew one another and after a few generations we slipped farther and father apart and were only connected by documentaries on public television about the way things were? What if, slowly over time, we degenerated into brown skinned Canadians and there was no Six Nations touchstone to keep us legit? What if we didn’t have one another? It’s something to think about.