You need to understand why you receive these benefits. They aren’t free, they are there so you can rectify the past, and they are there so you can reverse what our people have been through. You can make us proud. You and others have to strengthen our culture again. You have to start this so your little brothers and your children can continue. You have to tell our story and take back what we lost so many years ago.Lisez l’histoire de Trevor Jang
I chose to write my story Tsets Yu (Grandfather) about this topic because I am in my first year of post-secondary, and I have really started to notice that there is a lack of awareness towards what equal opportunity is. Many people don’t understand what it stands for. Lots of people think that aboriginal students are just getting a free pass. They don’t get that those benefits are part of an overall compensation package to make up for the past. There is a large lack of understanding of what happened in the residential schools. People underestimate how severe the pain and suffering was, and that it trickles down to following generations. It is often thought that those schools were forever ago, but no it was just last generation. It was recent. I want people to understand that education, employment, suicide, and poverty rates are so bad because of the legacy of residential schools. Equal Opportunity is to give aboriginal people a chance to get their culture back. It’s to create opportunities for education and a better life that might not have otherwise been available. Most importantly it’s to create role models for young aboriginal kids growing up.
I believe the generation of now and tomorrow has a great chance to remove any stigmas or stereotypes towards native people, and have the power to positively work in society. That’s why I based my story off of equal opportunity and residential schools.
All was quiet in the underground passage way. The lights seemed to be dimmer than usual, barely glowing from the ceiling above. The dingy downtown station was never the nicest, but jeez, it had really outdone itself.
Glen looked down to the corner of the hallway; a man was sleeping under a ratty looking blanket. He was grasping onto his bag of empty cans for dear life as he tried to catch a bit of sleep.
“Hey! What have we told you? Get out!” Skytrain security poked at the man, forcing him to vacate.
“Dirty bum,” the officer mumbled as he escorted the man out into the Vancouver rain.
Glen caught a glimpse of the man as he left to find another home. He was a native, like himself. Glen cringed in shame. He hated seeing people that look like him like that. It was embarrassing. Why were so many natives like that? The man looked at him with deep, sad eyes. Glen just glared back in pity.
He sighed as he walked onto the last train blasting into the night.
“We are SO proud of you Glen,” his mom shrieked while giving him a hug. She held his university acceptance letter in her hand like her life depended on the piece of paper.
“It’s no big deal mom,” he replied casually.
“No big deal? You just wait until I tell your grandfather!” She danced away like a school girl.
Glen sighed as he hopped onto facebook. His status “UBC in the fall…for free!” already had six comments.
“You lucky fool!”
“Just cuz you’re Indian!”
“Totally unfair, I wish I were native..”
Glen just smiled and shut his laptop.
“All because of this,” he said to himself as he waved his status card.
Glen awoke to the violent yell of his cell phone. He groaned and rubbed his eyes open.
“Hi Grandpa,” he mumbled.
“My big university boy!” His weak voice crackled through the lines. “I am so proud, you’re grandmother would have been too. She’s smiling from the skies! You’re a blessing to all of us. Come home sometime!” He coughed multiple times between heavy breathing before he could finish his thought. “You haven’t been back to the village since you were a kid!”
“You okay grandpa? You sound sick.”
“Oh just a little cold, you take care now!” He said his good bye as he hacked into the phone.
Glen’s grandpa was a little out of it. He was getting older and more senile by the day.
It was just a few days before classes started. Glen and a few of his buddies were hanging out in his parent’s basement, taking in the remaining days of their summer.
“We could go clubbing, or maybe bowling?” Glen suggested with controller in hand and eyes glued to the tv screen.
“No man I’m so broke, tuition is a pain. I couldn’t qualify for student loans because my parents made too much money last year.”
“Sucker,” Glen said while chuckling. He enjoyed rubbing his free education in his friend’s faces.
“Shut up, man. I can’t believe you natives get everything free. It’s crap!”
“I know I’ve never even been to a reserve.” Glen laughed. “I don’t get it myself, oh well. I’ll take my free education thank you very much.”
In the corner of the room Glen’s mom had her ear peaked around the door. She slunk upstairs, a look of concern overwhelming her face.
Glen hopped down the stairs one brisk morning, only to be ambushed in the den. Standing there was his mother, her facing formulating a frown, and his grandfather.
“I think you should come sit Glen,” his mother said sharply. She walked away holding back tears as Glen sat beside his grandfather.
“What’s going on?”
His grandfather didn’t waste any time getting to the point. “You are a very smart boy, and all of us are so proud of you. But there are things that you don’t understand,” he paused as he caught his breath and pounded on his chest.
Glen noticed he looked weaker than the last time they were together. He looked tired, defeated, and old.
“And I blame myself for that,” he continued. “But there are things you need to understand; things about our past, and where you came from.”
“Grandpa, wh..wha…why?” Glen didn’t have a clue what was happening.
“Shh, just listen.”
And so Glen listened. And afterwards he wished that he hadn’t, because what he was about to hear would devastate him on so many levels of his being. Levels that he didn’t even know existed.
He had vaguely heard about residential schools before. He knew that his native ancestors were treated poorly so he was getting free education. But what his grandfather told him about his time in one of those monstrosities gave him a whole new appreciation for life.
“The Indian agent and the police came and took all us kids away; away from the village, away from our parents. We didn’t know where we were going. At the school, they shaved my head. They fed me rotten food and made me eat my vomit when I couldn’t handle it. They beat me with a stick in front of everyone if I refused to pray the way they wanted me to.”
He paused and looked his stunned grandson eye to eye, showering the pain and suffering of the years gone by through his deep and lonesome stare. He coughed, and continued.
“I tried to fight it. I tried to remember my native language, but anytime I spoke it they..they…” he stopped for a moment and wiped a tear from his eye. “They stuck needles in my tongue.”
Glen just sat there, absorbing the information. Why on earth was he telling him this?
“I was separated from my sister, and didn’t find out until years later that she had been beaten to death by a group of the teachers. The few friends I made there had died of malnourishment. And one night I…I..I tried to escape. I tried to be free and go back to the village, but they caught me. They tied me to a bed and they….”
“Grandpa stop!” Glen yelled a little louder than he had intended. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you need to know! You need to understand why you receive these benefits. They aren’t free, they are there so you can rectify the past, and they are there so you can reverse what our people have been through. You can make us proud. You and others have to strengthen our culture again. You have to start this so your little brothers and your children can continue. You have to tell our story and take back what we lost so many years ago.”
He paused to catch his breath once again. His tears were mixing in with the sweat dripping from his forehead.
“There’s something else. I need you to stay calm and I need you to be there for your mother.”
“I have cancer.”
Glen’s eyes bulged with a push of tears.
“I don’t have much time left.”
The rain thundered down on them, out of the grey sky.
The group of people huddled together in front of the priest, waiting for him to start the ceremony. Despite the weather it was a beautiful funeral.
Grandpa would have been proud. Glen thought to himself.
He looked at his mother, and offered a smile. He grabbed her hand.
After the ceremony Glen stood alone at the gravesite, wishing he could redo his entire childhood, and spend time with his grandfather. He wished he would have learned about him, about his culture.
“I’ll make it up to you, T…Tse…Tsets yu,” he finally managed to spit out. Glen was slowly learning his native language. It was what Grandpa, or Tsets yu, would have wanted.
As they drove away from the cemetery Glen thought back to that night in the sky train station, and the homeless man. He immediately felt a sense of guilt for judging him. Who knew what he had been through to end up at that point? He looked at the colour of his skin with a sense of pride.
He looked up at the sky, the sun slowly peaking out of the shield of grey.
“I’m going to tell our story, for our people.”