Go North, Young (wo)Man!
I would like to talk about the time I felt what it was like to be culturally misunderstood.
I know. I’m more white than white. I have blonde hair (stop with the side eye. While I am certainly not blonde anymore, my stylist assures me it’s my true color), blue eyes, freckles, a penchant for horses, synchronized swimming, ballet and cheerleading. Also I have a history degree, and drive a minivan. I may or may not be currently consuming anti-anxiety medication. I also have to watch my use of ‘like’. Even now. At 30.
So you see, very, very white.
One day, my husband came home full of excitement over a possible transfer that would take us from rural agri-centric Saskatchewan (my peeps), north, to a Metis and Status Aboriginal community (whom I would like to be my peeps, but was afraid I was too white for).
Before long there was a moving truck at my house, packing away more than just the crap we had accumulated over the years. As we followed that moving truck up the highway, to a gravel road that should technically be called “A Goat Trail”, I realized I was about to move away from my comfort zone.
Let’s take a small story break to revisit my.. um, whiteness. While I won’t attribute all of my character traits to being white, let me just give you a quick personality bio.
I think I’m hilarious. I make ridiculously LAME jokes about weather, or puns or whatever and laugh and laugh. I generally have a shit eating grin on my face, and like to talk to anyone within 100 yards of me. Bubbly certainly, I enjoy chit chat more than most things in life. It doesn’t matter who I run into, I want to be friends. It is perhaps a remnant of many years spent under the noxious fumes of hairspray and aerosol sparkles. (Cheerleading has no mercy. Who needs those extra brain cells when you can absolutely GLOW under the competition lights??)
Fairly stereotypically, middle class, white.
Now that you have a mental picture (feel free to imagine me in a fab outfit, fresh blowout and a slight tan. But more glowy than orange. Like J Lo. But Whiter.), transplant that girl to Northern Saskatchewan surrounded by bush, no mall within 5 hours, power outages that last days, and where hunting and fishing reign supreme.
I know, right?
Our parents and friends thought we were nuts. We had voluntarily signed up to head there. We had a 2 year old, and I was pregnant with our second. We were 12 hours away from my parents, and about 6 from my husband’s family. There was no nearby hospital, and I would have to get sent out two weeks before my due date to have our baby. It was isolated. There were no coffee shops to meet up at, no restaurants to go for a nice dinner (Ok CJ’s but I’m not sure that counts…), and only one fairly limited grocery store within 2.5 hours.
But we went. And within weeks we loved it. We had our daughter, and started sending our son to Awasisak Head Start preschool. They learned Cree, had visits from elders and took part in traditional activities, and where my (natural) white blonde, blue eyed kid stood out like a sore thumb. Not that they noticed. Other than the kids loving his ‘yellow’ hair, kids couldn’t care less. Before long we were hearing him using Cree words at home, and he had his first playdate with his best little buddy from preschool.
My husband worked.. a lot. Like many RCMP detachments, especially those in the North, they weren’t enough staff for the calls, and there was, on occasion, times when we worked 15 days in a row. I got the pleasure of staying home with our now two children, and while I relished the time spent taking walks, dodging bugs bigger than smart cars (this is hardly an exaggeration), quadding and sitting around campfires, I was missing something.
My husband had found his recreational outlet. Not a big hunter or fisher, he had always played hockey. So he signed up to join the local rec league.
This might seem pretty.. well, obvious, to most reading this right now. But, there hadn’t been RCMP officers who played in the rec league before. There was a definite divide in the community between those who grew up and made their lives there, and those who came in to work. Cross over happened little, if at all. But, as sport tends to do, the playing field was equalled and my husband and another member started playing whenever they got a chance.
But, because for the vast majority of my life, I have been who I am wherever I am, I found myself desperate to get out of the house and meet people on my own.
The extracurricular activities I had partaken in growing up didn’t seem to jive with where I suddenly found myself living. Synchronized swimming- an automatic NO being that there was no indoor pool closer than a 5 hour round trip. Horseback riding-Nadda. Ballet- Not gonna happen.
But, there was something I COULD do with only running shoes and a gym floor. Which, the school obviously had.
Everything thought I was totally off my rocker.
There wasn’t any organized after school activities offered at that time. And of all things I was going to try and get a group of girls to buy into cheerleading.
Yes I was, and yes I did. (You’re welcome, Toni Basil. Patron Saint of Cheerleading)
It started with the younger ones, and before long I had interest from the junior and high school girls. We started practicing and I would come home and tell my husband that I didn’t think they liked me. That no one ever laughed at my HILARIOUS jokes, and despite all my goofing around and smiling that worked like a charm on my past cheer teams, these girls just seemed to disagree with how funny I felt I was being.
My husband, always rational, my consummate laid back, tell ‘er like it is better half, simply looked at me and said “Well. They keep coming back, don’t they?”.
I kept up, and before long I felt like we had figured each other out. I had learned that maybe there was a little bit of a cultural divide. I was in a teaching role, and they were doing their best to respect me. I kept being me, and slowly they started opening up to me. They would stop by and visit me at my house, and loved it when I brought my baby girl to practice.
We performed at a Christmas concert, and I was so proud of those girls, who were so shy, who had NEVER seen something like that performed before, who got up in front of the school and their families and smiled and danced their best. They had stepped out of their cultural comfort zone in a BIG way.
Before long, I got asked to choreograph something for junior high kids, both boys and girls, for the Saskatchewan Northern Games.
Ironically, and ridiculously, the whitest girl within 100 miles got asked to choreograph a hip hop routine.
I laughed and laughed until I realized they were serious.
So I tried, and with collaboration from the kids, a friend of mine who was born and raised there, and MTV, we came up with a great routine that won them Silver at the games. (They were ROBBED. Politics. Not just in Figure Skating anymore.)
It felt liberating to hand them their medals at the school assembly. I was so proud of those boys and girls, but I was also proud of myself. Together we had all stepped outside our cultural comfort zone, and I secretly hoped I had wiggled my way into the community on my own terms.
I would go to the post office and people would say “Hi Brittany”. I left my iPod plugged in to the speaker at the school gym right before community floor hockey, and it got anonymously returned to me in an envelope. Something I’m certain would never have happened anywhere else.
My daughter got gifted a beautiful pair of leather wraps beaded by a sweet little kokum. My friend introduced me to more women in the community, and I even got invited to a wedding after helping do the bride’s hair.
It felt so good to feel like I was a part of a place no one thought I would be accepted. A place I wondered if I would fit in.
Like it does in the RCMP, the moving truck arrived again. At our new post, people would ask me how happy I was to be back somewhere with Walmart, and Starbucks, and other less important things, like a hospital.
I would smile and say that was nice, but that I missed where we were. I missed the stupid bugs, and the terrible drive, and the fact that our power was out for two days and we had no water, forcing us to fill up 4L milk jugs down at the river.
How I cried like a baby driving down that long road, once again following that moving truck, worried about how I was going to fit in at my new home.
Because I felt like a new and improved me, and I wasn’t too sure how I would bring what I had learned to my new home.
I had learned so much at that post.
I learned that fellow RCMP families become your family. Dysfunction and all.
I learned that no matter where the RCMP sent us, we would find happiness, friendship, and a real home. I learned that the Northern lights look absolutely stunning around a campfire, surrounded by dense bush, and the very best friends a girl could ever ask for. And, I learned that no matter where we followed that moving truck, being ME would always make me happiest, and being authentic made friends no matter what cultural differences you encountered.
Oh yes. And how to make a killer latte at home.