I remember, when I was little, she once claimed to have seen him on the bus. I also remember that she claimed to have seen him when she was very young.
She said she had peered down from the stairs, under the cover of darkness and the assumption that she was asleep, and saw him arguing with someone — maybe my grandmother — in the front hallway of one of her childhood homes.
I say “claimed” because my mother would later claim many things I knew not to be true. Perhaps, these claims of her having seen a forever absent father were an early sign of what was to come.
Until very recently, I had always assumed my maternal grandfather was white. It was a natural assumption. Every mirror reminds me that I am white — no matter how Indian my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother looked.
I recently realized that my “natural” assumption is one more legacy of colonialism. The aim of colonialism in Canada — and around the world — is to create in all of us a deep and natural longing to be whiter than white — bleached of land, language, community, culture and history — whatever the colour of our skin may be.
I also realized that my maternal grandfather — had he been a status Indian — probably would have gone to residential school. My maternal grandmother probably did not.
She was the daughter of a French Canadian veteran and her Indian status was returned to her only in the eighties. She was probably spared some of the worst physical horrors of the residential school system because my great grandmother had given up her status to marry my great grandfather.
Nevertheless, I am sure any school my grandmother attended, whether she slept there or not, would have also tried very hard to kill the Indian in her too. My mother as well.
Now that I know much more of the history of the residential school system, it seems unlikely that anyone who had my blood in their veins ever attended an official residential school. However, had I been raised in a traditional indigenous community, I would have been raised to look upon all the older men and women of the community as grandfathers and grandmothers.
It is only the Western colonial obsession with the “racial” purity of blood that cuts off my ties — our ties — to a shared history we should all call our own. In a just world, we’d remember all of the boys and girls who attended residential schools as our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our sisters and brothers. We are as much children of their history as are their direct descendants.
In truth, I don’t know anything about my maternal grandfather’s ancestry. He might have had any kind of blood flowing in his veins. Because he surrendered — or was denied — any direct influence on the stories I tell, I am free to write any story I want about him — even one that absolves him of some of the responsibility of what was probably the abandonment of my mother and grandmother.
Nevertheless, because I know the history of this land, I know one truth about him that no story can ever erase. Whoever he was, he was a child of colonialism. Like me. Like you. We are all the bastard children of colonialism.
We are often told that blood is thicker than water. Story, however, is thicker than both. Our western colonial obsession with the “racial” purity of our blood is just one more story we are taught to tell ourselves. It is a colonial fairy tale — like whiteness — invented to divide and weaken us and to make it easier for domination to stride freely and do as it pleases.
We are much more than the stories we tell, but the stories we tell — and don’t tell — can bring us together or hold us apart. The story of colonialism is our story — all of us — whether we like it or not. The only question you or I face is how to weave our own story out of it.