The Indigenous Cold

I am awake, I am alive, and this morning, as my internal dialogue debates whether I am coming down with a cold or not, I am reminded of another type of cold – the Indigenous Cold.

The metaphor is one I use to explain the look and feel of internalized oppression for those observing and for those experiencing. There are four stages or levels of the “Indigenous Cold” each with their own characteristics:

The Sniffles Level
We have all had this level of the common cold. It is more annoying than debilitating but still it is there, like that tag in the back of your new shirt. (Won’t stop you from wearing it, but it never lets you forget that it’s there.)

At this stage we find Indigenous of all types, successful to various degrees on whatever path they have chosen. They have found and maintain employment. They have achieved their educational goals or are pursuing them. They have families and may or may not have children. To the outside world, they are doing fine.

But this is the group that many non-Indigenous forget. They tell their racist jokes in front of these people because, “John doesn’t mind! He’s cool!”

But we do mind and the jokes hurt. There’s that damn shirt tag again, constantly reminding us that we are different. Some rip the tag off. Some just grow a little sadder but either way, it is there.

The Body Aches/Medicated Level –
Most, if not all, of us have experienced this level of the common cold too. This is the stage of the body aches, the pain, the wanting-to-curl-up-in-a-ball-and-stay- in-bed mentality but we don’t. We take our medications, and we go to work.

And so too do the Indigenous at this level of internalized oppression – they medicate. Maybe it’s a drink after work (or several). Maybe they get high to escape. I repeat, they do not do it for fun – they do it to escape, to escape the unfairness and the slurs, the eye rolls and the constant nose-in-the-air from strangers. These people can be found in our local taverns or at house parties. They may even befriend those who tell the bad Indian jokes, all the while whispering under their breath, “What an a-hole!”

And if they get intoxicated enough, they express that pent-up rage. They punch holes in things or yell at friends/strangers, anything to vent their frustration against a world that just doesn’t seem to want to allow them in. And then they so often cry, wishing people could just be a little more kind and a lot less judgmental.

(At this point, did you think of those kids from the northern communities, isolated, away from home, forced to come to this city if they want an education? Good. You are getting this.)

The Bedridden/Lost Level –
And most of us have experienced this stage, the can’t-get-out-of-bed I’m-gonna- die level of the cold. This is the giving-up stage, as you lay there and just pray it will end.

So too with our Indigenous brothers and sisters lost on the streets, in shelters, anywhere that they can intoxicate themselves to the stage of not feeling anymore. Here the medication is the only way to survive even when so many take far too much. Such is the level of the pain one is trying to escape.

So, there you have it, the stages of internalized oppression – the holding it in/not expressing it of Level One, the rage of Level Two, the acquiescence of Level Three but there is another Level, one to reach for, one to aspire to.

The Healthy/Healed Level –
Like the day after the cold breaks, here breathing in the air of a new day is a blessing. This is the stage of non-violent resistance for the Indigenous, where we march and protest and post on Facebook. Because it helps. Because it is so much better than Level One or Two or Three.

So, where are you, my friend? Where are your friends?

As you contemplate your answers, please keep it mind – levels change but we can heal each and every time we fall, just as we do each and every time, we catch a cold.

Food for thought my friend. Food for thought.

I love you!


***This is an excerpt from Sandi’s most recent book, “I am Awake …”. available for purchase on her website or on Amazon.ca.***