Nov. 2, 2016
I enter a coffee shop on Commercial Drive, aka the hipsterville that became of nitty gritty East Van, immediately the barista is friendly and acknowledging my presence which kind of throws me off a second because they’re usually not (why do I go there? I don’t know), but I quickly smile and say hello. I notice an older white man sitting to my right, along with his younger counterpart. The only reason I notice him is because he’s burning holes into the side of my face, and with my peripheral I see the ‘up/down’. I try to ignore him. I order, find one of two spots left in the place, remove my jacket, drink my water, and wonder what to write about…I’ve got nothing on my mind but North Dakota Sioux and the battle occurring on their territories right now. I think I’ll write about water. The coffee shop is full, I guess I’m lucky to get a spot? But these vibes are telling me otherwise. I sit and wonder what everyone else is thinking of…
What is their biggest worry right now?
What are they fighting for?
What is their personal battle?
What do they do with their lives?
Ok, I didn’t think that much into it, but still sitting here, curious. Then almost as if to slap me in the face to remind me of my significance in this place – Two white men (one, the younger counterpart) and another stranger behind me engage in a conversation that would maybe happen between acquaintances. Small talk.
Dude 1(younger counterpart): ”hey how’s it going?”
Dude 2: “good man, you?”
Dude 1: “good, good, what you working on?”
Dude 2: “just working on a script”
Me: *biggest eye roll*
Dude 1: “I’m working on a piece too”
Dude 2: “oh yah, what about?”
Dude 1: “it’s Native American focused”
Me: *actually mouth “what?” and scrunch my face*, thinking I’ve been here a total of four minutes and I’m over hearing a nonchalant conversation of cultural appropriation.
Dude 1 con’t: “yah with an old western type setting”
Me: *chuckle while shaking head. (you’ve got to be kidding me), really badly played out cultural appropriation. Who still writes this shit?! Then Adam Sandler pops into my head. Ugh, screw you Sandler.
Dude 3(older counterpart): *interveningly*(only because he sees my incredibly instinctive reaction) he stops the conversation between the two guys and tells him to stop bothering the man. The younger man walks away, back to his seat, opposite me, then the older man starts whispering right away to the younger man, I feel his eyes burning into me.
Me: wearing my copper and beads, proudly displaying my ReMatriate, DeneNahjo and Red Rising stickers on my laptop, my brown skin tingles as if to let off a warning, my blood remembers a thousand battles, I clench my teeth, my face is burning.
Me: (still kind of surprised that this is all going down) I start typing about this experience. I’m trembling. But the typing calms my hands instantly. They type furiously as if to say “we got you”
Dude 3 to younger counterpart: “Colour…(blah blah)…colour…(blah blah)….he seems quite agitated, *raises voice for entire coffee shop to hear while standing up*
“White Man’s Burden! I tell you [enter young man’s name here], White Man’s Burden!” *looks my way*..repeats himself one more time unnecessarily. I don’t want this ghost peering into my soul, so I keep my focus on my laptop.
Me: I sit, breathe slowly…it’s always surreal.
Dude 3: walks out to have smoke with younger counterpart.
Me: ……*What. The. Hell.*……………..
In moments like these, as an indigenous woman, alone, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. I have to assess my situation really quickly. And my solo conversation goes a little something like this:
Me: Are you safe?
Me: I think so, but feeling extremely threatened at the moment.
Me: If you were to confront this person on his obvious aggression towards you, will someone be there to back you up, keep you safe?
Me: I don’t think so, these people didn’t even bat an eye, look up from their phones or laptops when this man was basically shouting to me that I’m the “White man’s burden”.
Me: I really need to say something though, right? I can’t just let this bigot do whatever he wants, say whatever he wants to whoever he wants to.
Me: Well based on the entire situation, and the fact that this man sounds extremely closed minded, and impatient, which is a very dangerous combination, you should probably let this one slide, again.
Me: *on the verge of tears* That. Sucks.
Dude 3: returns, sits alone for a minute
Me: looks at him, straight, like he was captain colonialism himself, I wait for him to look at me.
Dude 3: look’s back and forth, past me, through me, and finally looks at me.
We lock eyes for a second. I see his disdain for me and my eyes simultaneously tell him he’s evil, he’s pathetic, he’s pitiful. I like to think it was my best ndn woman glare. I felt it was my only option at that point, given the quick assessment of my surroundings and the situation. I take a moment to gather myself and continue typing.
Dude 3 and Dude 1 get their jackets and leave. I instantly feel a bit safer, but not by much. I’m still boiling, very aware at what just transpired between me, this man, and everyone else in this coffee shop. I feel slightly better thinking about the space that I claimed, how I made an old privileged white man so uncomfortable with my existence that he felt compelled to leave so he didn’t have to be in the same room as me.
Dude 3 is a regular at this coffee shop, he’s here every day, either he’s a loyal customer or the owner. I don’t know and I don’t care.
I still have my brothers and sisters, the ones on the frontlines, on my mind. More than ever.
My experience here in this coffee shop on Commercial Drive is one of millions of experiences that happen every single day on Turtle Island, in various degrees of nastiness, that we as indigenous people are forced to tolerate. One of millions. We tolerate it because we feel isolated, or unsafe, or we’re just too tired, or we’ve already fought another battle that day, or we feel it’s not worth our precious time and energy to try and explain to someone who’s clearly made up their mind about you, and it’s not about to be changed by a tense politically racially charged conversation, so you don’t. You bite your tongue, you vibrate in your seat, you drink your mocha and save writing about water for another day. Because if you don’t write and release this hate instantly, it comes with you, unwanted.
As I continue to type, my brothers and sisters at Standing Rock are being struck with rubber bullets as they stand and pray in the water. My brothers and sisters from hundreds and hundreds of nations are being sprayed with chemicals, attacked by dogs, ripped from prayer circles, beaten with batons of police officers & the national guard, arrested, tossed in small cages, numbers written on them. Indignities carried out by the state of North Dakota while leaders of Canada, the United States stand idly by. No, this experience here in the coffee shop, although a small part of the battle, is still a part of the war on colonialism, and it still stings.
I’m ready to leave, go back to my beautiful loving family, my warm inviting home. But I sit for a moment and thank my brothers and sisters for their sacrifices. I thank my ancestors. I put both feet on the ground, I’ll probably cry later in the safety of my loving partner’s supportive arms. I’m proud of myself, for still being here, for claiming my space. I take the last sip of my water and give it my thanks as well. I get up and leave one last time, my money is no good there anymore.