My father was an airplane mechanic during WWll. He had an eighth grade education, spoke pretty good English, and was good at math. I also remember he spoke pretty good French. Not bad for an old Indian. We lived at Hill 57, and I remember the settlement had eight small shacks and an old barn stored with color pigments probably containing lots of lead, but that is another story. I can visualize the location of each house and who lived there, the ceremony that was held at one of these homes, and the long walks to Great Falls to get groceries. The white obelisk at the top of the hill identified us as Hill 57 Indians. My mother and I did not speak English, my father and brother did. We left Hill 57, moved back to Rocky Boy, and I was sent to Sangrey School. The grand old lady who taught there asked me some questions, I didn’t have the slightest idea what she said or wanted, my brother translated, but it still didn’t make any sense. One fine morning my mother told me she was not going to be around forever to take care of me so I better start learning. “It’s a white man’s world out there” were my fathers famous words that day. I don’t remember when the white man’s language joined my way of thinking, it just seemed to happen. My mother was an Ojibwe, she spoke fluent Ojibwe, Blackfoot, and Cree. My father was Cree, English was a second language. Languages were important and a necessity in my family. When I look out my window and survey the urban landscape I’m glad I’ve learned the value of communicating well outside of Indian society, I’ve learned this from my father and my mother. Good teachings from old Indians.
I remember my mother registering me for school so I can learn the “White man’s ways”. I have never forgotten the embarrassment that came over me when she signed all the papers with an “X”. She spoke some words in English but most of the time I was her translator. I think of her, and on some days I place an “X” after my signature just to let her know I’m thinking… of her.