I have a very good friend who's gone to great pains to inform me that there are two kinds of people in the native community: With-Its and the Regular Anishnawbe. The Regular Anishnawbe have the only true appreciation of aboriginal artistic expression. By contrast, the With-Its do what they do because they've been corrupted by the dominant society. That made me evaluate my career.
We were discussing the documentary I'm making on native erotica. She believes there's no such thing, and that such matters are of no interest to Regular Indians living on the reserve, because they're the consequence of European domination. Native people wouldn't see my documentary, she said. But white people would. And maybe With-It Indians.
Who had asked me to do this film? she asked. The National Film Board, I answered. I'm working with an executive producer at the Toronto office, I said.
"White?" she asked. "A white woman," I responded. "Well, there you go,' she crowed. "A white woman wants you to do a documentary on native erotica." I pointed out that I had suggested the topic after seeing an art show called Exposed, a collection of erotic native visual and installation art that toured the country, curated by native people.
"I don't think you should do the documentary,' she said. "You're only contributing to the artistic desires of white people." While she talked, I looked around the room, admiring at least a dozen stunningly beautiful quilts she had created -- surely the influence of British and French settlers. I wanted to tell her, but I thought better of it.
The people who had put together the art show had similar concerns about their project. Not wanting to be disrespectful, they consulted an elder in southern Saskatchewan, who congratulated them on the project, saying basically, "It's about time somebody reclaimed our sexuality." To which my friend said, "How do you know she's a real elder? Could be an elder of convenience."
Native culture, I pointed out to her, is constantly evolving and influenced.
"Exactly," she answered, "but by what?" I stammered, "The 21st century."
"Exactly. White influences." I couldn't help thinking that this implies that native people have had no noticeable influence on the 21st century. This is very depressing.
"So you aren't really comfortable living in this split-level house with heating and plumbing?"
It's here she really got upset.
"That's the kind of question a white person would ask." (I was tempted to point out that I'm half-white, but she knew that already. Come to think of it, she's half-white, too.) "It's a stupid question. Where else do you expect me to live? Do you expect me to go back and live in a shack?"
I was puzzled. "Traditionally, native people never lived in shacks."
"Now you're just arguing." With a wave of her hand, she dismissed me. Thus the discussion ended.
Did I mention that my friend carried on this discussion over a glass of traditional California Chardonnay, not long after she'd finished watching her Regular soap operas on her Regular television?