Token Indian

“I am so happy to have you on the team. As soon as I found out you were native, I just had to hire you!.”

These words, even though spoken more almost 10 years ago, have stuck with me since I heard them.

When I think back, I believe for someone to say, “As soon as I found out you were native, I just had to hire!” is highly inappropriate. It is inappropriate because it is unprofessional. Since that day I consistently ask myself whenever hired for a new job (or not hired for a job): were they looking at my skills or my ethnic background? One might say that employers only look at your skills and your abilities. No. It is not always like that. This is clear when some jobs hire people strictly for their appearance (the “hot” bartender) and even some for their background (how to improve your public image 101).

I know that I am a hard-worker. I know that I have many skills, and many of these skills have to do with not being “Indian” at all. Someone once said that I was overreacting and still am overreacting when I think back to what was said to me that day, and that I should use being “Indian” to my advantage. How does one use their ethnic background to their advantage? Is that even possible? Or should I be offended by that as well?

Just recently another First Nations student shared a story with me on how her professor pointed out to the rest of her class that the only three Native students didn’t get in “just because they were Native.” Who says that? Where is the professional tact in announcing that to the entire class?

In both of these instances, one might say, “Well, Natives certainly have it best.” No, we don’t have it best. Already as a minority or person of a different ethnic background, we already know that we are different. We don’t need a constant reminder of this, whether it be at work, in school, or just out on the playground (Who wants to play cowboys and Indians?).

If there is one thing that can be said about both of these situations it is that both persons in their position of power had a lack of respect, especially to the persons they were speaking to. To announce to someone that as soon as you found out someone was Native and they just HAD to hire you or that the only three native students didn’t get in “just because they were Native” is unprofessional.

Being “Indian” isn’t all what it is cracked up to be. We don’t get everything for free, we don’t have it better off than the rest of the Country, and we most certainly don’t have the same given respect as the rest in some of the places you expect everyone to be treated equally (no matter their ethnic background).

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