So you’ve hired an Indian. Now what? Part 1

So you have hired an Indian now what?

Well, I have written about my experiences living and working in a non-Aboriginal setting. What is a non-Aboriginal setting? I think describing this sort of setting has to do more with an organization’s overall goals and reason for operating on a daily basis. When I looked at various Aboriginal organizations or organizations with specific departments dedicated to Aboriginal relations “About” or background information sections I found some common themes:

– Working towards self-determination for Aboriginal people

– Increase awareness and understanding of Aboriginal issues

– Mutual respect/equal partnerships with Aboriginal communities and the organization

An organization or department that operates outside these common themes, to me, is a non-Aboriginal organization/setting.

When I was reading these various organizations/departments background information sections, I found that they all had goals. You know, sort of like a mission and vision statement. I thought that was a really good thing to have because I have worked for organizations who had no clear plan. They just hired an Aboriginal and hoped for the best or for even something magical to happen. For some people there seems to be this idea that all Aboriginals know everything about everything – everything being Aboriginal culture and traditions. We don’t. In fact, not all Aboriginal people’s traditions and beliefs are the same. Yeah, you read that right: we are not all the same. I think that is what is wrong with some organizations who do try to help Aboriginal people: they think we are all the same. An organization may even have good intentions in approaching Aboriginal issues but completely miss the target if they fail to understand this basic concept. What one community or group of Aboriginal need/want, may be completely different from what another community or group of Aboriginal need/want. That actually goes for any community…not just Aboriginal communities. Or an organization may recognize that we are not all the same but what they find in working with certain communities they think can be easily applied to the rest of the communities. It doesn’t work that way either.

So, you are an organization, either operating around those themes mentioned above to aid Aboriginal people/communities or not, but you have hired an Aboriginal…now what? Don’t expect anything magical to happen. That happens only in Hollywood where sometimes real Indians are not even used. Check out a documentary called Reel Injun to see what that statement is all about. Oh, try to remember we are not all the same. That means we have different beliefs, values, traditions, and even a different understanding or awareness of Aboriginal issues. Not every Aboriginal knows everything about everything. And please, if you hire an Aboriginal person, you don’t need to tell them you hired them because of their background/ancestry. They probably have a good understanding. Tell them you hired them because of their knowledge and experience. Keep it classy. Besides, you might make someone else a bit upset in the office. Not everyone can be Indian.

As I write this post, I think that what I really want to say and share is not going to be easily put in one post. So, here is the first of many to come.

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).