(This is part 2 of a weekly blog appearing at www.kahnawakenews.com.)
So I'm hosting a comedy show at Maddie's last Friday, and as I walk into the room sporting my newly-styled Mohawk coif I hear a gruff voice say "Hey! Are you making fun of us with that haircut?"
The guy is sitting down, but he's clearly a mountain of a man, with hands like baseball mitts, fingers the size of hot dogs and a glare that's going right through me. I'm in the middle of deciding whether to explain myself or make a run for it when the guy (Mike McComber, as it turns out) breaks into a grin and says "I'm just kidding - you don't have to be scared of us."
Okay, Mike, then stop scaring me.
Seriously, I never gave a second thought to personal safety when I took the job at K103, but Mike was the second person is two days who made a point of telling me that outside perceptions of Kahnawake are fuelled by biased and exaggerated media reporting off the territory.
There's no question that even 20 years later, the enduring image of Mohawks to the outside community is one of heavily-armed resistants in balaclavas and battle fatigues, standing defiantly atop an overturned SQ cruiser or nose-to-nose with combat-ready Canadian soldiers.
I'm not sure if it was because I already had several acquaintances from Kahnawake or because I've been around the block enough times to know that the 1990 Oka Crisis ended in - um, let's see - 1990, but I didn't have any trepidation about coming to Kahnawake and I certainly haven't felt threatened, except for that fleeting few seconds when I thought Mike was going to grind my bones to make his bread. Interestingly, one of my best friends from outside the community says that in a mixed native and non-native crowd, it's clear to him that I'm on the "other side of the wall," which is to say that I've been accepted. On the one hand that's flattering, but the suggestion that there's a wall hints at an element of mistrust between communities, rooted largely in mutual ignorance.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: it doesn't matter what someone else thinks about us. What's important is what we think of ourselves (and when I say "us" and "we" I'm speaking universally and not presuming to speak for Kahnawake.) If I can look in the mirror at night and know that I've been open-minded and generous in heart and spirit to my fellow human beings, whatever misconception anyone has about me is their problem, not mine.
Meanwhile, thanks to Donald Mohawkboom Phillips of Central Station Customs for sponsoring this blog. Drop by Donald's shop on the 138 across from Maddie's and ask Skyler to demo the sound system in his Mitsubishi Lancer for you. Then go around saying "what?" for the next two days.