Friday, November 01, 2013

Encounter in an antique store: "We pay taxes!"

Last week my mom, sister, and niece were visiting me in Illinois. They wanted to go to antique shops, so we set out to visit some. For the most part, we had a good time. But... 

At one, my mom spied a shelf of "Indian" items. She picked one up and gestured us over to see it. Quietly we agreed it was fake stuff that you get at roadside curio shops. The store owner noticed us at that shelf and came over. 

"Are you Indian?" she smiled and asked. My mom said that we are, and the woman, with great enthusiasm, said she is glad that the government gives us all the things it gives to us. Everything we "get for free" from the government, she said, was ok by her. Of course, we three Native women were not down with what she was saying... 

Then she said that she's glad that we don't have to pay taxes. 

At that point, my mom stopped her. Shaking her finger at the woman, my mom said "We pay taxes. We pay lot of taxes." The woman said "well, if you lived on a reservation, you wouldn't have to pay taxes." My mom said "We DO live on a reservation, and we DO pay taxes." 

The woman was quiet for a moment, and then talked about visiting a reservation, about how the houses and yards were run down... And my mom interrupted her again, telling her that her home is beautiful, that my dad had built it, that they have a beautiful yard, too. The woman stopped talking. We moved on to look at the antique door keys in another spot.  

My mom had checked the woman again and again, refuting the woman's narrow base of knowledge. My mom is usually very kind and generous but she lost her patience with ignorance put forth as knowledge. 

There are many times that I hesitate to disclose my identity to someone like that store owner. She meant well, but her ignorance and insistence blinded her to her actions. She was trying to be friendly, trying to prove to us just how much she knows about American Indians, but she was off the mark, and relentless, too.

It is quite an experience, being not-white at antique stores in the midwest...  Some items on the shelves are wonderful and others are horrible reminders of America's racism. Here's a few photos I snapped of "Chief Illiniwek" items. For those who don't know, "Chief Illiniwek" was once the mascot at the University of Illinois. Its supporters said over and over again how "Chief Illiniwek" was not a mascot, that it is a symbol that honors American Indians. What do you think? Are these items indicative of honor? The first three are stickers/decals that were on a lunch box. The fourth one--I don't know WHAT to call it. The last one is a seat cushion. 

In case you're wondering, the "Indian's don't pay taxes" idea has a kernel of truth. Native people who live on their reservation and work at a business located on their reservation are exempt from state income tax. Those of us who own property off the reservation pay property tax. All of us pay sales tax. And of course--the word "give" suggests a benevolent government, which it was/is not. 

I'll take this opportunity to point you to a terrific book that addresses popular misconceptions. Published by the National Museum of the American Indian, Do All Indians Live in Tipis? is a terrific resource.

Nov. 2, 2013

An online resource similar to Do All Indians Live in Tipis is the FAQ page at the Native American Rights Fund: FAQ


Trish Lunt said...

Hi Debbie,

Shocking story. But all too common, I suspect. It is very remind-ful of conversations (white) people have with Indigenous Australians.

Unfortunately, to me, the final item that you've photographed looks like a taekwondo kicking pad :(

Best wishes to your beautiful family

Robert Trujillo/Tres said...

Thats fucked up. Another example of how much work there is to do. Im glad your mom checked her though-from what you said it was very respectfully, some folks would have cussed that lady out!