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Growing Up Part-Time Indian Revisted, Part 2

November 11, 2013

Yes, it’s a long title, but it will have to do.

Spending my youth on the reservation presented a particular number of challenges. First of all, I kept my feet firmly planted in two very different worlds. Life on the reservation was as different as it could be from my neighborhood in San Diego; it was smaller, there was more poverty, and the pace of life was far different from that of a major California metropolis. For one thing, I had to learn how to live on “Indian Time” on the reservation. No one had a clock, or a watch, and when I enquired about the time, the conversation often went like this:

Me: What time are we having dinner?

Grandpa/Aunt/Uncle: When everyone gets here.

Me: When are we going to leave?

Grandpa/Aunt/Uncle: When we’re ready.

I remember how irritated I used to be by this when I was younger, but after a while, I learned to embrace life in this way, and realized it made much more sense. As my grandfather used to say, “You should live on Indian time. White man time will give you stomach cancer.” I think he stole that from a movie, but his point was well taken.


I also loved the fact that my Indian relatives were quiet, and didn’t insist on me talking all that much. As a young man struggling with a stutter, this was a blessing. I hated having to speak, and I hated the often impatient tone with which I was treated when I couldn’t get my words out. I remember once when my Uncle Steve asked me a question once, and when I tried to answer, he just put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, dude. You don’t have to talk. Just get good at listening. Most people are shitty at it.” I remember the feeling of relief that came over me when he said this. Not only did I not have to talk, but my inability to speak might make me good at something no one else is? This stutter thing might not be so bad.

As quiet as my relatives were, they could be brutally honest and direct. I recall one long drive I was on with my grandfather and two uncles were on our way to a Pow-Wow (I don’t recall exactly where). For the first two and a half hours, no one in the car said one word. Then, my Uncle Steve turned to my Uncle Clyde and said “That hat looks stupid.”

Clyde gazed at Steve a moment, processing his brother’s opinion. Finally, he replied “I like this hat.”

Steve simply shrugged, and then said “Okay.” No other words were uttered for the next ninety minutes.

There was another trip I took with my grandfather in silence I sometimes wish he had spoken to me more. The only thing he told me was that we were going for a ride, and then we headed south. After a long drive he pulled off the road, and we spent a half an hour scaling a nearby hill. When we reached the top, my grandfather began to pray. I didn’t really understand what we were there for at first until he put his hand on my arm and pointed.

“You want to look there. Should be any minute now.”

It was then that I realized where he was pointing: the Nevada Test Site.

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