March 18, 2002

Potter Column: Real Indians skate over stereotypes


Well, Whatever

I don’t know much about the upcoming Winter Olympics, which is something of a shame, I guess, since they’re going to be held practically in my own back yard.

I know something about somebody carrying a torch through Billings, but, hell, I carried a torch for someone in Billings for years without any real significance attached to it.

Other than that though, I’m pretty much clueless about the Olympics. Yep. Wouldn’t know a triple lutz from a double cheeseburger.


Olympic time

I do know one thing though. If being a “real Indian” were an Olympic event, I wouldn’t even score a bronze. Hell, I wouldn’t even make the time trials, you know, because everyone knows about “Indian time.” I’d show up right on time, and we all know that “real” Indians are supposed to show up late.

Here’s another example of my glaring incompetence as an Indian.

I walk into a local video store and a woman I know from my neighborhood calls to me.

“John! I’ve been meaning to ask you something. It’s about Cub Scouts,” she says.

“I was kicked outta the Cub Scouts.”

“Oh, well, I was wondering if you knew of any hoop dancers I could call to come and demonstrate for our next pack meeting.”

I know some excellent hoop dancers.

“Nope. Sorry.”

“But, you’re an Indian … I thought you’d know a LOT of – ! I mean … well, what about YOU!? Do YOU hoop dance?”


“But, you’re an Ind –”

“I know I am. Look, how ’bout I get my daughter’s hula hoop and tie some feathers on it. That work for you?”

End of conversation.

I go over to this guy’s house to help him move his refrigerator. He says to me, “Hey, howzabout we lighten this thing up a bit! Wanna beer?”

“No thanks.”

“Aw, c’mon! My ol’ lady’s not home! Let’s have a few!”

“Thanks anyway, but I don’t drink anymore.”

“HUH? But you’re an Indian, and I thought –”

I helped him move his refrigerator anyway.

On my way out the door he says to me, “Hey man, I’ve been meaning to ask you to play on our city-league team. I know all you guys are great basketball players!”

“Sorry, but after moving your refrigerator, I think I need a hip replacement.”

I’m just disappointing people left and right, aren’t I!

This, from another guy: “Hey, I want you to come hunting with me. I’m not always a good shot, and I tend to lose the animals that I hit ’cause I can’t follow their trail very good. I know you guys are all good trackers. …”


And when I was in England a few years ago, speaking with a female journalist over tea, she asked, “Now, are you a ‘Red Indian,’ or one of ‘our’ Indians? Because you certainly don’t look like the Red Indian to me.”

“How many LUMPS you want with your tea, miss?”

Believe me, I get it from everyone.

No relief

Some years ago I met a wonderful, well-educated Crow gentleman. He looked hard at me and said, “You’re some kinda Indian, aren’t you.”

“Yeah. Ojibway,” I replied.

“Let me give you some friendly advice,” he said. “Around here, if you’re not Crow, you’re not Indian.”

Here’s the best one though!

In a conversation about – of all things, the weather – this guy I’ve known for years says to me, “So John, do you think there’s much winter yet to come?”

“What am I, the groundhog?”

“But you’re an Indian. I just figured maybe you’d been up in the hills and seen signs that might tell you about the weather!”

“Oh, yeah … you’re right. I HAVE, actually, and boy-howdy, we’re in for a LOT more winter, I’ll tell ya!”

“What kinda signs do you look for? Thicker fur on beaver? Certain animal behavior? What kinda signs!?”

“Nah,” I says to him. “Not that kinda signs. Signs like, you know, more and more white guys in the hills cuttin’ firewood. THEM kinda signs!”

Oh well. I’m a poor excuse for an Indian, I guess, and if it were an Olympic event, I’d get lousy marks from the judges, for sure.

Now, if EATING were an event (and it always is at my house!), well, goodnight John-boy! I’d be FAT with gold medals!

Which reminds me; with about 80,000 guests showing up in my back yard for the Games, I’ve got some meals to prepare. That, and beds to lay out, gifts to get for the people and stuff – gotta make visitors feel welcome and feel at home, you know.

’Cause, hey, real Indians DO that.


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