"You can't be a REAL Indian... you never lived on a reserve" so the logic goes, "Indians are only from reserves... not villages, towns, suburbs... and definitely NOT cities".
"Yeah. OK, dude... whatever you say."
Whatever you say.
A saner person's understanding is, that of course, Native people are hardly limited to growing up on a reserve... or living on a reserve... or even having ever visited a reserve. The image of humble Indians huddled together in a rural Native community may be rooted in the dominant society's history of, well... a place for everything and everything in its place. "We live HERE and you live THERE"... that sort of thing.
Nice organized, manageable communities with imaginary dotted lines clearly delineating space, laws and cultures. White people have been fighting over these dotted lines and their supposed meaning for centuries on Turtle Island... and there's no reason to believe things will suddenly change.
Non-Native society thrives on a Yes/No, Either/Or school of thought. Things are either black or white; there's little tolerance for shades of gray. The Native knows the natural world is rarely either black or white, things are always in shades of gray.
(Natives and home builders also know nature abhors a straight line. There might be some profound revelation there, but we'll leave it at that for now.)
Bolder dotted lines are sometimes laid down on rivers and lakes and crossing from one side of the line to the other is a solemn act filled with the mysteries of international diplomacy and the occasional truculent Border Agent. THOSE dotted
lines are REALLY important and hold some sort of Divine Power to instantly transform people of the First Nations into Joe or Jane Caucasian simply by stepping over. It's true. We even have cards which prove it.
They say there's a zone of some ten feet between the dotted lines called No Man's Land and it's owned/controlled/watched/ignored by something called The United Nations. It's not 'really' there.... the plaques on the bridges with a vertical line between 'CANADA' and 'UNITED STATES' clearly show where the dotted line should be for those who like to have their picture taken with one foot on the 'CANADA' side and the other on the 'UNITED STATES' side.
Dotted lines can make a world of difference. Don't try looking for them on the Niagara River though... they're on the bottom of the river.
That's why you can't see them.
Those air passengers who happen to be flying at night either to or from the organized chaos known as O'Hare in Chicago can take a look down and see the spiderweb of lights radiating from downtown Detroit. There's a bit of a
clump of lights across a gaping blackness known as the Detroit River and Lake St.Clair and they would collectively be known as Windsor Ontario and Southern Ontario.
It's actually very interesting to pick out the clumps of lights and try to figure out what they're called. Flying east, the utter blackness of Lakes Erie and Ontario can be unsettling... like some enormous black chasm of the unknown.
But all around this black maw, there are pockets of lights with the most brilliant concentrations being called Metropolitan Toronto and Buffalo and to a lesser degree, that area surrounding the entire western end of Lake Ontario called the Golden Horseshoe. It's easy to see why it's called that; a 100-kilometer stretch of humanity charged up and blazing away 24/7 (unless of course, some careless workers in Ohio overlook critical components and backups and the whole thing goes black).
But that important dotted line is nowhere to be seen. It's not even lit up at night. Not sure how we're supposed to know it's there, but you can be sure as a Customs green slip... it's there.
Somehow, through the magic of red tape and right in Seat 23B, a First Nations person can instantly transform from being Aboriginal to being Caucasian merely by crossing the dotted line lying on the bottom of a very dark Lake Erie. Other passengers don't seem to notice. The stewardesses and stewards don't seem to care... they only want that seatback and tray in the upright positions.
But it happens. Something to do with 'airspace' and 'jurisdictions' or some such nonsense. They're very important dotted lines.
You just can't see them.
Nice photo I found/absconded/lifted at the top of this page, no? Look carefully. See the dotted line?
It goes right through the middle of the lake, turns left at a 42.8º angle for a distance of 84 rods, thence a turn of 23.8º for 184 meters on a NNE orientation until it bisects the 48º45' parallel where it follows that creek to the summit of the mountain. Sometimes the creek meanders a bit from year to year depending on the snow runoff and the USGS hightails it out there to resurvey the dotted line.
(Don't see it? Look harder. It's there because some government said it's there... there's even a map with the dotted line to prove it's there.)
Dotted lines are very precise, very exacting exercises in cartography because a misplaced dotted line can have profound consequences.
It can mean the difference between official languages, units of measurement, medical care, housing codes, auto safety devices, colour of money, rates of crime, costs of consumer goods, screwdrivers... even quality of baked goods.
Dotted lines even can turn people from 'citizens' to 'aliens'. Can you imagine that? One minute you're a human being and the next, you're an 'alien'.
If dotted lines can do that, they must hold some extraordinary powers... some mysterious and inexplicable force which alters genetic code to the point where red becomes white but black is still black. Strong medicine.
Look as much as you want... they're there.
You just can't see them.
Don't see many fences on reserves... off-reserve, they're everywhere.
Suburbanites will go to no extreme to slap up a manmade symbol of My Property... sometimes they take the form of precision hedges which are green but otherwise bear no resemblance to a naturally growing plant. Sometimes people called 'landscapers' come in and for a big wad of cash, they'll shove together some dirt, stones, weathered posts, pine bark mulch and maybe a few solar-powered accent lights to subtly demarcate the homeowner's Slice O' Earth.
City dwellers rely on fences... maybe it's because they have so little terra firma to call Their Very Own, they'd see anarchy and societal breakdown occur if fences weren't in place to keep people in place. It may be similar to why farmers put up fences to keep the animals separated.
Big fences and walls are there to keep the 'wrong element' out. It's a fine line between keeping people out and keeping people in. Really big fences and walls are usually called 'prisons', but when certain dotted lines are involved they're called 'gated communities'.
In those cases, the dotted line is underneath the ten-foot wall of brick, stucco, lattice and carefully planted English Ivy to make the whole thing somehow look 'natural'. It's important to let people know where the dotted line is.
Even if you can't see it.
I like to look for dotted lines, especially the heavy black DASH-DASH-DOT ones. Those are favourite searches of mine because I'm told they make a very big difference on who I am.
I've been crossing that heavy dotted line for decades on a regular basis, yet since some psychotic highjackers used 767's as missiles into some of the world's largest buildings, the heavy black dotted line has gotten more powerful. Mind you, I haven't gotten any more powerful but the dotted lines have somehow taken on new and strange powers which can be felt every time I cross that line.
I'm still only one member of the First Nations of Canada; still paying my US$ 2.50 so I can use a bridge across a river; still getting around somebody's taxes with over-the-limit Duty Free items; still in my rusted set of wheels with no inside trunk release.
Frankly, I can't imagine how anybody could take a look at me or my car and even remotely think 'Homeland Security Threat' (unless it would be some sort of threat to æsthetic values... rust, while not a chosen decor, sure keeps would-be car thieves looking elsewhere).
Yet to look at the changes made upon entering the States, one would think there's a trunkload of prohibited items and a malicious intent trying to force its way in. Another line... and this one's between prudence and paranoia.
Twenty-foot tall concrete walls, razor wire, motion sensing devices, contraband detection devices, more cameras than CNN and military personnel/INS Agents/Inspectors all armed to the tooth?
For one skinny Mohawk in an 18-year old Olds with a bad case of body rot?
The dotted line has taken on new meaning.
But I still haven't been able to see it.
So when some bonehead comes up with the You're-Not-An-Indian-Unless-You're-A-Reserve-Indian schtick... well, I think of dotted lines. Reserves only have little dotted lines - some only have a highlighted yellow line - but dotted lines have a way of meaning different things to different people no matter how small the dot may be.
Some people think reserve lines are like the heavy dotted lines down the Niagara River... they have the power to turn an Aboriginal person into a ruddy-skinned Caucasian when they're crossed.
Others think crossing the line onto a reserve means an off-reserve Indian is suddenly an authority on skinning deer, beading moccasins, carving antlers and talking to trees.
Still others just can't seem to get past the dotted lines they're drawn in their own minds. Much of the framework for those lines is thanks to the Hollywood image of what an Indian looks, thinks and acts like. The rest of those dotted lines are owed to the concocted version of history they've been taught... a history which focuses and stresses the importance of dotted lines in governments, laws, political ideologies, culture and economics.
Without dotted lines, how is one to know whether it's deemed correct to merely grudgingly accept a diverse society - or - whether it's perfectly acceptable to openly hang on to archaic stereotypes and biases?
Without dotted lines, how is one to begin to slap labels on individuals based on socioeconomic demographics? The dotted line called a ZIP code supposedly tells the world if you're an empty-nester with plenty of disposable income - or - you're a slum-dweller with high credit-card balances. The world of marketing would collapse in a heartbeat minus those sorts of generalizations.
No dotted lines would mean more people would be speaking to a person instead of a persona and the image consulting business would go belly up. You are what you drive, what you do to earn a living and how big your front yard is. The Form over Substance-type thing. Never mind the reality, it's the carefully crafted image that counts... and that preconceived notion begins with setting limits, establishing boundaries and drawing lines.
People will push and shove to get on the 'right side' of the dotted line. A community eyesore could be a hot property commanding a far greater price than the next door neighbour's mansion... if the new owner's return address has the numbers 90210 in it. Dotted lines have a strange effect on people. (This is one of those Don't-Ask-Me-Why-That's-Just-The-Way-It-Is sort of replies your mother would always give you when the rationale defied common logic.)
People can get in deep trouble if they 'cross the line'. Lines are 'drawn in the sand' and sometimes it's a 'fine line' between right and wrong.
We 'stand in line'. We 'fall in line'. We 'tow the line'.
We get 'out of line'. We 'realign our thinking'. We put our 'ducks in a line' (that corporate 'line' was always a bit too goofy to ever hope to keep a straight face).
Lines are everywhere and everybody draws them.
Yet for all the lines drawn, either 'real' or imagined (the two are more often 'imagined reality'), we have trouble distinguishing those lines.... where do they begin and where do they end? And who's to say? And by what authority?
Much as the dotted line on the Niagara, I want to see these lines people are drawing. Not so much as to cross them - or challenge them - but to convince myself that they really exist. Seeing, as they say, is believing.
Until then, those dotted lines may indeed be real.
It's just that nobody can see them.
"Yeah. OK, dude... whatever you say."
Whatever you say.