The first time I felt threatened by “The Man” came when the government started to legislate motorcycle helmet laws.
This was in the early 1970s and I was going into junior high school.
Being in my pre-teens, I lived for my bicycle. I worked to get my ride by delivering newspapers and doing odd jobs. When I heard about motorcyclists having to wear helmets, my first thought was “I’m next.”
My rationale was if the government could do that to those mean-looking and tough bikers, then it would be a matter of time before they came after the kids.
This was in the era of curly long hair and there was no way anyone was going to force me to cover my hair, which was my trademark.
As I grew, I learned of the many lives helmets have saved. I started to think about the legislation where people protested, and how the legislation ended up saving lives.
The obvious ones are all the smoking laws, or I should say anti-smoking laws.
There was a time when ashtrays were common in a doctor’s office. This wasn’t just in the waiting area, but also in smaller rooms where the person waited to see the doctor.
And, it was no big deal for the doctor to walk into the room with a cigarette. Even in some elevators there were ashtrays. Today, one would have a better chance of finding a payphone than an ashtray.
I believe all this came about because of mass public education on the health hazards of nicotine addiction. As a smoker, I was one of those who protested because The Man was not going to tell me if I should smoke or not.
If I wanted to slowly kill myself with my smoking, I could and nobody was going to tell me what to do.
Throughout history there were laws exclusive to Indigenous people. First Nations people were not even allowed to gather — lest they form a war party, I guess. Ceremonies like The Give Away were not allowed. This is still practised today, when people, generally a family, will give away things in appreciation for, let’s say, a baby. The government deemed it “too Communist-like.”
Right up to the early 1980s, the Indian Act prohibited First Nations people from having alcohol. Even the seller of alcohol to a First Nations person risked a heavy fine or imprisonment of up to six months.
The Indian Act is a piece of legislation where The Man tried to tell the Indians how to act. If that law was in place in my extreme drinking days, I would have ended up on death row a long time ago.
Today, there are dry reserves, but this is not an edict from The Man; this is coming from the people who live in the communities. The chief and council pass what’s called a BCR or Band Council Resolution banning alcohol.
There’s a community in Northern Saskatchewan that has banned bottled beer because too many people were ending up in emergency from getting hit over the head with a beer bottle. Maybe the bottle was not the problem; maybe what’s inside the bottle was.
The first time I saw the people take on The Man came on a school trip to Edmonton from a Northern community. I was in a foster home and just entered junior high — yes, with my long curly hair and riding my bicycle, still with no helmet.
The students met at the school, but we were all expected to be picked up because we would be coming back late.
It was just starting to get dark when we were about 20 miles away from our hometown. One of the girls asked the driver if she could get off by her driveway, because her parents would not pick her up at the school.
Most of the students knew her parents were alcoholics because sometimes they would show up at the school drunk. This poor girl was often picked on, especially by other girls.
The bus driver pulled over, but her house was about five miles from the highway, which meant she would have to walk in the dark by herself.
One of the girls, a popular one, stood up and started to rock the bus and saying, “take her home.”
It wasn’t long before all the students started the rocking motion and chanting along. The driver agreed to take her home. The next day at school all the students from our school trip gave her a hug and she became a symbol of the people taking on The Man.
OK, fine, it was only a bus driver but still…