Finding Golden Virginia

The Edmonton tobacconist’s shop was as warm and earthy as the goods it sold.
05.17.2019
Calgary, AB

I have thirty minutes, maybe, to prepare. It’s not that I’m unprepared as a journalist. My reporting is ready. One short question isn’t hard to remember: “Why is Indigenous language important to you?” No, it’s the cultural exchange I’m scrambling to perfect.

Growing up small-town in a state with seven reservations normalized “Indians.” The truth is, Native Americans and Indigenous peoples are different cultures, and different from my culture. They may be in the same state, or province, as I am, buying the same from the market and the same gas from station.

They are not the same culture.

Moreover, they are the culture that belongs where I am. For that specific position on Earth, they are the matching sock. They, and their culture, belong to that part of our planet.

If I was set to travel halfway across the world, I would research the culture before leaving. I would try to learn and understand cultural norms. I would, at the most basic level, learn how to treat those people as people, in a way they understand, because I am the odd one out. That effort is simply the respect due.

In Montana and Calgary and Edmonton, they may be standing right next to me, but those Indigenous people are still a different culture. They deserve the same respect as everyone else.

So yesterday, with no time to spare, I ran down Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue looking for my respect. I found it in a half ounce of Golden Virginia tobacco and a box of Red Bird matches.

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