Plant someone behind a sign labeled “Information,” and people pose questions as if it’s the repository of all the knowledge in the universe. But station staffers at the Montreal First Peoples Festival information kiosk, and passersby jump at the chance to showcase the stereotypes they grew up believing. Below is a sampling of the whackiest queries that came the way of an anonymous dispenser of aboriginal trivia during the past week. The festival wound up on August 5 after a run that started on July 30.
1) I found dream catchers in the basement of my new house. Am I an Indian?
“One guy came up to our information kiosk, and he brought over his camera [with photographs on it], and there were just regular dream catchers, and he was like, ‘What is this, what does this mean for me, does that mean that I’m an adopted Indian now, do I have rights? Do I get free tobacco?’ ”
Sorry dude, you’re no more eligible for free gas than Justin Beiber is.
2) What tribe are you from?
“It’s not the politically correct term. Here [in Canada] you’d say, ‘What First Nation?’ ”
3) Are you an Indian?
“Again, not totally correct but close enough. I’ll give you credit for trying.”
4) Can I take a picture of you?
“I just look like any old Jack. My skin’s a little darker, my hair’s black and my eyes are brown. That’s it. That’s the only difference.”
5) Do you dance?
“Which is appropriate, but not everybody dances.”
6) Do you have a medicine pouch?
“One guy specifically asked me that, and he said, and I quote: ‘You are not Native unless you have a medicine pouch.’ ”
7) A parade including Indigenous Peoples from Europe isn’t authentic.
“We had a parade, Nuestra Americana, and it was just a friendly meeting of all the Nations, and one lady was super offended. She was like, ‘These people aren’t Native, this isn’t what the First Peoples festival is all about, this doesn’t make sense, you guys are racist.’
“Lady, you’re white, you don’t know anything about anything, just stop talking and appreciate. She was a quite special lady.”
“One guy was kind of upset that at the information kiosk we didn’t have feathers, and we didn’t have moccasins, and a leather suit and a bow and arrow in the kiosk.
“We’re not in the 1800s any more. We appreciate that you read up on your history, clearly, but that was a couple of hundred years ago.”
9) Where are the feathers in your hair?
“It wasn’t me, but my colleague told me that one lady said, ‘Where are your feathers in your hair?’ And he was kinda like, ‘Well they grow back after a couple of days, I cut them to be proper for the festival.’ And she was looking at his head like, ‘Oh wow, really? Can I maybe meet you sometime for coffee and we can discuss your feathers in your hair?’ ”
9) You seem sober. How did you cure your abuse problem?
“Some people come up to us with genuinely thoughtful questions, just phrased wrongly. One lady came up to us, she was a sweet old lady, I’m sure she didn’t mean to be not politically correct, and she was like, So how did you—you seem sober, how did you [achieve] your sobriety?”
11) Do you go hunting? Do you own a canoe? What kind of wood do you use for your bow and arrow?
“Not even asking if you own a bow and arrow—what kind of wood do you use for your bow and arrow?”
12) Are you a chief?