Can we sit with you?


Dream CatcherJody Porter from CBC on the Facebook Common Ground Cafe posted this letter. thought it was well worth sharing.

On Friday, July 29th at the beginning of the 29th Blueberry Festival someone mentioned that I should attend the Legion Steak BBQ for supper and the suggestion sounded good to me. I am not a big crowd kind of person so I rarely attend these kinds of events because it’s not my cup of tea. But for some reason I liked the BBQ’s steak idea so I talked my girlfriend into it. We are a First Nation couple by the way.

Like I said growing up I never really liked big crowds. One reason is because big crowds often take on a mentality or attitude that can get you into trouble. (I had an experience like this when I was a young man and it got me into trouble – a story for another time.) People will say things like “come on, don’t be a prude, just come with us!” and the next thing you know you’re part of the crowd!

What I don’t like about this group thing is the “mob mentality” it can produce and how it can take away my freedom to make my own choices. Group mentality of the wrong kind (there is good group mentality) is ugly no matter where it happens. It seems to run away on you and quickly gets out of control. I encountered this “group mentality” again at the legion on Friday evening after my girlfriend and I came upstairs from the back of the legion where they BBQ’d our steaks.

We picked up the potatoes, coleslaw and buns for supper and proceeded to look for a chair to sit in and eat. I looked around (the crowd was mostly non-aboriginal)and saw a table with open spaces and headed there and asked if we could join the others already seated to eat. I was told that the rest of the seats were already taken, there were about four chairs vacant with a couple of drinks there to indicate someone had left them there to return. But there were other chairs with no drinks to claim them.

We moved to the next table and were told that those vacant seats were also taken already, even though nothing was left there to indicate that. We moved on to the next table, same result. We went completely around the room in a very short time and the same story, about five tables in all that had people with their food with some chairs that were not occupied.

I began to really feel this “group mentality” as we went along, it was palpable, it stank and it began to make us very uncomfortable. I have experienced prejudice before and I was experiencing it here again. Then this table of First Nation guests and one Non-aboriginal person (who was an acquaintance) waved to us, that they were willing to make room for us at their table which was already full. It’s ironic that it was the non-aboriginal person that waved to us to come and join their table.

When we returned home my girlfriend said to me, “after we sat down I heard one of those ladies at that first table offer someone else a seat and telling them nobody is sitting there.” I had given the situation some thought and that comment compelled me to write and complain about how we treat our guests at public events where everyone is invited to participate and support the festival.

I didn’t know what I was expecting when I decided to go, but I was excited, hungry and looking forward to the steak dinner. Then it turned into this really ugly, horrible experience! As that experience was unfolding, the first thing I noticed missing was the manners of the people at those tables. They all seemed to take on this awkward posture, and were fearful. And it got worse as we went from one table to the next. It snowballed into a ‘bad’ group mentality and left us with an awful feeling.

My experience with prejudice, wherever and whenever I run into it, is it inevitably at some point makes you think you are in the wrong, by an individual or in this case because of the group dynamic! And that’s exactly what happened here, I started thinking that it was somehow my fault, because there were so many of them behaving the same way and there were only two of us.

It’s the silent condonement when no one speaks up, on your behalf or makes room for you, that makes you think everyone thinks like that in the room. But I know that is not true, not everyone thinks like that. I know there were good people in that room and we didn’t approach their table because it was obviously full. I also won’t make excuses for anyone in that room, why they didn’t offer us a place to sit and join them – that is up to them and their conscience.

In my life, when something ugly or demeaning happens to me, I found that there is also an opportunity for something good to come from there as well. I always try to look for the good, the lesson in the pain as it were, so that I can learn from it and move on with my life. It is my hope that the other parties in this incident looks at why these things happenened as well, as is their perogative but I won’t meddle in their lives if they don’t want to.

I decided to write about this incident not to take it out on any one person or on all of the people that were there at the legion, but because we all have a choice on the kind of society we want to live in and I believe that we as individuals can make a difference in our own way. Forgiveness is a virtue that has saved me in my life many times and has helped me move on with my life from the things people do or say to me.

Forgiveness is about you, not the other person who has done something against you. It doesn’t make what they did to you okay, they still have to deal with that in their lives. It does however, take that pain and anguish you feel away from you immediately! It leaves a hole in your heart where the pain, anger, hatred and animosity would have been and you can put love in there instead and it helps you to move on with your life without carrying that pain around.

I couldn’t figure out forgiveness, because you have to do it first, and then you will begin to understand how it works. So I forgave those people, I don’t know who they are and it’s not important but taking the step to forgive is. When I was young my mother told me, “If you tell someone what hurts you, it will go away and make you feel better,” and that is why I am telling you this.

As I write this, I do feel better about the whole incident. I think if I don’t tell you what happened and how it made me feel, then it gets buried and will blow up in someone’s face in the future, and I certainly don’t want that. I know that the organizers didn’t plan on this happening to two of their guests at the BBQ, and if they are told then they can plan to be ready to act should they ever see this happening again in the future to some other unsuspecting souls.

Incidences like this are easily preventable if people think, and are honest and fair. Trust your manners in situations like this, that is your first line of defence against making these kinds of errors. Be kind to people, and think of their feelings, afterall that is what life is all about – how we feel and how we are made to feel. As indiviuals we have control over how we make others feel. We have to decide where we want to stand on this issue.

I still don’t like big crowds but at least if I go next time I know this won’t happen again because we’re talking about learning from our mistakes, using our manners, making all people feel welcome when they come to our public events, preparedness and which all translates to success. All good things for a thriving community! By the way, we loved our steaks, the company and the band, once we were seated.


Jerry Dale Sawanas

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