I speak in First Nation schools located on Reserves in northern Saskatchewan as well as Alberta on topics ranging from cyberbullying, bullying, kindness, and for the older grades, mental health including suicide prevention. I give the same workshops to non First Nation schools across the country.
In my travels, I’ve noticed one constant in every reserve I’ve visited…no lawns, fences, flowers or gardens. It got me wondering if this had to do with the traditional way our First Nation neighbours lived…a nomadic life following the buffalo. There was no need for these additional responsibilities when there was a constant threat of decamping, and moving on. Made sense, however, I wanted to know more, so I took every opportunity to ask elders, teachers, and First Nation community members questions.
Some said that the reason those things are not seen at homes on the reserve has to do with colonialism. “Be careful Brian that you are not overlapping your expectations of the perfect little British lot onto what we see as our normal way of living.” That made sense as well.
However, in a conversation I had with a First Nation school principal, he all but destroyed these ideas stating that it had nothing to do with colonialism or a nomadic history and everything to do with “The Crab in the Bucket” theory. Having never heard of such a theory, I asked him to explain.
“If you go to the east coast, and come upon a fisherman on a pier with a bucket of crabs at his feet, you’ll notice there’s no lid on the bucket. And if you question him about being worried that they’ll climb out and escape, he’ll flip his hand in the air, and with a long draw on his pipe, tell you they won’t ever escape.
“Y’see dare bay, if one o’ dem crabs crawls up da side o’ me bucket, da rest o’ dem will grab he’s leg an’ pull da bugger back down. No sir, ye ain’ goin’ nowheres. If we’re gonna die, Soz you laddie.” (That’s my best east coast accent. Apology to my Irish relatives on PEI lol)
The school principal explained that the worst enemy on the Rez, is the people themselves.
“You don’t dare look better than anyone else or they’ll gossip, and make up stories about you using “band money” to buy things until you’re at the point where you’ll pack up your belongs and move.”
“They all want to believe that we’re all in this deep crab bucket together, and if you think you’re getting too big for your britches, the kokums will bring you down a notch.”
Knowing that it’s the same in many small communities across this country, First Nation or not, gave credence to what he was telling me. It made me wonder if that mentality has taken hold in some of the First Nation schools where I’ve spoken. There are schools where I’ve spent the day talking to 5 different age groups, and had a blast up to the Gr 6’s. After that, puberty kicks in, and so does peer group pressure. They sit looking bored to tears hiding deep inside their hoodies and ballcaps, with earbuds hidden in the shadows.
Those two things, peer group pressure, and puberty are definitely factors in their none responsiveness, but I wonder if there’s also something else at play? Cyberbullying after class “Nerd”, exclusion because you’re too smart, “You answered a question!” Or could it be the “crab in the bucket” theory? If you want to be accepted by the group, you don’t dare act different. Life in a small isolated, rural community is no day of crab fishing that’s for sure. Being a teen is hard. I know. I think I was one once.