First Day

In 1966, a couple weeks after I turned 18, I moved into the women’s dorm on my first day of university and met the other dormies, including Paula. She was tall and loose and smart. She smoked Marlboros and wore stylish brown jeans and phoned her mum every Sunday. She had dark hair and dark eyes, also dark skin, which I assumed was a great suntan. The girls in our wing studied and ate and hung out together, and one day Paula said she was an Indian— Chippewa, now known as Ojibwe. Those were the days when middle-class WASP kids like me were finding out what a load of codswallop we’d grown up on—systemic racism, sexism, classism, the corruption of the Vietnam War, etc.—yet Paula was the first Indigenous person we had ever seen, let alone known. Suntan! Gawd. All of my “knowledge” of “Indians,” living their simple, primitive lives, in tepees, close to the earth, dressed in rawhide with beads and fringes, and speaking in crude bits of English (“How!”), began to give way.