Pictured: Polson High School. Polson, Montana.

I struggled terribly in school. Not because I couldn’t do the work, but for several other reasons. Racism [Racial Politics] was close to the top of the list.

Racism; we’ve all been givers and receivers. Everyone has been guilty of racist thoughts to some degree. Everyone has been the subject of racist thoughts to some degree. Such things are painful, especially for young people.

Going to school in a small town was nothing like going to school in the city. Nearly every kid I began the first grade with was in my graduating class as well. Secrets are virtually non-existent. Everyone knows your business.

My mother [God Bless her Soul] was as non-racist as a person can be. Her ex-husband [my father] was White, but the man she dated for most of my childhood was full-blooded American Indian. She raised me to look past skin color and see the person. I’ll add this piece of funny ha-ha. My mom spent some time in the deep south during the 1960s. I can remember quite a few of her colorful stories, including hearing her talk about drinking out of the ‘Whites Only’ drinking fountain for the sole purpose of upsetting the local White folk. My mother was incredibly rebellious.

My hometown wasn’t very diverse. Back then, the percentage of Black and Asian people on The Flathead Reservation was next to zero. I’m not sure where those numbers stand currently. I don’t remember exactly, but it’s possible I didn’t see more than a few Black and Asian people until I entered the military after high school. The numbers of Indian People and White People were pretty even, as were my friends; approximately half White and half American Indian.

A lot of kids wouldn’t hang out with anyone except their own skin color. That started at home, of course. If left to their own, children will make decisions based on who they like instead of who they’re told to like. Kids aren’t born racist. It comes from family and friends. Everyone is guilty. Every single skin color perpetuates racism. As much as White people have f****d up, we’re not the only guilty party.

Sadly, many of the teachers and coaches encouraged the problem. Between grade school and high school, I tried to join every sport at least once. My eyes were opened when I tried to enroll in football. I’d already been labeled as a White kid with Indian friends. When the day came for equipment to be handed out, an Indian boy and I were helped last. I can still remember sitting there with the other kid. The coach was smiling when he gave us a choice between pieces of gear. There wasn’t anything left that would fit either one of us. That was my [one day] football experience.

There’s a term some Indians use on the Rez to describe other Indians. The word is Apple, and it’s how they describe someone who’s Red on the outside and White on the inside. In other words, an American Indian who lives and acts like a White person. I don’t care for such labels.

Picture this, a young American Indian with White friends. Nothing but White friends. Next, the same kid gets caught hanging out with his own race. Yes, I said, ‘gets caught.’ What I mean is; he’s been seen spending time with kids who are Indian but have not been excepted by the popular White kids. Therefore, those kids have not been ‘approved.’ One particular incident comes to mind. I can still remember my friend’s pain as I watched four or five teenage boys belittle him. In the end, he didn’t make that mistake again. That was the end of our friendship.

As a kid, I just wanted to have friends. Unfortunately, a large percentage of White kids wouldn’t associate with me because I had Indian friends. In the end, nearly all of my friends were Indian. For no other reason than this. My Indian friends didn’t care who I hung out with and didn’t give me ultimatums.

There are a lot of White adults living on the Flathead Indian Reservation who spend their time complaining and crying. Bitching about things like Tribal Taxes. I still don’t get it. I realize that area of Montana is beautiful, but if someone doesn’t want to deal with the realities, they really should pack their s**t and leave. There are other beautiful places to live besides Flathead Lake, Montana. I compare it to complaining about living in The United States. If you don’t like the home team, get the fu*k out of the stadium.

I’ve received quite a few friend requests on Facebook from guys who wouldn’t associate with me in high school. A couple of them have messaged me and tried to make things right. I don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone from school. Kids are a product of their parents. Well, except for the bully who used to beat me up. It’s okay after I turned 19, I picked his mom up at a local bar and . . . well . . . you know the rest. I called that assh**e the next day and told him to look in the backseat of his mom’s car.

Very few of us have any idea who we are during high school. As adults, we change continually throughout our lives. I believe life is about self-inventory, self-development, and working to become better. Better what? Better everything.

Joseph Shanklin

July 11, 2021








5 thoughts on “Growing Up On The Reservation [School Racism]

  1. Racism I have known and my father told me often. He was a Ojibwa/Mexican man. Education, education and more education. Never allow anyone to look down at you. But racism is a steady fight. We must ensure we teach our children well and properly. My grandmother was took from reservation in Michigan at six year old. The cut her hair, change her name and she wasn’t allow to speak her language. She told me once. I forgave them but I remember everything. Thank you my friend for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

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