It’s a common theme across Canada (well, for western Canada, at least): Cowboys vs. Indians. I think, these days, it’s at least plausible to consider the topic without leaning on racial stereo-types.
The Battle of Little Big Puck is a great example of the time-tested tradition and theme surrounding ‘Cowboys vs. Indians’ something we all enjoyed when we were kids.
What is great about ‘Little-Big’, is the ability for each side of the rink to display their own culture and history but, at the same time, be able to cast all those stereotypical trappings aside for three periods of straight-up, heads-on racially-driven hockey.
And I say that in all hilarity, paying little-to-no attention to the convention of adhering to a racial standard or thoughtful protocol of any type, what-so-ever.
That is, because for me, personally, the idea of Cowboys vs. Indians was always taken lightly.
Thinking back to when I was in Grade 3when it came time to play ‘Cowboys vs. Indians’, it was immediately an encounter with an other kind, another world.
Everyone always, and I mean always, rushed to claim the title of “cowboy” and me, with my cherished six-shooter (growing up, I was only ever allowed to play with one gun, that was it) had the opportunity to tear myself away from dreams of Billie the Kid and ‘Doc’ Holliday to discover an entire new culture and people.
That year, I had made friends with a new person, who was part-Cherokee. At a mutual friends’ birthday party, while everyone rushed to be a cowboy, I noticed my new friend was really quiet.
I hung back and said I wanted to be an Indian like my new friend, who wasn’t sure how to say it.
So, from that point on, we were Indians.
Thinking back, that single moment defined all of our lives. While two of my friends; one whose family were all “cowboys” and country-driven (from Saskatchewan actually) and the other who loved all-things-Cowboy (who was actually Swedish and the person celebrating that monumental birthday).
The funny thing about ‘Cowboys vs. Indians’, is once you claim a side, typically, there is a whole stereotypical but acceptable, archetype you are labelled with, for the rest of your life.
A “Cowboy”, is going to be predisposed to certain behaviors and interests: straight-shot think-and-talk, country music and the fact “Tombstone” may be the greatest movie ever.
“Indians” are more spiritual or prone to abstract-thinking, are predisposed to undertaking journeys or adventures, and not one doesn’t tear-up inside at some point while watching, “Legends of the Fall”, reminding men everywhere it was okay to have a purely aesthetic appreciation for Brad Pitt’s acting.
The four of us, stayed friends from Grade 3 until recently. I last talked to the birthday boy at the end of last year. But, like “Stand By Me”, we all grew-up and move on.
I am now a journalist and writer who has worked in and out of at least 30 different towns, the birthday boy is now married with kids and stayed true to his boyhood dream of making $1 million in the construction industry. My “native-friend” is now a celebrated member of Canada’s military reserve and I haven’t heard much from the other friend for a year or two now.
But, time goes on: birthday boy is married with three children, my “native friend” got married last year, I’m on my thirtieth town and third province and nobody really knows what happened to Phil.
But, this Cowboy vs. Indian, or more accurately, cowboy and indian theme, lasted through our youth, up to this very day.
When birthday-boy was chewing tobacco and convincing his parents to buy a range, native-friend was smoking from the peace-pipe and contemplating a spiritual journey to California.
While Phil is living happily in Calgary I’m still on a spiritual journey trying to find myself in Maple Creek.
But, the single defining-point of my story was: we four, very different, very independent and once very close friends – who are now separated – found within ourselves, from Grade 3 on until a year or two ago, the ability to cast-off any preconceived notion of conflict or competition due to race or social -standing and just enjoy each other at face value.
It’s that point, that lasted from the Grade 3 birthday party on, which has defined our friends’ lasting, conscious-ability to not throw-aside any predilection to avoid or entertain someone of a different ethnicity or social-standing but, actually having the presence of mind to learn and pay attention to where a newcomer was coming from.