Image: “Our Grandmothers Carry Water” by Elizabeth LaPensée
CONTENT WARNING: Sexual violence.
Growing up in North Central Regina
being followed home by white men in fancy vehicles and propositioned for sex at twelve years old was the norm
for my friends and I.
A daily… hourly occurrence.
But we were rebels.
We’d throw rocks at those unscathed cars from nearby bushes.
This was our rite of passage.
Just as it was these middle aged men’s rites of passage to come to our neighbourhood and rape my friends.
Their hunger for underage sex was the norm around these parts because they knew they could get away with it.
It was expected.
That just because we lived in a poor neighborhood,
and because we were Indigenous…
We would have to put up with white privileged outsiders
roaming our street —
propositioning us for sex as we walked home from school in broad daylight
a mere block away from our elementary school as we proudly wore knapsacks on
our backs dreaming of one day getting out of this neighbourhood where sweaty men in suits and fancy cars wouldn’t ask us, “How much?”
Their eyes hungry… darting… entitled.
The men in BMW’s had trophy wives and careers and kids to think of.
They had more to lose than the farmer trucks that would litter the back alleys
and streets when the annual farm show was on.
But they all did the same shit…
Slow down and stare…
But avert their eyes if a fifteen-year-old Native girl jumped in their car.
We were only twelve and knew we’d never get to that point…
So we’d throw rocks from the bushes and run.
The trucks were fair game though.
They were just pervert farmers who didn’t give a shit if their piece-of-shit truck got a scratch.
We continued this ritual until the day Marie got caught.
I’ll never forget how she looked when she got caught.
It was sunset and we watched from the bushes as she stood there.
We just stood there paralyzed with fear.
Her face red… embarrassed. Scared.
She had her hands in her shorts pockets, head bowed low, tears streaming down her face.
She had long brown hair that stuck to her face from her silent tears as we watched from the bushes.
The man in the BMW and police officer looked eye-to-eye and shook their heads in complete agreement.
“It’s a shame, these kids, you know? I’m a hardworking man… I got kids to take care of…
I work for everything I have. And to have these fuckin’ kids vandalize my car as I drive by?
The BMW owner’s eyes darted back to Marie as the police officer wrote his notes.
He took a long hard look at her up and down… slowly.
His eyes still hungry. Still wanting her thirteen-year-old body for himself.
He shook his head again and said he’d be taking another route home after work from now on.
As if he wouldn’t be back.
As if he didn’t know exactly what he was doing in our neighbourhood.
And I felt bad for Marie.
I knew her self-esteem was rotten after that.
Later I learned Marie got a lesson she didn’t like to talk about.
All we knew was what was waiting for her if she got taken home by the cops.
What would happen to her if her mom was gone… and her stepdad was the only one home — drunk and alone.
We watched as the cop car drove Marie home.
We stopped by and peered into her bedroom window from her backyard.
We could hear her stepdad’s music blaring. But she wasn’t there.
Usually we’d stay out as late as we could with Marie… knowing… but not admitting the things we knew she faced.
Her mom was a pill-head just like the rest of us, but her mom disappeared for days on end and left Marie with her “stepdad.”
Marie hated calling him that — but he insisted.
It took that police officer an hour to drive her home that evening.
She got home and her stepdad was drunk.
Her mom was gone downtown, trying to score pills.
That’s all we knew.
She stayed away from school for a week after.
And she didn’t throw rocks at cars anymore.
She slipped away from us.
And I didn’t see her after that until one cold autumn evening.
As she drove by in the passenger side of a fancy car.
We made eye contact through the window.
This time, it was her eyes that were hungry and darting away…
I felt guilty for knowing what she was going through.
But what could I do? I was just a kid myself.
So my friends and I continued on without Marie.
And we spent our summer out late every single night that year.
All facing the same shit in life.
Some a little better, some a little bit worse.
We didn’t ask questions of each other, but looking back…
We knew what was going on.
How could we help?
Being thirteen years old and full of hope in desperate places.
We would play basketball at midnight and smoke cigarettes in front of our family.
And I would dream of being a writer in far-off places.
I would think to myself: I would remember them fondly.
But I would never smoke more than a cigarette.
And I would never tell them of my dreams.
And I wouldn’t say anything when the other girls would call Marie a “fuckin’ hooker squaw” later that summer.
And years later I saved her by telling the other girls not to drunkenly fight her at parties.
And even more years later —
I would accidentally throw my change at her.
Not recognizing her faded features
as she sat on the street, begging for change.
Her head hunkered down.
Eyes blackened from god knows who.
She looked up at me and we recognized each other…
Her once beautiful face run down and still burning with embarrassment the exact same way it did when she got caught decades before.
I wondered what she would have been… if they would have just left her alone.
I thought of how beautiful she would have been… had she not spent her teenage years in cars with strange, old men.
She didn’t have a chance.
She was just like us — and she didn’t have a fucking chance.
I was grateful somebody loved me — but I felt guilty nonetheless.
That same guilt followed me through adulthood.
As I wondered to myself, what I could have done?
What if I was the one that got caught throwing rocks that day?
Ntawnis Piapot is Cree from the Piapot First Nation. She is a direct descendant of Treaty Four Signatory Chief Piapot. Ntawnis is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Journalism at the University of British Columbia. She has been a reporter for CBC News Saskatchewan, CTV Regina and a National Reporter/Correspondent for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She has also published articles for VICE News and Eagle Feather News, among others.