Indigenous Perspectives: Tatanga Ska, Education Is Our Modern Day Buffalo

Brandon Daniels, 2010 Olympics

“My given name is Tatanga Ska, which translates into White Buffalo. My borrowed name is Brandon Daniels. I am a Stoney Nakoda Sioux.”

Brandon Daniels is a Cultural Mentor and resident of Kamloops, BC. He is from the Bearspaw band which is part of the Morley reservation, 50 minutes west of Calgary, Alberta, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. He is 41 years of age. He is married to his beautiful wife, Delyla, and they have twin girls, Ella and Alexa.

I asked him what brought him to Kamloops:

“I met my wife at the annual Kamloopa Powwow in 1999. Prior to coming here to Kamloops, I travelled extensively to powwows all over Turtle Island from the east coast to the west, from California to northern Canada, meeting different people and seeing old friends. My wife is a member of the Kamloops Indian Band.”

Brandon and Delyla

Brandon is fluent in his language, Nakoda/Sioux. He started dancing grass at powwows when he was six years of age and started singing on the big drum when he was twelve.

“Ever since my girls learned how to walk, they have been dancing in the powwows. Ella is a jingle dress dancer and Alexa is a traditional dancer. I taught my girls about their cultural heritage from my side of the family. I do my best to teach them the Nakoda language and the cultural ways of my tribe as well as my wife’s tribe which is the Secwepemc.

The school my girls attend is the Skelep School of Excellence. There, they learn about the Secwepemc culture and language. I have nothing against the English language and culture but as a First Nation/Native American, it is my responsibility to teach my children about our ways so they can continue to teach their children, grandchildren and so on.

I was also told by my father that if I was to live on another reserve with their people, it is always good to show respect and learn the ways of their culture and language, which I have done.”

Currently, Brandon holds the position (with the TTES) of Cultural Mentor for trades students. He gives support to the students culturally when they need some guidance, doing activities such as smudging and prayers. He also brings Secwepemc cultural activities to the students when the time presents itself.

Brandon and Twins: Ella & Alexa, Owl Dance

I asked him what message he can share with others about his culture:

“Well, we’re not all drunken Indians, we are human too. Being stereotypical is probably one of the biggest issues that today’s society has. Maybe others could try to get to know us Native Americans before making assumptions.

The message I want to share with the youth? Education is our modern day buffalo. Reach for the stars and don’t get discouraged when you fall. Pick yourself up and keep trying. The best advice I can give to the youth is to adapt to modern day society; getting educated does not mean losing or forgetting your cultural ways, you can do both. It is never too late to learn your language and culture. We need our youth to step up and be the voices and the leaders that they need to be.

Have I ever experienced racism due to my cultural heritage? My parents are residential school survivors and they talked a little bit about what they went through in those schools. Growing up, I thought it was just in those schools that racism was around. But I’ve experienced it myself firsthand.

I had long hair in my younger years. When our reserve did not have a minor hockey team, we had to go off reserve in order for me to play. The closest town/team was Cochrane Alberta which is about 30 minutes east of my reserve on the A-1 highway. From the very first game I played with my new team, I got called ‘wagon burner’ and my teammates didn’t back me up or stand up for me.

After the game, I asked my dad why were they calling me names. He said ‘because you’re a pretty good skater’… So I ran with it. With every game we played, the names got more harsh and more ignorant. Some of the names I was called were: dirty Indian, savage, long hair, wagon burner, prairie nigger, and gopher eater, just to name a few.

The worst was when the league requested that I cut my hair. They said if I didn’t cut it off I wasn’t going to be allowed to play hockey. So I did, which was the worst thing that I’ve ever done. As a result, I almost lost my identity and my true self with boozing and smoking pot. Now that I have children of my own, I do my best to explain the negative effects of racism and what it has done to our people because I do not want them to go through what I’ve been through.

I always tell my girls to adapt to what is around them and use it in a positive way. This is just a tiny bit of what we go through as aboriginal people in today’s modern society. Racism will always be around; the solution lies in how we deal with it.

Pinamaye, (thank you).”

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