I’m talking about a look-alike Colt .44 that fired gunpowder-filled caps that went off with a loud and realistic, “Bang!’—TWP
How times have changed. Back when I was a boy, you know, in the last ice age, the name of the game was cowboys and Indians. It was every boy’s dream, if he didn’t already have a cap gun and accoutrements, to hope that Santa Claus would fulfill. That, come Christmas morning, there’d be a beautifully wrapped package containing, at the very least, a cap gun.
I’m talking about a look-alike Colt .44 that fired gunpowder-filled caps that went off with a loud and realistic, “Bang!”
But, sigh, no more. All of that is now reviled and even banned. Police have come down against people, even kids, going around with realistic looking handguns. And caps filled with real gunpowder that detonated when you pulled the trigger, let’s not even go there!
Now, the coup de grace. It was recently reported that a concerned mother in Winnipeg had noticed that Michaels, the arts and crafts supply store chain, was selling “a toy depicting cowboys and indigenous people [sic]” . The toy in question, called “Wild West,” is a 12-piece set of miniatures “depicting cowboys, pioneers and what the box labelled as ‘American Indians’ from the 1880s that included a cowboy with a gun and an indigenous man with a bow and arrow”. (I’m quoting from the Times-Colonist.)
According to Erin Vandale, “We’re taking colonial actions, things that actually happened in Canada that were horrible, and we’re giving them to children to reproduce as a play.”
Michaels’ head office moved quickly when they were approached on the matter by a television reporter. The bottom line: no more cowboys and indigenous peoples, miniature or otherwise, to be sold by Michaels across Canada. They now say that the figurines don’t meet their guidelines.
Ms. Vandale’s objection to an American (I’m assuming by the title on the box) set of figurines that re-enacts stereotypical events of both the American and Canadian past, set me to thinking about those long-ago years when, as a child, I and my friends were eager and frequent participants in cowboys and, you know who.
As I’ve written before, I grew up in an age of American comic books, movies and television. Gene Autry was my first hero. I don’t remember him ever fighting off Indians (sorry, folks, but that’s what they were called in my day) although the same couldn’t be said for my later idols such as Jimmy Stewart and other leading cowboy film stars.
I can remember the rush that came when the bugle blared and the cavalry charged to the rescue and drove off the villains of the movie, usually Apache, Commanche or some other war-like tribe. At the theatre, we boys would loudly cheer. Take that, Geronimo!
I unquestionably accepted what I saw as great entertainment, based upon my childhood innocence and what little so-called historical knowledge I’d gained from other movies and television and comics that I’d seen and read. I knew absolutely nothing of Canadian history, good or bad, not encountering it in school until my eighth grade. And then nothing was said about residential schools or other federal and provincial government policies that we now abhor, that we now, rightly, reject.
There were no First Nations students in my classrooms, not even in high school. A few Indo-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian and, I believe, Kanakan. I don’t recall any racial tensions even when viewed retrospectively with a more mature, life-seasoned, even cynical eye.
But back to playing cowboys. Was I, subconsciously, racially bigoted, even as a child? Did my play-acting engender latent racial and ethnic bias as I grew up? Am I a racist — even slightly — now?
I really don’t think so. In fact, my voluminous reading and research since I was in my teens has only confirmed and strengthened my views against ignorance and bigotry — racial, religious, ethnic, gender or whatever. I defy any longtime readers of the Cowichan Chronicles to cite a single example that’s even suggestive of the contrary.
I immodestly ally myself with Voltaire who famously declared that he was intolerant of — intolerance. (Or intolerants.)
I leave it to readers to come to their own terms with whether young and impressionable children playing cowboys and “Indians” — or indigenous peoples — if you will, is or isn’t acceptable in this more enlightened age. But I make no serious apology for the wonderful times I had as a young cowboy. My own suggested solution to much of what we have come to know, and continue to learn, about shameful chapters in Canadian history, is better (much better) and earlier education in our schools.
Failing that, thinking adults and teens should at least become, then stay, informed through the news.
AFTERTHOUGHT: There was a time, when I was in my early teens and still naive, that I was so proud to be a Canadian because of the little that I did know about American history and its racial policies and endemic violence. Not my Canada! Canada was the real land of the free and the just.
It was years more before I came to realize that I had to be white to fully enjoy its privileges.