Backhanded Compliment: Solomon Ratt

ispî kâ-kî-ayamihcikiyân nikî-nihtâ-atoskâtîn nikiskinwahmâkîw-atotamâkawin. ikwa mâna kâwi kâ-mîthikawiyân nitatoskîwin mihcîtwâw mâna nikiskinwahamâkîmak nikî-itikwak. î-âkathâsîmocik: “Excellent work, Solomon! You are a true credit to your race.” nikî-mithohtîn mâna iyako. mâka ispî kâ-ati-kîsohpikiyân nikî-nisitawinîn iyako nawac poko î-nihtatawihikawiyân … ikwa mîna kâ-ati-kîsi-ohpikiyân, ispî kâ-wâpamak ithiniw î-kaskihtamâsot kîkway kâ-sôhkanithik, mâna nikî-itwân: “Not bad for an Indian!”

ᐃᐢᐲ ᑳ ᑮ ᐊᔭᒥᐦᒋᑭᔮᐣ ᓂᑮ ᓂᐦᑖ ᐊᑐᐢᑳᑏᐣ ᓂᑭᐢᑭᓌᐦᒫᑮᐘᑐᑕᒫᑲᐏᐣ᙮ ᐃᑿ ᒫᓇ ᑳᐏ ᑳ ᒦᖨᑲᐏᔮᐣ ᓂᑕᑐᐢᑮᐏᐣ ᒥᐦᒌᑤᐤ ᒫᓇ ᓂᑭᐢᑭᓌᐦᐊᒫᑮᒪᐠ ᓂᑮ ᐃᑎᑿᐠ᙮ ᐄ ᐋᑲᖭᓰᒧᒋᐠ: “Excellent work, Solomon! You are a true credit to your race.” ᓂᑮ ᒥᖪᐦᑏᐣ ᒫᓇ ᐃᔭᑯ᙮ ᒫᑲ ᐃᐢᐲ ᑳ ᐊᑎ ᑮᓱᐦᐱᑭᔮᐣ ᓂᑮ ᓂᓯᑕᐏᓃᐣ ᐃᔭᑯ ᓇᐘᐨ ᐳᑯ ᐄ ᓂᐦᑕᑕᐏᐦᐃᑲᐏᔮᐣ … ᐃᑿ ᒦᓇ ᑳ ᐊᑎ ᑮᓯ ᐅᐦᐱᑭᔮᐣ, ᐃᐢᐲ ᑳ ᐚᐸᒪᐠ ᐃᖨᓂᐤ ᐄ ᑲᐢᑭᐦᑕᒫᓱᐟ ᑮᑿᐩ ᑳ ᓲᐦᑲᓂᖨᐠ, ᒫᓇ ᓂᑮ ᐃᑤᐣ: “Not bad for an Indian!”

When I was in school I was good at working on my homework. And when I got my work back my teachers would say, in English: ‘Excellent work, Solomon. You are a true credit to your race!’ I used to like hearing that. It was not until I became an adult that I came to understand that the phrase was in effect putting me down. And when I became an adult, when I saw a First Nations person being successful at something difficult, I would say: ‘Not bad for an Indian.’

Sol’s photo of back-facing cormorants (kâhkâkîsipak) and their reflection seems like a good fit for the duality of the teachers’ disguised insult – which is how the online Urban Dictionary defines the English idiom “backhanded compliment.” The insult that is so stunningly obvious to us in 2021 may not have seemed that way to Sol at the time, but its insidious lesson has persisted with him for decades, nevertheless. It’s also possible that societal racism was so normalized for the teachers themselves, that they couldn’t even hear the insult in their words.
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