I have always had a hard time shopping. Most of my people from up the coast are like me when it comes to going to the mall or to large department stores to make a purchase. There is always a certain amount of fear when I walk into a modern store. It is a strange place to me and it is very intimidating. Usually, I try to do my shopping as fast as I can so as to go through as little frustration as possible. My shopping problems continue after I leave when I find that my purchases were not exactly what I wanted. I then find myself heading back to the store again several times before I find what I want.
I don’t think I was ever prepared in my upbringing and education to deal with places like a shopping mall or department store. As a young boy growing up in my home community of Attawapiskat, I had no real idea about what the outside world was all about. My friends and I saw this strange distant world through television. Most of the time we watched educational programs from CBC or TVO and reruns of religious movies or programming on a dedicated channel broadcast by the local church. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we caught a local signal from a movie channel or an American station. We craved modern programs, the American sitcoms, the newest movies and the latest TV shows. This greatly influenced our image of the outside world. It was amazing to watch from our homes in the remote north. Everything on television was clean, healthy, easy and seemed available to anyone.
In between watching these glamorous images, there were the commercials that advertised the latest hair-care products, the newest cars or trucks and the most recent movies. We watched with these new trends envy because we knew that we would never have access to the latest products in time to be modern or hip. Back then, no one ever bought a brand new car because no one had access to one. By the time we watched a movie we wanted, we were still waiting for a dozen other blockbusters of that year. It was a like a bad cycle, the more we watched television, the more we wanted.
We had a need to go shopping because the television told us to do so. We had only two options, the Hudson Bay Store (Northern Stores) and Koostachin’s Convenience store. Whenever the latest products came in, they were gobbled up before too long and everyone else waited for their chance for the next newest thing to hit the shelves. Since there was not much choice in our stores people always ended up buying the first thing they saw. If you had money in your pocket then you felt compelled to spend it.
I was excited when I left my community to go to high school in Timmins with my older brothers. I left home when I was 13 to start my secondary school education and I had a lot of expectations of the outside world. Mom and dad gave me money to buy new clothes and all my school supplies for the year. Unfortunately, I had no one to show me the first thing about shopping. My brothers could provide little help because they had their own troubles with this task.
I remember walking into the Timmins Square shopping mall for the first time and being totally mesmerized. It was like I had some kind of shopping overload. I had money and I had access to many different stores. What I didn’t expect was the feeling of nervousness and anxiety once I started shopping. For one thing, I was in Timmins, a large city I was not accustomed to and on top of this I was in a non-Native environment and I could easily sense that I was a minority. I nervously picked out my clothes wondering if I would like them. I went to great lengths to stay away from the store clerks. I was just so shy and scared. I spent every penny I had in a few short hours and at several shops. At the very least I felt now as though I could somehow blend into the society in Timmins. I had all the right pants, shirts, hats, shoes and jackets.
The problem was that it had cost me everything and cleaned out my bank account. In addition, once I got back to my place and tried all my new things on I was shocked to discover that I really didn’t like them all that much. That was my first big clue that life was not going to be as dreamy as the television had projected it from the so-called civilized south. I had done what the television had demanded and it just did not seem to work. Things only got stranger from there.