There are few things I can say that I genuinely love.
Oh sure, like all of us I can cite my life partner, my home, my son, my work, music, books, maybe even my age, but beyond that things get skimpy. It’s such a big word. The scope and the intent of it are meant to fulfil us, sketch us out, give us detail.
So when I say that two things I’ve come to love in this world are my people and baseball, it’s a huge statement. They have both contributed to my sense of myself, the idea I carry around about who I am. That’s why two recent events have been so discomfiting; the outing of New York Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez as a steroid cheat, and the cultural embarrassment of newly appointed Senator Patrick Brazeau.
Baseball came along when I was nine. I was a newly adopted Indian kid suddenly plunked down in an all-white world. I was scared. I was lonely. I needed a measure of grace to allow me something to cling to that I could call my own. When I found baseball, I found heaven. In the game I found a freedom that allowed me to forget the circumstances of my life.
My people came along when I was in my early 20s. I was a runaway with no education, no appreciable skills, no direction. I was scared. I was lonely. I needed another dollop of grace to allow me somewhere that I could fit, belong, and feel that I had something I could call my own. When I found my people I found shelter. In the culture I found a welcoming that allowed me to forget the circumstances of my life.
Together, baseball and Indians taught me the central metaphor of life; everyone working together to help each other make it home. It’s something I have never ceased to believe in.
So when Rodriguez admitted to cheating, the magic of the game was sullied. Again. When A-Rod was a young shortstop with the Seattle Mariners I loved his game. Such a potent mix of youth and grace and power.
When he went to the Texas Rangers for the biggest contract in baseball history I felt he was worth it. He shone in Texas. His two best seasons of his career came there. Now, it’s shown that those two glittering campaigns were drug-fueled and for me, meaningless. Baseball lost a hero and so did I.
Similarly, when Patrick Brazeau was named a senator the luster on the face of my people was sullied. Brazeau was the former national Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
As an off-reserve aboriginal, Brazeau was elected national chief of an organization that purports to represent me. It doesn’t. It never has. It never will. Instead, the Congress is an organization built to serve itself and in that, Brazeau was the perfect choice to lead it.
He once said he had the perfect face for a native leader. His resume cites his experience as a runway model and that he has a black belt in karate. That’s perfect if you need to battle your way out of a Botox convention, but it lends little to the advancement of a people.
There are stories of the tumult he caused in his tenure at CAP. A sexual harassment investigation, stories of rampant drinking in his office and a Health Canada investigation into how $260,000 was spent and a further $16,500 paid out to Brazeau and his cronies. CAP itself is struggling to reassert itself after rifts arising from his tenure.
What’s not told is how members of the Kitigan Zibi community outside Maniwaki, Quebec, call him a rank opportunist. How he lived away from the reserve and native politics. How his knowledge of policy, history and the day-to-day realities of native life in Canada are meagre at best, lacking certainly.
Through it all, he’s mum. He whips around Ottawa in his Porsche, and hires his CAP pals as senatorial assistants despite the unresolved issues. It actually took convincing for him to relinquish his six figure CAP salary he wanted to keep along with the six-figure senator’s wage.
As someone who has worked in native issues since 1979, Patrick Brazeau is culturally embarrassing. In our traditional way, humility is the foundation of everything. His actions are the antithesis of that. Rodriguez, at least, came forward publicly and apologized.
We work together to help each other make it home. That’s the truth of life and baseball. It takes humility to do that. It takes a measure of spirituality. It takes the individual assumption of leadership. At its best, baseball accomplishes that. At our best, native people represent that.
Patrick Brazeau should step down and allow all of us, native and nonnative, the grace of that way in action.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at email@example.com