Dana looked out of the passenger’s side window at what would be his collage for the next three-and-a-half years. Just a couple of years ago, Sault Community College been a dinky two-year institution, the sort which housed classes in single-story buildings that looked more reminiscent of storage facilities than places of higher education. It had recently made the transition to a four-year institution and was christened Sault University, but the facility itself struggled to catch up with its new four-year status. Construction was still underway and most of the buildings had undergone – or were in the process of undergoing – some sort of renovation. It’s selection of four-year degrees were meager at best and offered nothing Dana felt particularly compelled to major in.
Looking out at his surroundings – all covered in a fine white powder – it still seemed surreal to him. One week, he was in sunny, southern California and the next week, here he was knee-deep in snow and isolation. It wasn’t exactly easy confronting the fact that he would be living in the cold, stark north for an indefinite amount of time.
“Have a good first day.” Dana’s father said from his position in the driver’s seat of their borrowed Range Rover.
Dana just nodded. He didn't bother looking at his father. He didn’t want to see the sorrow in the older man’s eyes. The defeat.
Instead, Dana cast a glance to the back seat of the rover. He was greeted by his younger brother’s sullen face. Dana was sure Kalen’s expression mirrored his own.
Kalen also wasn’t too keen on this move, but like Dana, they both knew their father was struggling financially. It had taken a lot out of the man to come calling to his sister and brother-in-law for help. For a man who’d always been self-sufficient and who had always provided for his family, it’d been a heavy blow to his pride especially.
So Dana said goodbye to his father and younger brother and then opened the door. He stepped out of the car and onto the icy pavement, snowflakes floated gracefully around him. The land was barren and covered with snow. It was a beautiful sight, but there was something bleak and almost eerie about it. Dana had never seen snow in person before and he would be lying if he said he found it as enchanting as the people in those TV Christmas movies always seemed to.
Dana didn’t exactly know in which room his first class of the day would be, but luckily, his advisor had sent over a printout of the layout for the classroom buildings. He was glad he hadn’t had to come to the school to pickup his class schedule. He had half expected to, but apparently, the place wasn’t so backwater that they didn’t have wifi.
Dana walked through the hallway until he found Room 15. He looked down at the sheet in his hand. Anthropology 101. Prof. Rita Highwater.
Yep, this was it.
Dana took a fortifying breath and then pushed open the door. He paused for a moment just inside the doorway to survey the rows of tables and uncomfortable looking folding chairs. Dana’s gaze immediately fell on a small group of students separated from the rest. They sat in their own little huddle, as if they were not welcomed by the rest of the students surrounding them. Neither were they particularly welcoming either, given their closed off body language and wary gazes. While the other students watched Dana with varying degrees of disinterest, the smaller group of students surveyed him with barely concealed distrust.
Dana took in their appearance. Though they were dressed like any other college-age twenty-something, their straight dark hair and bronze skin was a far cry from Dana’s own pasty white complexion and wavy tawny hair. He'd never been able to keep a tan. When he'd tried, his freckled complexion had defaulted to medium rare, so he envied anyone whose skin wasn't pasty or who didn't have to slather on SPF 110 just to avoid burned sensitive skin.
His father had told Dana and Kalen that Sault boasted a strong Native American population mainly consisting of Métis people. In curiosity, Dana had googled the term. Finding it to mean a people descended from a mix of Native American and white parentage, Dana had expected the Métis people to have, at the very least, a strong presence in the community. Instead, when Dana had asked about it, his dad had described a marginalized people with an unrecognized tribal status and an existence of living on the fringe of society in what had once been their ancestral lands.
Dana lowered his gaze, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the room as he seated himself in the nearest available chair. He found himself sitting awkwardly in the middle of the room. He was several seats away from the Native students, but neither was he seated with the non-native populace.
He felt very much the outsider. Though he’d been excited for the Anthropology course, he found himself feeling discomfited by the tension in the room between the group of students on one side and those seated on his other.
The tension rose when a trio of guys walked into the room just barely a minute before class was supposed to start. One of the stragglers, walking a bit close to a Métis boy’s desk, bumped into it. The movement was too aggressive to be merely accidental. The young man walked away sniggering as the young Métis lad glared at him while picking up his fallen notebook.
The two groups of boys cast scornful glances at one another, but if any sort of argument or fight was brewing, it was quickly quelled by the arrival of the professor.