I sometimes feel I am a product of the colonization of Indigenous Canadians. Or more so, what colonizing Aboriginal Peoples was intended to do.
First, I am red-headed, fair-skinned, and freckled. My physical features are far from what the “norm”of being Indigenous, more specifically, being Inuk, looks like. This is a norm or prototype that most Canadians, and people have embedded. It is a tendency to judge a book by it’s cover, it is much easier. Second, I am English-speaking – also unlikely to fit the average image of an Indigenous Canadian. These external features defy every part of who I am as an individual, they steal my substance. These features steal the beautiful parts of my indigenous being, like I am robbed. I am automatically assumed to be part of this society that has committed disastrous acts toward cultures unlike them. But one of these many cultures is living inside me. In fact, this culture is all that I have known in life, it is what has made me who I am today. My introspection, my voice, my every move is shaped by my experiences as an Inuk woman. I am for forever grateful of being Inuk. I am in constant amazement of my home, my people, and everything in between. My substance.
Moving south for post-secondary has physically, mentally, and spiritually brought me outside of my world. My perspective of my life and the place that I come from has grown and shifted. I am grateful for my home, I am hopeful for our future. Simultaneously, my perspective of the rest of Canada – Ontario, and surrounding and nearby cities specifically – has been replaced. As I venture through the wonders and struggles of University life and the birth of adulthood, I have been rudely awakened toSouthern Canada’s minimal education on our nation’s Indigenous Peoples. I am extremely privileged to have had several travel opportunities throughout my childhood, so being asked about igloos, polar bears, country food, and food prices wasn’t new to me while meeting other individuals.
What was new to me, was people’s reaction to speaking about the North, about Indigenous groups in Canada. I was lectured on food prices in the North – which are absurd, it is undeniable – but the lecture was beyond over-exaggerated. Fellow students made remarks that pieced together this image of a place in which these different people (whom they believe they have never encountered, especially after seeing photos of whale carving) where in tremendous need; they didn’t have any alternatives like people do in the South. To an extent this is true, the North is not nearly as modern-day, but this presentation made me feel like we as a people live back in the post-nomadic and early-sedentary times. Near the end of lecture I spoke up, noting that I am from this place that the professor and students just blew out of proportion. My professor’s face dropped instantly, and she tried to negate the whole presentation, telling me that I should be up there, speaking and presenting. There was no effort afterwards to continue her slides in-depth, or even hold a discussion. I then saw this presentation as their creation of this image of the North.
More recently, I met a retired teacher here in Ottawa at an event on campus. We held a conversation for a while before I was asked where I was from. To my surprise, as soon as I told her that I am from Iqaluit, Nunavut, she asks me if I am Inuk. This was so wonderful to me, not only did she know, she was curious about my home and my people. As the conversation continues, she tells me that for years throughout her childhood and later in her career, she was unaware and uneducated about Indigenous Peoples. This woman told me she grew up in Quebec (I believe), with a reserve close by, but was always taught that it was too dangerous, and that the people living there are mean. She proceeded to tell me that now she absolutely loves learning about Indigenous Peoples – and I knew this, the event we were at was a presentation done by an accomplished Aboriginal Canadian.
These two experiences are crumbs to a loaf of bread. Any Indigenous person can affirm this.
This misunderstanding still very strongly exists today. I believe it is a result of the lack of education, as well as exposure, not only to Indigenous cultures, but to people who differ in general. The idea of eliminating these diverse people has reincarnated into experiences like the above. There is fault at all levels; individual, communal, and national. There is little willingness to change these systems that shape the way of thought that many hold today.
In discovering this, I feel that my very presence is an accomplished objective made by our colonizers. I feel that my incapability to speak my language, my minimal knowledge of traditional practices such as skinning and sewing, and the very fact that I am now in Southern Canada, enrolled in a field that has history of tremendous damage to my people, is closer to what was (and still is) wanted. I feel this when I’m home as well, I fight for being recognized as Inuk. I have felt exclusion from family, from others in my hometown, I have felt and sometimes still feel like the outsider. I am in constant feeling of need to “prove” myself. I am assimilated, or perhaps, the way that I look is assimilated. Due to this I have had internal and external conflicts throughout my entire life.”What is this red-headed baby doing in an amautik?” (Inuit woman’s traditional dress). I have seen my family have to fight for my “Inukness” as well.
Synchronously, I feel a duty to take my very experiences and educate others, share my knowledge and make a difference. I am passionate for bringing my gained knowledge back home, and what possibilities will unfold. I am inspired and eager to learn my language, and traditional practices of my people. I am inspired by youth, and interested in working with Nunavut youth.
This conflict is a construct in my life, one that I cannot change. It is a conflict that I know I will face for the rest of my life, and I know that there are many others facing this same obstacle. I am entangled between feeling assimilated into modern-day life, feeling “too white”, and adversely feeling “too Inuk” around people who are so unaware of the diversity of Canada.
This entanglement is both what haunts me, and what inspires me because I am on a path to channel this conflict into creating my own combined identity.