Transitioning

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.

amautik
@Inupiaq
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11 thoughts on “Transitioning

  1. What a beautifully written and eloquent count of the battle so many of us grew up feeling. You have already started the journey to finding the place where you are balanced and comfortable within your two cultures. Never let anyone take away from your sense of who you are…. this is something I have taken decades to learn. Whatever other peoples responses are to your Inukness is their issue, not yours. You are a strong, intelligent and beautiful Inuk woman, stand proud with this fact because that is what it is… A FACT! That is where you start from and you make a conscious decision to never let anyone make you feel any less, no matter what. Don’t worry about the things you haven’t been exposed to or don’t know how to do yet, it is never too late and the power you gain when you reclaim these skills (sewing, qulliq lighting, skinning etc) fills your soul in a way that heals all the injury from having to prove yourself all the time, not feeling Inuk enough, feeling out of place and there are more and more opportunities to reclaiming these parts of our Inukness these days. Stay strong future leader, ajunngitutit 🙂

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  2. Hi Alexia!

    Absolutely beautiful article. Thank you for sharing! i just hope you know one thing though.

    I am a qablunaat and have lived in Nunavut for two years. Not very long, right? This summer, I was lucky enough to get to go on an education program that brought students from the North and South together to learn about arctic issues. I would say about a third of the students were from the North (most of them from Nunavut). Naturally, when we were not in workshops, we would be having discussions about the workshops. You want to know one thing I noticed?

    People listened to me, the qablunaat who only lived there for two years, more than they did most of the Inuit who had lived there their whole lives. I got a pile of questions about sovereignty and the effects of colonialism. I felt strange though, because on the one hand, it was great that they were asking questions like this and I wanted to encourage them to ask. On the other hand, I did not feel like it was my place for a second to answer.

    I asked a few of the southern youth later why they were asking me questions about this, and not the actual northern youth. They answered something along the lines of this (keep in mind, these were non-native English speakers):

    “You don’t seem as scary to ask.”

    I think they meant a few things from that. I was raised in the south and have lived abroad before. I am used to speaking with people where English is not their first language, and because it is mine, I know how to communicate complex things in simpler terms.

    But I think the biggest thing they meant from that is that I was like them. I was southern, more like them. I have a university education, so they trusted my credentials. They were afraid of offending the Northerners, or maybe they were afraid of how hostile a conversation about colonialism, from someone had had been the victim of it since birth, would be.

    Trying to avoid conversations with Indigenous people is not new in the South, like you’ve mentioned. I had friends tell me they hated hearing from indigenous people because “they are just trying to make us feel bad for things that aren’t our fault to get more money.” Believe it or not, we’re not friends anymore. While most Southerners are not likely to say it straight out like that, the reality is that that thought, or a variation of it, is often there.

    This means you’re in a strong position to make some serious, positive social change. The qablunaats in the south, who are unfortunately regularly the ones with the real decision making power that would impact the north, are more likely to listen to you because at first glance they think you’re white. They are more likely to start talking to you, and listen to you. Furthermore, you are going to university and are learning to “walk in the two worlds”. You will be able to represent the issues of the North in a way that the South is more likely to accept and take action on.

    You are Inuk, and I cannot imagine the pain you must feel from having others, particularly other Inuit, doubting that. But it is so clear, just from reading a few paragraphs you wrote, that you are. I am sure it would take even less time hearing you speak before most Southerners would see and acknowledge that you are Inuk. It’s the people who respect that you are Inuk who are most likely to be willing to become strong allies in the South, which could hopefully lead to more support in the North. Your path is not going to be an easy one, but the best ones are always the hardest.

    Sorry for the long reply. I think it’s amazing, everything you’re doing. Please don’t be discouraged, and please come back to Nunavut! I am always hesitant to say what Nunavut needs, as someone who is not really from here, but I am confident in saying it needs more people like you. Keep up the good work!

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  3. Alexia, you article is amazing. The way you described your upbringing and now living in the south certainly brings may challenges. But with your knowledge and drive you will accomplish much during your adulthood. A pleasure to know you.

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  4. Alexia Galloway-Alainga, you are not alone. You are our future as the new contemporary Indigenous person. I am Indigenous raised on an Indian reservation speaking my language and learning our customs and values but as soon as I left my community, self doubt crept in from comments from non Indigenous people who met me along the way in my life. You don’t look Indian, act Indian or seem Indian. I changed with education, travelling, meeting all kinds of people but I always felt Mi’gmaq and still have a strong connection to my family and Mi’gmaq community. I am almost 70 years old and feel good about who I am. Because you look different as an Indigenous person, Alexia, you will have the ability to cross boundaries but always with the heart and soul of your family and people – your cultural experience. That is a rare gift. I have met blonde, red hair, fair skin Indigenous people in Siberia, Russia, from Greenland, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Rim. They, unlike North Americans, cherish their genetic differences and speak about their various ancestors white, black, European colonizers with pride. I hope we, as Indigenous people in Canada, do the same in my lifetime. We need to be more accepting of ourselves as real people not as stereotypes of Indigenous people. Live strong Alexia Galloway-Alainga and be proud of who you are. This is your journey Alexia and embrace it.

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing your beautifully constructed and thoughtful words, the truth is so important to state for the world and young people in Nunavut to see! You’re right, so many people are facing this battle. I was just talking about this issue last night and the experiences I face as a white Inuk. We have a long journey ahead of us to make change for our future. Especially to create the shift in the perspectives of others bit by bit because of the damage that has occurred in the past and still continues through intergenerational trauma. Aakuluk Alexia! Upigivagit! I believe in you!

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  6. This idea of being a child of colonialism, the result of its effectiveness is something I have struggled with too. I know the blood is in my veins but I’m blond, blue eyed and fair. Further, my ability to connect with the teachings of my ancestors is severed. But the feeling of connection in my bones does not go away.

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