When I was five years old, I used to be told by friends in preschool that they didn’t want to play pretend with me because I was part of the Indigenous culture. From such a young age, it was hard for me to understand why anyone cared whether or not I was a part of this culture; so much so that every time a chubby-cheeked acquaintance refused my request I would run to the caretaker and file a complaint against them. I was so blatantly proud of this fact, this part of me, that every time ‘show and tell’ came along I would rush home to my mother to ask to borrow her beautiful drum to wave around in the kid’s faces. Though it was a sacred and special item, meant for special ceremonies, she would let me brag about it relentlessly to everyone I knew with it in my hot little hand.
My grandmother was probably the inspiration for this pride; which, being the shy kid I was, was definitely a change in my normal introverted composure. She had brought my brother and I to multiple powwows back where she lived, and each time I left in wonderment of how beautiful and kind everyone there had been. Old photos of her and I drumming in the backyard can be found on old SD cards lying around out house, and her house full of cultural symbols and paintings never ceased to amaze my mind.
I don’t know if I feel the same about the culture as I did back then. The pride is still there, and I think that’s an irreplaceable part of my heart that cannot be altered, though the closeness I once felt to the culture is slowly slipping from my grasp, and it’s a thought I can’t bear.
I was never close to it in the first place, because of the historical aspects of the whole thing: So much of it was wiped out when the white man came that I don’t think it’s entirely possible to get back. My grandmother herself had to endure the hardships of residential school; another thing that makes me admire her beyond comprehension. And although she knows some of the language still, it was never passed on as she was taught to marry a white man and try her best to erase her culture from her past. My mother never learned the language either, though we often used to listen to their music in the car. I’ve missed out on so many traditions and teachings, that I’m no longer sure whether or not I’m allowed to claim to be a part of their culture. I don’t know what any of the songs mean, I don’t know any of them when we go to sweat lodges, I don’t know the meanings of the dances at a powwow. I stand as an outsider, looking upon the culture with wonderment but not being able to join in.
It makes me angry to think that this is an entire world I’ve missed out on because of what’s happened in the past. It makes me angrier to think about the horrible things my grandmother has endured through her lifetime, and it frustrates me that I don’t know whether I’m “Native” enough to be considered a part of the culture. I’m not sure whether I’ve earned that right, even though most would argue that it’s not something you have to earn. It is when that culture has been stolen and you haven’t been able to do much to get it back.
I don’t know what to think, either, of this year’s Canada 150th celebrations.
The only thing I’m sure of is my undying pride regarding what these people have been through and how they are still unafraid to follow their culture as much as they can.
I will always, always, be that little girl, unfazed by what people were saying to her because of her culture.
I will always be proud. Whether or not I’ve earned it.