Image by Devon Butler
It has taken me twenty-three years to come to the realization and acceptance that my identity has experienced trauma. It has been hard; hard to accept and even harder to heal.
I am First Nations and I am Cree. I moved to Waterloo in the fall of 2008 and it was by being here, living away from my friends and family and away from my comfort zone, that being First Nations first took hold of my identity. Before then, my native heritage always took a backseat. It was something that new friends would find out six months or a year after meeting me. It was something that I used to counter a racist remark, but it was never a solid aspect of who I was.
Living in Waterloo changed that. My native identity started to become something that I was proud of. It is now something that I want to discover, to learn, and to preserve. I found myself blurting out my mother’s experience in a residential school in class one day, and I could hardly breathe, it all hurt so much. And it is that pain that I’ve come to realize is a part of my identity.
My mom had gone to residential school in Guy Hill, Manitoba from the time that she was 4 years old to when she left at sixteen. My aunts and uncles, her brothers and sisters, were all in the same school. I heard a story of my mom’s first weeks at that school; my uncle used to risk being beaten to sneak up to the girl’s dormitory to sit on her bed and hold her hand while she wept herself to sleep. I also heard a story when I was in elementary school about the children playing Cowboys and Indians, and none of the kids wanted to be the Indian because they knew that the Indian never won.
My mom is really very cool. She is the strongest person that I know. After a horrendous childhood spent at a residential school, she became the first female Aboriginal dentist in Canada. My parents did not marry until after the Indian Act was amended so that my mom would not lose her Indian status and neither would my sister or myself.
My mom has always said that my sister and I are a product of residential schooling, as are my cousins. My mom was never apart of the typical family, but managed to raise one nonetheless. The effects and the pain that resulted from my mom being in residential school was essentially passed down to us.
This summer I had a profound opportunity to attend my mom’s final year at medicine camp. I was surrounded by teachers and elders and got to discover more bits and pieces to add to this collection that I call myself. I got to mend patches of my wounds and discover more of my hurt and pain. And it is through this, the hurt and pain, that I want to do more for my people. I feel like I need to do something because I’ve been given so much, so much more than the majority of First Nations.