Being Indigenous in Canada
Being Indigenous in Canada is full of positive and negative experiences. As a self-identified Indigenous student, attending school has been one of the most positive experiences in my life. The education system, unfortunately, does not teach much about Indigenous culture besides residential schooling and more Colonial point of view indigenous history. Nonetheless, by self-identifying, I have been able to meet other students and learn about my heritage, experience things I otherwise would not have, and feel more comfortable in my own skin. Additionally, I receive kind words, for the most part, whenever I mention the fact that I myself am Indigenous. Many people are interested in my culture and have questions, or praise the culture itself which truly is amazing.
However, despite many positive reactions from people, I have also faced plenty of negativity with respect to my culture. This, unfortunately, stems from Canadian society as a whole, due to a lack of education in the public school system and the government. As everyone who has taken a history course l knows, the curriculum does not cover much actual Indigenous history. As a result, there are many misconceptions about my culture, which have led to blatant racism and prejudice against Indigenous peoples. This lack of education is evident with the “missing and murdered Indigenous Women” throughout Canada, which resulted in the lack of media coverage, the lack of thoroughness of police investigations, and overall quality of life on Indigenous reserves. Another example of government undereducation is through the implementation of laws and regulations, which tend to have severe negative impacts on Indigenous communities. An example is the ban on hunting seals and the trading of their furs; many Northern Communities depend on the seal for food and selling the furs act as their main source of income. Laws like these make life significantly harder for Indigenous peoples, and make it much more difficult to practice traditions.
As a whole, Canadian society has caused me to greatly struggle with my heritage. Because Canada has a western-based culture, Indigenous related events and culture are, for lack of a better term, swept under the rug. The deep-rooted racism towards indigenous peoples and communities in Canada makes it exceptionally difficult to immerse yourself in the culture. Personally, I did not grow up surrounded by my heritage. Besides knowing that I was Indigenous, I knew only small, rather insignificant details about my culture. Information about Indigenous culture is not readily accessible, especially online, as it's mainly passed down verbally generation to generation.
It wasn't until I started Grade 9 and took an Indigenous Peoples in Canada course and finally self-identified, that I really learned about my culture and the current politics concerning indigenous communities. Before this, I greatly struggled with learning about my heritage as I did not know anyone else with the same background as myself. Because we represent such a small portion of Canada, it's a very different culture in comparison to the typical Western lifestyle. I honestly felt embarrassed and judged to truly embrace my own heritage, as the general public’s lack of knowledge on the subject often leads to judgement.
This judgment, along with the lack of education mentioned earlier, causes less action to be taken towards important Indigenous issues as people don't care, don't hear, and don't really know what is happening to the indigenous community in Canada. Throughout history, the Canadian government always tried to control and dehumanize Indigenous people; they essentially strip us of our culture, of our way of life. For the majority of history we were compared to animals,refered to as savages, and had more than one genocide committed against us, the largest Canadian one being the residential school system. The final residential school was closed in 1996; if you don't understand what that means, it simply means that there is a large portion of older indigenous peoples who endured and survived the residential school system. As a result the trauma that was inflicted upon those individuals was carried unto their children, and passed through their bloodlines. This trauma led us to believe that we were to be ashamed of who we are.
All in all, being indigenous in Canada comes with an equal amount of upsides as there are downsides. Unfortunately the downsides are rooted deep in Canadian culture, and realistically will not change at any point in time in the near future.
If you wish to learn more about Indigenous culture it would be a great idea to partake in an indigenous peoples in Canada course, or take matters into your own hands and try to find reliable sources on indigenous history. I hope you learned today what it is like to live in Canada with an Indigenous background as there is more than what meets the eye with this topic.