Just because I am First Nations…

I am writing this post because of a few things I have experienced in my life… mainly to do with school and work.

I have had my fair share of interviews, since having my first job when I was 15 years old. Some of the jobs I didn’t even have to have an interview. Some of them, I just had to introduce myself, answer a few questions and then I was hired. If I can remember one interview, I wasn’t asked any particular question about my background or my ethnic origins. However on my first day of employment, I was called into the boss’s office and told to sit down. My heart was beating. I had no idea what I did. My boss proceeded to tell me how lucky she was to have me…I remember her specifically saying:

We are so lucky to have you on our team. As soon as we found out you were Aboriginal, we just had to hire you

Being the shy, quiet girl I used to be, I didn’t really say anything except giggle a little and say thanks. I wish I knew better. I should have spoken up. This was a government job and someone was saying that they hired me because I was Aboriginal (is how I took it after wards and how I still interpret it) is just…wrong. Some people say, that I should be happy and should just let it slide. Honestly, who says that in any type of professional position? That is all I want answered.

That was when I was 17 years old.

Today, I am attending The University of Western Ontario. A big university. A diverse university. I am constantly reminded that other people look at me as a “First Nations student” whenever they ask me what I am studying, and before I can even answer they butt in…

Are you studying First Nations?

Ummm no, and just because I am First Nations does not mean I am studying First Nations [in fact, I don’t think I should have to study First Nations in order to get a minor in it on my degree–I think growing up on a First Nation, up north, just outside a predominantly white small-sized city is good enough to know what the issues First Nations people face… Okay maybe that last statement is a bit ignorant..the issues that First Nations people face are complex and vary across the board–I think a First Nations introduction course should be required to attend this university and I only say this because we are surrounded by three First Nations that I know of… and with many more close by (give or take a few hours).] In fact that should be required for any university or college in Canada.

Another experience here on campus, I just recently had an interview for a position. I didn’t get the position (and I am not upset…I am most certain they have picked the most appropriate person for the position). However, yet again, I felt like as if here I was again in another sticky situation where someone suggested something to me… This person suggested that I apply for the First Nations position because they said:

I know you are very passionate in this area and I think it would be a great fit for you

After reading that, yes I was upset, and I am sure this person meant no harm in suggesting it (and perhaps maybe I might apply for this position.. maybe I might not.) However, I wanted to send an email back, but I didn’t as I knew what I wanted to say wouldn’t come out right. I took a few deep breathes. Closed the email and didn’t return to it until later (**Ahem** Later would be today).

I know someone might think that I am being a little to overly sensitive with these experiences but really, I feel like as if I was generalized, and that by through each of these experiences I feel like that there is this “Invisible glass ceiling” that I must break through if I want to get anywhere that goes beyond people looking at me as the “First Nation” employee or “First Nation” student.

I am proud of who I am and I know why those positions or opportunities are created (Classic case of Corporate Social Responsibility or giving proper representation to a certain marginalized group) But what if a First Nation’s person, whether employee or student, wants to go for something that is beyond the “First Nations” position or “First Nations” area of study or “First Nations” label… will that “Invisible Glass Ceiling” always exist?

Just because I am First Nations does not mean I want your First Nations position.

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