Belonging and Indigenous Identities: “There are sometimes I wish I could pretend NOT to be Indigenous.”

So I have to write this post before I can begin anything else today. I sometimes get into these little slumps where I sometimes what the hell I am doing in university, especially more so after I wrote this previous post entitled “Indigenous students + Academia/educational institution(s).” 

I really don’t feel like I belong in the educational institution, or academia. It feels like a huge struggle sometimes just to be in class.

The only Indigenous woman in my lectures for the majority of the time–or at least the only visible Indigenous woman and one that is open about my Indigenous identity. Yes, some students are Indigenous and don’t look “it” and some don’t admit to being one–the politics of being Indigenous and the politics of being a woman. We don’t all look the same. Nor do we act or talk the same. Heck, if I didn’t look Indigenous and with the way some people talk about Indigenous peoples/communities/nations around campus (and how professors always call on me to be the expert on Indigenous issues), there are sometimes I wish I could pretend NOT to be Indigenous.

“Well you don’t sound like you come from a reserve? Where is your accent?” I guess it only comes out when I go home, the only place where I feel I truly belong.

Every day is a negotiation within my own self: who shall I be today? Indigenous or woman? Can I ever be both at one time?

I am expected to be the only expert on Indigenous issues in discussions where I am the only Indigenous person present. I am put into a box where I am expected to speak out on certain issues: Indigenous issues. Where one Indigenous professor said it best, “Indigenous students have a dual role in the classroom: they are both teachers and students.”

“Perhaps you can share your opinion on why they call the Indian Act, the Indian Act, Naomi” – I don’t know. I think they thought we were from India. Not the answer my professor was looking for.

“Well is it offensive to call someone an Indian?” – Yes if you use it an offensive manner. But it doesn’t really matter to me as long as you don’t call me a “stupid Indian,” we will be okay. Again, not the answer my professor was looking for.

I am writing this post as a way to clear my mind. I am struggling with this concept of belonging. I know who I am but where do I belong? Do I belong in education or academia?

Every day it is a constant negotiation of what hat I am going to wear that day. Indigenous. Woman. Student. Teacher.

Then one day, in a discussion during class, the question of belonging came up.

“Do you feel like you belong here at Western?”

As everyone’s answered, yes to some degree or another, I sat there struggling to get even get the words out of my head.

No. No I don’t feel like I belong. The only space I belong is the space that is set out for me, that little box where I must be the student, the teacher, the good little Indian, the one that doesn’t speak back, the one that gives the expected answer, or the one that doesn’t disrupt the lecture/discussion to say “Hey, wait a minute!” And if I do, it causes me such stress because I know that I am the only one that is speaking on the issue. Will I have someone to support me? Or will everyone disagree and I am put back into that box where I belong? Just be a good little Indian. Don’t speak. Don’t shout. Don’t disagree. A good little Indian.

The only place I belong is the space that is made out for us–Indigenous Services. When the only time someone from University Students’ Council comes to visit us is when they need our vote. Sounds familiar? Sure does. The only time any other politician comes to visit the reserve/First Nation/community is when they need our vote. Am I critiquing Indigenous Services? No way. If it wasn’t for this space, I probably would have dropped out already. I wouldn’t have made it this far.

So where do I belong? Not in these institutions it certainly feels like…

Note: Don’t forget to check out the hashtag #nativestudentproblems on twitter. These are real experiences of Indigenous peoples within these institutions. 

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3 comments

  1. I ressonate with much of what you are saying. My first year in undergraduate there was a NAISO – North American Indigenous Student Organization, which I was a part of. I transferred schools in my second year and eventhough this university is one of the most diverse universities in the US… there was not one single Native student organization. While in graduate school I was literally the only Native student on campus because it was a small private liberal arts college.

    I wrote a creative essay on this subject actually, feel free to share it. Title – I am the Only American Indian — http://www.anishinaabekwe.com/2012/02/i-am-only-american-indian.html#.UvfMTPuGck4

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