I’m sitting in a lecture hall on the UBC campus and crying. I’m crying, because school can be so hard, friendships can be so hard and being a human can be so hard. Especially when your skin is brown. Especially when your sexuality is unknown. Especially when gender is confusing. Life can be so much harder than the white, middle class, cisgender perspectives that are only ever prioritized.
I was brought up in a middle-class, mixed race home. We had money. We owned a boat. That doesn’t equate to whiteness. I am still Gwich’in.
These classes are so theory-heavy that we sometimes forget that Indigenous people are alive. Indigenous people are at the grocery store with you, Indigenous people are sitting beside you at the library and sometimes we drink the same unethical coffee as you, because we like it. We’re here. We don’t all have the same stories. We don’t all have that laugh. We weren’t all in foster care.
This is about you. This is about me. This is about your expectation of me. If you don’t expect me to be a “real Indian” accompanied with poverty and a rez accent, then you expect me to be able to speak to my Indian experience. You expect me to tell you about all the foster parents that my mom had, all the Indian tacos, the powwows and the sexual harassment and hypersexualization. If you don’t expect that of me, you expect me to be able to sit through courses and listen to you talk about my people from your colonial deficit model.
Yesterday, I saw one of the most influential plays of my entire life. Kamloopa, written and directed by Kim Harvey, is an Indigenous feminist play focused around 2 sisters who are diasporic and trying to learn what their Indian is.
The reason this play was so influential is because it is, well, feminist. There are no characters who are men, no love stories, no gendered denouncing, simply a story that has Indigenous women as leads. Though it was not at all simple.
They were so unapologetic. They were sharing Native jokes, talking in accents, talking without accents. They were themselves. They were people. They were Native people.
Most people think I’m white. Most people think I’m straight. Most people think I’m cis. When they find out I’m a queer Indigefemme, everything changes. Suddenly, I’m expected to fill awkward silence in lecture, do the land acknowledgment and talk about my Indigenous experience. I understand why this is. I understand why this space is made. The problem is though —this space is not made, the space is expected.
I understand that you want to learn. Unfortunately, the time to learn is not in this lecture hall where you talk about my people as “uncivilized.” I will share when I want to and I won’t share when I don’t want to. Most people in lecture halls don’t understand that. I’m paying 550 dollars to be here and “learn” (whatever that means), I’m not paying to be the lecturer. I’m paying for someone to supposedly lecture away my ignorance. Whatever that means.
I don’t care if you’ve “never met an Indigenous person before,” I don’t care if I’m “not like the other ones,” I don’t care if I’m “smart and articulate,” I don’t care if you “don’t know where Treaty 11 is.” Do a google search. Read some Chelsea Vowel. Look at #nativetwitter. I’m not here to debunk your pseudo-Indian stereotypes. I’ll educate you when you pay me a salary.
Today, I’m emotionally drained and I’m sitting in a lecture hall with 70 other students learning about Indigenous food sovereignty when there are (estimated) 300 homeless people in my hometown, with a population of 3200. That’s 10%. 10% of the population is homeless. My mom texted me the other day that a thanksgiving Turkey is 100 dollars in Inuvik. The same turkey in Metro Vancouver is 25-35 dollars. That is 4x inflation.
My people are starving.
My people are dying.
This colonial abuse is happening right now while I’m sitting here in this lecture hall. Colonial institutions will never give a fuck about me.
So, no, today I will not answer your questions. Today, I will not let you make me cry. Today, I will not allow for your white fragility to guilt me or permeate my thoughts. Today, I will not consider you or allow for your settler futurity. Today, I will go home and tell my mom that I love her. Today, I will burn sweetgrass. Today, I will listen to Jeremy Dutcher and drink tea with my nehiyaw best friend.
Today, you are not deserving of my time.