As a young Indigenous woman, I feel a constant target on my back. I feel constantly judged and observed for every choice and action I make. I need to be aware of my surroundings constantly, I need to be on guard in any store, business, or institution, and I need to work twice as hard as a non-Indigenous person in order to not be viewed as a stereotype. The choices that are not a big deal to some, cause me and many others stress, shame, and guilt. If I choose to attend post-secondary school, am I doing enough for my family? Am I “too” colonized if I exist and succumb to the modern needs and wants of this modern society? How do I find the balance between living proudly with my cultural values and being successful in a colonial world? Can that balance be achieved?
In my culture, I have been taught that everything between the earth and the sky has a spirit. I have grown up participating in ceremonies, praying, learning about myself, my family, and my culture. While knowing that my culture is important, I was also taught how important it is to be successful in a colonial world. I grew up seeing my mother, uncles and aunties, my grandparents working and pursuing their education, while still living a sacred life. It seems easy enough, kind of like balancing two hobbies - manage your time and energy, and be conscious of the decisions you make. I thought it would be simple to follow in my family’s footsteps.
I grew up seeing the obvious positives and the obvious struggles of working and pursuing education; having money, the sense of pride and accomplishment. However I wasn’t aware of the guilt and imposter syndrome that I would face as well. When I graduated high school and started university, I was praised by teachers, parents, family members, and mentors. I was proud of myself and excited to have the opportunity to make a good life for myself and set a good example for my younger siblings. Shortly after the semester began, I found myself feeling guilty and angry with myself for being in university while my relatives were “stuck” on the reserve. I felt like I didn’t belong or deserve to be in university, like I hadn’t earned my place.
Being in university surrounded by other Indigenous people who understand me has helped me understand that I shouldn’t blame myself or those I compare myself to; it is the effects from years of genocide, colonization, trauma, and violence that is deep rooted into every single Indigenous person. I am angry at Canada, I am angry at politicians, I am angry that no matter where I go I am surrounded by colonial standards of living. Most of all, I am angry that I feel guilty for thriving in institutions that were not built for me. I feel guilty that my family has been given the opportunity to be educated, successful, and culturally involved.
Feeling guilty for not perfecting the balance between modern and traditional lifestyles affects me every day. I live my life for others because I want to make my family proud. I want to be a positive role model for my younger siblings. I want to show my people that it is possible to balance all aspects of life in a healthy way, while challenging colonial systems and fighting for the rights of my people so that no one else has to feel guilty for trying to survive in a world not meant for us. I was raised to be a strong Indigenous woman, so that is what I shall be.
About the Author
Mercedes Redman is a proud Indigenous woman from Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation. She is currently interning at E-HIS and attending post-secondary full time. She is pursuing a diploma in Indigenous Communications Arts at the First Nations University of Canada. Mercedes is interested in pursuing a career in journalism and communications and this internship will give her experience and knowledge in the field.