Through the years I’ve developed a thick skin; I have gotten used to snide remarks by teachers about my “special Aboriginal status”, and rude remarks from my peers about my free school and “special yearly Native cheques” the government apparently gives me because I’m Native.
The government is about 22 years behind in payments.
There are few things I hear that surprise me or ever really hurt me, like they used to. I’ve spent too many of my few years on this earth angry, hurt, and sad because of the words of racists… but every now and then, there will be something that is like a slap in the face: something will happen that usurps my outward shell. Today was one of those days.
It was not so much bigoted words uttered, but instead a simple knee jerk reaction from a classmate. I was giving a presentation in a class and had brought up Indigenous protest to the topic at hand… and there it was: this kid rolled his eyes. It wasn’t a subtle, maybe-there’s-an-eyelash-in-there roll, it was a straight up dramatic, get-this-kid-an-Oscar-because his acting is on point, eye roll.
My first reaction to my peers eye roll was to launch across the table and show him just what 500 years of colonization feels like … but instead I just let it go in that moment and left the class personally flustered, frustrated, and kind of empty: this is the reality of being an Indigenous student in academia. I am privileged in many spaces because of how pale my father’s genetics made me, but it doesn’t negate the experiences I have had and the experiences my fellow Indigenous peers have in the classroom everyday.
For the most part, due to my degree in First Nations Studies, most of my classes are safe spaces: they are spaces where we as Aboriginal students can freely learn and be without the pressures of bigoted peers or hostile professors. But when we leave these spaces and enter our elective courses, minor requirements, or if we are not graced with being in Native Studies, we enter classrooms that sometimes feel like battlefields. I know when I enter a classroom that doesn’t hold my usual cohort of FNSP peers or members of the UBC Aboriginal community as a whole, the space is unsafe. I know, that at any point, something can be said or done that will make my heart hurt. I have left classes feeling sick to my stomach because of the things that have left my peer’s or my professor’s mouths.
This isn’t a experience that is dedicated strictly to university, these feelings have existed since elementary school. I have a plethora, as I am sure many of my Indigenous peers do as well, of anecdotes of racism from kindergarten to bachelors degree and beyond. This is not about pointing fingers at specific individuals or UBC, but there’s some cliché about snowflakes and avalanches that cements this feeling. When you are Aboriginal and you enter a classroom, and the topic of Indigenous peoples arises, there’s a surge of adrenaline because you’re bracing yourself for the worst: you’re bracing yourself to hear the same colonial stories that have been playing out since Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Frankly, I’m sick of being poised and patient: I want action by my professors and non-Native peers to call out our fellow comrades in the classroom when oppressive situations begin to arise, because I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of leaving the classroom feeling like the only voice shouting, I’m exhausted from coming home feeling anger in the pit of my stomach, and I’m exhausted from having to shoulder the responsibility to try and teach every person who doesn’t take the time to educate themselves.