Garbage Baggage

I wasn’t going to major in Native Studies.

I just wasn’t going to.

When I came to university, I had decided that I was going to earn a “legitimate” major: economics, political science, anything but Native Studies.  I wasn’t going to major in Native Studies because I didn’t want to be that Native kid.

I came to university with four garbage bags of luggage: two were my clothes and bedding and the two others were my internalized racism and shame.

I struggled so much in my first semester of university.  I felt disconnected from my classmates who seemed to know way more than I did in these topics.  I felt disconnected from home and I desperately clung to any I could that made me feel less away and more at home where I was.  I failed two courses my first semester: French and Economics.  I struggled to grasp and understand the topics at hand, I felt nothing towards them.  I hated university, I regretted coming my second week into school.  I drank with my friends, I gossiped with my roommate, and I didn’t do my homework.  I spent nights crying, thinking that I didn’t belong here.  I was a fake, an imposter, and that my failing was just proof that I needed to go home and stay home.  I needed to just give up and realize this place wasn’t for me.

I left my first semester of university with 46% and a hope and prayer I didn’t fail out.  It was that Christmas break at home I spent crying because I thought I had let my family down that I realized that  to make it in this system, that I had to fight to be here.  So I pretended to know what the hell I was talking about.  From Kant to Macroeconomics, I pretended that I could keep up with kids who seemed to be so far ahead of me and my Northern education.  These kids from the city knew so much.  I had no Native friends, no community, no connection, no feeling of belonging.  I made friends, and to this day, my friends I made in my first year are still near and dear to my heart, but something was missing.

In my second year I took the plunge and enrolled in First Nations Studies 100 and my entire academic and personal life changed: my world was turned upside down.  I sat in lectures with students who looked like they came from where I’m from, students who were just as mixed-up in this institution like I was.  I re-learned my history, I learned things about myself and my people that I never knew.  I finally felt connected to something at this school, I felt belonging.  I felt really fucking angry. I was angry because I was feeling feelings that thus far, the education system said I shouldn’t.  I was angry because I realized that everything I have learned about my country was a lie.  I was angry because I had realized just how much I was ashamed of who I am as a Metis woman and student.

Through my degree I have learned how to be angry.  I learned to be angry at the systems that made me feel so ashamed of myself, I learned how to identify them and resist them.  I learned acceptance and the responsibility I have to this land.  But, yet, I think most importantly, I’ve learned how to love: myself, my family, and my community (in all its forms) just as they are.  I have learned that colonial trauma presents itself in our lives in so many different ways, that we have to learn to love ourselves and others as they heal.  We have to have patience and understanding for one another because we are all on a rough and complicated journey to a destination that is still undefined.

Now that I’m graduating (god willing), I look back to my first year at UBC and I realize how scared I was to be here, how disconnected, and how tough I pretended to be.  I’m not saying that every Indigenous student needs to major in Native Studies, I’m saying that there’s an obvious flaw in the education system that I didn’t learn these integral things until I was 19.

Now that it’s over, I realize that even though I have no idea what to do with my life, I have fundamentally changed as a person.  My degree has given me so much and now I want to begin giving back.

It is coming to a point in my life, in all our lives as graduating students, that we have to learn to begin a new journey.  I am thankful everyday that the knowledge I have now has taught me how to fight, love, and resist through my next adventure.

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