When I was little, I wanted to be a firetruck, not a firefighter, but a fire truck. Maybe it’s because I was built like a truck, perpetually a rosey red, and enjoyed playing with campfires… but when I was a toddler being a fire truck was my future goal. As I grew older, my hopes and dreams left the world of the surreal and entered the world of practicality; I wanted to be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a lawyer, or a journalist. Instinctively, I had always known that I was going to university.
Being an Indigenous student within the academy, you are held to a different standard within your peers and your family. When you’re an Indigenous student, there’s no such thing as failure, because you’re not just failing from school you’re failing everyone that has worked hard to support you where you are. There’s this added pressure that you’re not only representing yourself, but your people and future Indigenous students that are entering the academy. At any given moment, you have this immense pressure of colonial expectations, that maybe just maybe, you’ll be one of those good “Aboriginals” that they like to interview for the CBC and hold up as some prime example of Indigenous success. I’m not saying that you are actively working towards that goal, that you’re actively looking for that golden student status, but it is an overwhelming pressure that just exists; it follows you to every classroom, dictates every paper, and whispers in your ear every time you check your grades. It’s inherently problematic and racist, but yet this image and prestige exists instilled in the back of your mind and looming over every midterm.
But, we make it through. We persevere, we make community, we graduate and then university is over and you’re dropped into the “real world” in your mid twenties and you’re not quite sure what the hell you’re supposed to do with this next chapter of your life. It’s your typical quarter life crisis, but only more bureaucratic and everyone is really interested in if you didn’t have to pay for your degree because you’re Native.
I had high hopes for when I left university, I had all these ideas that I was going to fall into some amazing career and become this powerhouse of an entrepreneur. What actually happened when I graduated was much more underwhelming. I was on the job hunt for half a year, turned down from most because I didn’t have enough real world experience, and am now working as a barista to pay my rent in this expensive city. I spent the larger part of my summer after graduation feeling like a failure. Like somehow, I had let not only myself down, but my family, and my ancestors. That sort of pressure lead to one of the most intense depressive episodes I’ve experienced thus far in my life. I felt like I had wasted not only my time, but my family and Nation’s money.
I would like to say that there was a momentous epiphany I experienced one day when I was walking down the street, that the stars aligned and I felt like I was alright, but that never happened. Everything that has happened, everything I have been feeling, has been a learning process since I graduated. I have learned, from the insurmountable love of my friends and community, that failure does not exist. That we, as Indigenous students and graduates, are still only human. I have taken this year of my life to experience more, meet new people, and learn new things that I never had the room to learn while I was in class. I am learning, bit by bit, that we are all on our own journey and the fact that we are living and breathing and loving, means we are not failing.
We, as Indigenous youth, carry our traumas on our shoulders, unreachable expectations around every corner, and continued colonization in our lives. We live with stories that are sometimes heavy to carry, yet, we survive.
We need to excel, we need to be successful but we need to also define what that success means to us. Sometimes we need to reach outside of the borders of expectations and fail. We need to make a mess, we need to make mistakes, and we need to screw up, then at the end of the day, we need to dust ourselves off and start again.
If we do not meet the expectations that others have set out for us, we are not failures. We are humans, we are on a journey, and we will get exactly where we need to be. Our ancestors are here for us, the land is here for us, and our people are here for us.
Our messes are beautiful and we are important.