Student Voices: Who am I? | Work of Arts
Student Voices: Who am I? | Work of Arts

Student Voices: Who am I?

Shayne Golosky-Johnston, a 3rd year English student, discusses his development and concept of identity as an Aboriginal person in academia.

Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and point of views of current arts students around campus. Get to know our creative and passionate students through their “voices” and get a snapshot of life as an arts undergrad. The views and opinions expressed within these student voices posts are solely those of the author.

Who am I?

This question is often asked by high school students as they leave the world of bad cafeteria lunches and frivolous arguments and enter the “real” world of academia in order to “make something of themselves.” It is a loaded question that is likely and most often, asked between the hours of 12 and 6 am in front of laptop screens or windows.

The first time I asked this question was long before I even dreamed of coming to University. I was eight years old and sitting on my Nokum’s living room floor. That was where I watched my first “western”: a magnificent, but deeply problematic piece called Dances with Wolves starring Kevin Costner. At the time I didn’t understand what I was seeing, but what I do remember is watching Graham Greene and his funny mullet and thinking to myself, “Is that what an Aboriginal person looks like?”

From that point onwards, I modeled my identity from viewpoints gifted to me by others: my mother, the media, my peers and society in general. Three years ago, I came to this university with this collection of identities, hoping to sort through some of them and find where I belong as an Aboriginal person in academia. So far I can say that I still have no idea where I belong or who I am, but I better understand my path.

So a better question for me to answer is: Who am I now?

Three years ago, I came to this university with this collection of identities, hoping to sort through some of them and find where I belong as an Aboriginal person in academia.

According to a novel by Bonita Lawrence, native identity is inevitably highly political, and that it can never be neutral. While I can see where she is coming from, I don’t entirely agree with her. Why does it have to be political? Colonialism doesn’t have to overshadow our identity. We can be who we are without drawing lines or folding and packing people into boxes that don’t fit—those are for inanimate objects.

This past weekend, I had the privilege to share some experiences with some truly brilliant and amazing youth from the Wichitowin Youth Circle. We came from all different walks of life to celebrate our culture together for one weekend at Camp Warwa, forty minutes west of Edmonton. I am not at liberty to go into all the details about the camp because of traditional protocols and the sacredness of some of the content in the teachings, but what I can share with you is the sense of collective identity we shared during those two days. It was not strained by politics or definite boundaries between nations, it just…was.

Footnotes:
For more information about the Wichitowin and their youth circle, check out this website: http://wicihitowin.ca/youth-circle.

The novel I referenced by Bonita Lawrence is called REAL Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood.

“Nokum” is a Cree word for grandmother.


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About Shayne Golosky-Johnston

Shayne Golosky-Johnston

Shayne is a 3rd year English and History student in the Faculty of Arts. Originally from Fort McMurray, he is an executive member of the Arts Aboriginal Council and identifies as Two-Spirited.