Student Voices: “Well, you’re not like them” | Work of Arts
Student Voices: “Well, you’re not like them” | Work of Arts

Student Voices: “Well, you’re not like them”

Stereotypes prevent progress, says Indigenous student blogger

In the midst of midterms, emotional breakdowns, and achievements that I should be proud of, there is a lot of confusion. As an Indigenous student, sometimes I wonder what it is I’m doing here. Deep down I know: I want to help people like me.

Between the stereotypes and misinterpretations of my culture, I get tired. I get so, so tired. Tired of having to educate people on why my people are the way they are. Tired of having to not be offended when people say, “Wow, you’re actually in school. Good for you, at least you’re not like…” then they stop there. To which I reply, “Not like what?” And of course I’ll hear people saying, “Oh you know, not like other native people.”

But actually, I am.

I am no different than the Indigenous man who sleeps in the alleys outside my apartment building, asking for change and a smoke every now and again. I’m no different from the young Indigenous girl stuck in a cycle of alcoholism and depression due to intergenerational trauma. I am the same. I am no better than them.

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Tarene Thomas (bottom right) with friends on campus

Just because I’m in this ivory tower doesn’t take away the fact that I too hold the same traumas and oppression they do. Just because I’m in this ivory tower doesn’t take away the fact that I, too, battle with the exact same things that drive them to do what they do. The only difference is, I got lucky. Somehow the stars conspired to bring me here, which ultimately leaves me wondering… Why?

Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing?

I guess right now my job is to try and make sense of what’s going on in the world of academia. What’s going on inside the walls of the ivory tower? A whole lot of western colonial ideas are thrown through the air and are bottled in students’ ideologies. In my opinion, that is complete nonsense.

I feel that my job as an Indigenous scholar is to paint this ivory tower RED. I want there to be a point where not just students and faculty members, but all Canadians don’t have to make nonsensical judgments based on stereotypes about my people.

I feel that my job as an Indigenous scholar is to paint this ivory tower RED.

You see a drunk Indigenous man passed on the street? You know why? An entire race of people don’t just walk away unscathed from attempted genocide. Yes. I said it. Attempted genocide. And if you don’t know the history of what happened in your own backyard, then what do you really know?

So before you tell me, “Good job, you’re not like the rest,” please understand there are unthinkable hardships Indigenous people face today because of colonialism, because of attempted genocide and attempted assimilation.

Before you tell me “You’re not like them,” do your research on intergenerational trauma and oppression.

If you call them down, you’re calling me down, too.

 

Indigenous scholarship will be further discussed at next week’s event, “Truth and Reconciliation, Good Relations, and Indigenizing the Academy”. Please consider joining us!

 

Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and viewpoints of current Arts students. Through their posts, you’ll experience the creativity and passion of our students as they present glimpses into student life. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.


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About Tarene Thomas

Tarene Thomas

I am Indigenous, Gitxan, Tahltan, Haisla and Cree. My mom calls me a Heinz 57. I'm a third year English major, minoring in religion. I grew up in Enoch Cree Nation, and moved to Edmonton when I was 16. I love poetry, learning and creating fantasy worlds. I also love working with Indigenous youth and creating spaces where people can heal and grow. I like to paint, read, sing, eat and of course, write. I’ve been a writer far longer than I have been anything. If I’m not panicking about school or my GPA I’m envisioning my next trip overseas. When I finish my BA I want to get my master's, then hopefully, one day, change the world.


  • Jini Patel Thompson

    Hi Tarene, I enjoyed your article and I hear what you’re saying. I went to school at Kitaskinaw on Enoch lands for 5 years. We were the first group of kids bused into the school way back in the late 70’s. I think what most people cannot comprehend is the multi-generational levels of trauma that genocide-survivor groups face.

    Us kids who lived off-reserve had plenty of dysfunction in our homes – alcoholic parent, getting beaten up, sexual abuse, etc But we usually did not have *every* adult in our life screwed up. If Dad was an alcoholic, then Mum was trying to keep the family on track. If both parents where whacko, then the grandparents were a steadying force.

    What I noticed through the stories told at school, is that when our classmates who lived on-reserve would tell stories about what was happening at home, the ENTIRE family – except for the young kids – were dysfunctional, addicts, violent, etc. And I wonder if this is part of the tipping point that makes it just SO darn hard to stand against the tsunami.

    I don’t know what it’s like now, but in my day, Enoch had a lot of oil money. And band members were receiving something like $1,000/month each (I could be wrong on that, but to a kid it felt like a crazy high amount). However, although the kids were dressed well, and everyone drove nice expensive vehicles, that’s where it seemed to stop and alcoholism took over. I remember visiting a kid’s house in the middle of winter – this middle-class home had been destroyed inside, walls punched in, drawn all over, carpet destroyed and the only heat source in the whole house was the one burner on the stove that had not burnt out yet. So even though the kids had food, access to education, clothes, etc. HOW do you rise up out of that and not be swamped by the despair and desperation all around you? HOW do you heal an entire culture? Nice homes, nice car, nice clothes, food – all the things that money can buy – cannot cancel out the deep roots of grief and hopelessness that – as you pointed out – get handed down generation after generation; in the genes, the cellular memory, and the collective consciousness of a tribe.

    I wish you well, beautiful woman, because if you can figure that out, you can indeed change the world!

  • Kevin Smyth

    Wonderful article, Tarene.

    The “I’m just like them” theme was an eye opener and forces me to re-evaluate. I’m not as narrow minded as the kind of people you described at the beginning, or perhaps I am and am deluding myself in believing I’m above that. Perhaps not realizing that one has a ‘them’ perspective is a big part of the problem. That’s what I have to think about.

    And I’m sure that getting people to think about it a good step toward changing the world.

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