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

Tarene is a Gitxan, Tahltan, Haisla, and Nehiyaw fourth year English major focused on Indigenous Literature. She is a poet, writer, shameless scribbler, facilitator and actor. Tarene works as an instructional assistant for the transition year program at the U of A, and also as an Indigenous peer mentor for the Faculty of Arts. Tarene is interested in dismantling the system, and writing as revolution.


  • 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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  • Josefine Singh

    I am a German Immigrant to Alberta, 1972, I had to hide my identity for many years, as everybody was educated in” knowing what the Germans are”. Now , since the wave of international climatechange awareness, Germany all of a sudden got a good mark for stepping up on that and since the wave of refugees from the Middle-East-war-zone into Germany, suddenly Germans were believed to have souls. I always had to tell prejudiced people that I was born after the war (World War II)—
    That was an introduction for myself, in 1972 I went visiting HayRiver and went ice fishing. I chatted with the aboriginals there, that showed me how icefishing was done and then I was invited to show their home. It was a one room shack, I could not answer to that, as I was brand-new to this country and did not know what to say. But this has stayed in my mind for ever. I also have worked in St. Paul and was out at the Saddlelake reserve, the people all were very friendly and I did round dance with them. I was again sorry for “them” as “their” houses were small and well lived in.
    I remember one RCMP that told me at the emergency ward in St. Theresa Hospital, St. Paul,where I was working, if I was surprised about the Indians that came in with frozen limbs, as they had fallen asleep in the snow, as they were drunk. He said to me: “Welcome to the wild west” . I replied, back home in Bavaria you’ll see the same type of drunks ,passed out because of too much beer or alcohol. I felt that this RCMP officer was prejudiced and not even sympathetic to the phycical harm that was done to the patient, although the RCMP were very helpful in finding people in distress and bringing them in to the Emergency ward.
    I have been living in Edmonton for a long time now, and for me, everybody is a human being, no matter what, I never pass a person without saying hi, I have been to the Truth and reconciliation event at the Convention Centre. I think the world can be a very cruel place, but life can also be very beautiful. Never give up!
    I thank Tarene Thomas for speaking up in a very considerate and truthful manner. Let us all live together in harmony, we “Newcomers” will try understand and try to make Canada a peaceful place, but yes, I am happy that finally our indigenous brothers and sisters have found their voice and inner strength to combat the isolation that was put on them– by the intruders, that were welcome as a guests back in the 1500’s, once they had found their power and might with their superior weapons and their holy book!!

  • august Guillaume

    You are already changing the world.