Student Voices: So, What? | Work of Arts
Student Voices: So, What? | Work of Arts

Student Voices: So, What?

Intergenerational trauma has shaped the lives of Indigenous people, says Indigenous student blogger

What drives us to make the decisions to do what we do?

I find so many people constantly asking this question. As another school year comes to a bittersweet end, so many of us are evaluating our GPAs, looking at our course requirements, and assessing the next steps and the risk factors attached to those steps.

When I get lost in the chaos of the ivory tower, I bring myself back to the sobering present, which leads me to: “so, what?” moments. Not so much questioning myself, more questioning the system I’m participating in, in order to think critically and thoughtfully about the things I’m pursuing with my “academic career.”

These sobering moments bring me back to the beginning. The moments that we discover what it is we want to do with our lives. We’ve all had these moments; if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be in this damn ivory tower. That “so, what?” moment for me is very simple, and it keeps me on track every time this world tries to derail me.

I was a little girl when I saw what unjust ideologies and years of systematic oppression did to my family, my people and me.

The beginning, for me, was when I realized that there was something very wrong with the treatment of Indigenous people and communities here in Canada, firstly by realizing there was something very wrong with me. I was a little girl when I saw what unjust ideologies and years of systematic oppression did to my family, my people and me.

I wasn’t normal. The white kids didn’t want to be friends with me in elementary; hell, not even the immigrants did. The only kids I was friends with in elementary were the poor kids whose parents were collecting social assistance. Why? Because they were the only other kids who could come close to knowing what it was like to struggle. I wasn’t given the opportunity to be a little girl, I had to be a grown up because of the way my family was affected by intergenerational trauma.

Non-Indigenous people constantly ask the question, “Why is this stuff so important to you?” When the rest of grade three was playing and dreaming, I was at home crying, wondering what I did to deserve such horrible burdens to carry. I wasn’t given the privilege to have a normal childhood.

“This stuff” has been the focus of my life for far longer than any of you could possibly understand. Yeah, sure, the university breaks it down into academics, but just because the word “Intergenerational trauma” means nothing to you, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a death sentence to nine-year-old Tarene, and all Indigenous people in Canada.

The next time you brush off the trauma we inherited, or delegitimize our truth, take a look at the suicide rate of Indigenous people in Canada. Tell me again how non-existent this trauma is.

Maybe think about that the next time you ask an Indigenous scholar why they chose to pursue Indigenous studies. These aren’t just courses for us – this is our life. This is our revolution. This is us taking back our childhoods.  

The next time you brush off the trauma we inherited, or delegitimize our truth, take a look at the suicide rate of Indigenous people in Canada.

So, that “so, what?” moment for me isn’t anything beautiful or inspiring. My “so, what?”  moment is coming from absolutely nothing and being an unwanted “Canadian” shadow. My “so, what?” moment is that wild voice inside my head telling me to bring these shadows into the sun. I find peace in knowing that this isn’t all for nothing. I’m just a small part in something far greater than me, far greater than this ivory tower.

Get ready, because “this stuff” that all of us Indigenous activists and scholars keep shoving down your throats is going to shape the face of our world, whether you like it or not. So stop asking about our “so, what?” moments, and ask yourself: what’s yours?

 

Banner image: Maria Campbell speaks at a recent university event featuring acclaimed Indigenous writers

 

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.