Student Voices: Where Do I Belong? | Work of Arts
Student Voices: Where Do I Belong? | Work of Arts

Student Voices: Where Do I Belong?

For Indigenous students, identity is not a simple thing

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and belonging lately, and what that looks like within the university. Identity and belonging are complex, and they are not mutually exclusive. For example, I am a Métis woman with a First Nations/Métis mother and a Swedish-Canadian father, but I am also a parent, a wife, a student, a sister, an auntie, a mentor (and the list goes on), trying to navigate my life from within all of the facets of my identity and trying to find where I belong within the university community.

Faculty of Arts student blogger talks about Indigenous identity

Syllabics chart with the word “ahkameyimoh,” which means to persevere in nehiyawewin (Cree). From “Treaty Poetics” class with Christine Stewart and Reuben Quinn. 

Oftentimes I find myself feeling like I am failing — even when I am not — and that nowhere feels like a place where I can truly belong.

For Indigenous students, our identities can become increasingly complex as we navigate Nations, communities, last names and gender biases alongside being a student. With the recent discussion around the passing of Bill S-3 — a bill that professes to put an end to the gendered discrimination of the Indian Act — our identities can become even more complex. Does it mean that you are no longer Métis if this new bill sees you as a Status Indian? What if you don’t want to be defined by the Indian Act? What if you do? Who gets to decide who you are?

Oftentimes nowhere feels like a place where I can truly belong.

I have found that my sense of identity has become stronger the more I have been connected to ceremony, have spent time talking with Elders and Knowledge Keepers, have learned how to make ribbon skirts and how to bead, and have been given the opportunity to take courses such as “Treaty Poetics” with Christine Stewart and Reuben Quinn (seriously, this was one of the best courses I have ever taken). Talking to my family about our histories and spending time with them has also helped. But, even with a strong sense of identity, it can be difficult to find a place where you belong.

Being the only Indigenous student in a class can be an overwhelming experience. On one hand, you want to — or you do — speak up about Indigenous topics, but on the other hand you hate feeling like you have to, or that you don’t want to come across as the “angry Native” in the classroom. When there is a question around Indigeneity, you can feel the eyes on you, and can sense the awkward tension in the room when someone uses the word “Indian” and glances over to see if you are offended.

It can be like trying to walk on a cracked sidewalk without stepping on any cracks: near impossible at times.

You find yourself naturally questioning things and how they affect Indigenous communities, and — perhaps you imagine it, perhaps not — can see the deep inhale and slow exhale when you bring up colonialism and systemic racism. With all of that going on, no wonder so many students find themselves feeling lonely, defeated and like we don’t belong. Being a student is tough. Add in Indigenous identity, and it becomes even more difficult. It can be like trying to walk on a cracked sidewalk without stepping on any cracks: near impossible at times.

The reality of it all is that you do belong. I encourage each of you to take part in community activities that are taking place on campus, to spend some time in the Arts Aboriginal Gathering Space in the Humanities building, and to make connections with other Indigenous students.

It can seem overwhelming to put yourself out there, but believe me, you belong here. We need to come together and support one another and become those safe places, those welcoming and belonging spaces for our Indigenous peers. We matter.

Ahkameyimoh: persevere, keep trying. We can do this.



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 Brittany Johnson

Brittany Johnson

Brittany Johnson is a Métis PhD Student in English and Film Studies. When she isn't busy with grad student life, she is a singer/songwriter, burlesque dancer, creative writer, wifey and mom to two kiddos. As a trained Indigenous full spectrum doula, she aims to encourage traditional teachings about bodies and sexualities and to support folks however necessary. Her song "Making Bacon Naked" can be heard on CFWE, and she is always down for jamming and creating some sweet, sweet music. She is currently writing a novel, and hopes to have it published relatively soon. Social media: @brittcath