Who are you? What does it mean to have an identity? The dictionary defines it as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is (Merriam Webster). So, is it easy enough to say, I’m Métis, or I’m Ojibwe, or I’m Cree, and know who you are? What is it that allows you to feel like you have an identity; to feel confident in knowing who you are? I think culture plays an essential role in shaping one’s identity.
I identify as a Cree Métis. I grew up in a family that didn’t embrace any of our ethnic backgrounds. My mother is Ukrainian and my father is Métis, but as a child, I never knew what any of that really meant. I knew that perogies were Ukrainian food, two New Year’s dinners would be eaten, and that my mama and papa loved listening to fiddle music, but what did all of this even mean? I had no idea what it meant to be an Indigenous person. No one had ever sat down and told me or taught me anything that would help me in understanding who I was at my core. Don’t get me wrong, I was blessed with a wonderful mother and father who taught me many valuable skills; I can only say kinaskomitin to them, for I wouldn’t have become the responsible, organized, and articulate person that I am today. But now I realize it wasn’t enough. I desperately craved a more complete me. I needed to feel like I belonged. I needed to know who this person was at her core. As I grew older, like many youth I struggled with figuring out who I was. I was never comfortable in my own skin, and I took those feelings out on myself in negative ways.
University was the first signpost on my path to self-discovery, a pathway which has allowed me to learn about what it means to be Indigenous. It is a pathway I am still on today, continually learning about who I am. From then on, I did my best to surround myself with as many positive Indigenous people as I could. I continually try to learn about what it means to be Indigenous, whether from articles and books I read, to the ceremonies I attend, or the people I have so many wonderful conversations with. I can say without hesitation that culture impacts the formation of an identity.
As Indigenous peoples, we need to learn about our traditions, ceremonies, values, language, and everything that makes us the resilient, beautiful, and vivacious people that I have come to know and love. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. I look around my community that I was fortunate enough to teach in for two years. It is a community where I met so many courageous and brave people, yet I could not help but see and feel their pain and struggles on a daily basis.
What I have learned, from both my university studies and the people I have had the opportunity to talk with, is that colonization has tried to strip away all of our culture. Unfortunately for the colonizers, we are a strong nation of peoples. We are living in a time when we can be proud of who we are and embrace the beauty of what it means to be Indigenous. We have so many caring and generous people in our midst that have continually worked to help our people learn about themselves and their culture, and in turn helped to shape their identity.
I must reiterate the importance of culture in shaping one’s identity. I am still on a journey of learning and understanding who I am as a Cree Métis. All I can say is: act on that yearning curiosity and don’t be afraid to learn – don’t be afraid to reach out. Who knows? You just may find that your happiness is in just being YOU.