Indigenous Arts & Stories - Finding Myself

Finding Myself

2011 - Writing Winner

This outburst of hate had come from nowhere. It had nothing to do with our discussion, it was racist. I thought to myself,” What do I do?” I didn’t understand how he could discriminate against my people. I wanted to say something, but where would I find that kind of courage?

Read Emily Martell's Finding Myself

Emily Martell

Saskatoon, SK
Waterhen Lake First Nation
Age 14

Author's Statement

I chose to write about this topic because I feel that the Aboriginal culture is inspiring and can help young people strengthen their identity. Finding Myself is based on a true life event that I endured. Racism hurts and sometimes you need to search deep inside yourself to overcome the pain. I felt compelled to express my thoughts and opinions about the incident because the words of my teacher changed me. They showed me that there is still racism going on throughout our society. We can change this reality simply by showing our pride and standing up for ourselves.

I also think it is important to acknowledge the importance of an apology. I incorporated elements of residential schools because those who attended these schools also struggled with their identity after being forced to be who they were not. My Mushum has been a big inspiration for my story because after attending residential schools himself, he’s had a hard time coping but he finds strength in his culture. Now, our culture is slowly fading due to the effects residential schools have had on many former students. Once the Government of Canada apologized to those affected by residential schools, many of them felt like they finally had some sort of closure. Finding Myself recognizes the value of an apology and how it is a step towards forgiveness.


Finding Myself

Walking home in the dust of a dirty Saskatoon spring, I’m more aggravated than usual for a fourteen year old girl. The walk doesn’t usually bother me but today it is really getting to me. The weather is nice, my friends and I are doing great, the cutest guy in my class even waved at me today. This anger is coming from somewhere else. I’m feeling so mad, any moment I could snap, except I’m not sure who I’d snap at. Nor, am I sure of what is making me mad and what I should do about it.

My name is Vivian. I am typically a confident person but I always carry a bit of uncertainty with me that might be surfacing today. I can’t seem to name exactly where that uncertainty comes from but I know that today’s events triggered it. When I feel confused, I reach deep down inside and get strength from another place, another being. When I go there, I’m never sure whether I find my strength or borrow it from someone else.

Thinking back, I realize that it was the comments made by one of my teachers today that set me off. We were sitting in class discussing stereotypes amongst our society. All of the sudden, our teacher brought in another topic. He began putting down Aboriginal people, saying things like, “Aboriginals don’t even need to be smart, they’ll still make it into University.” My teacher began putting down equity programs across our province. The class seemed to be agreeing with what he was saying. I was completely mortified! I honestly just wanted to shrink up inside my binder. “They get everything so easy,” announced my teacher. At this point I was so frustrated I could’ve screamed.

This outburst of hate had come from nowhere. It had nothing to do with our discussion, it was racist. I thought to myself,” What do I do?” I didn’t understand how he could discriminate against my people. I wanted to say something, but where would I find that kind of courage? Racial comments hurt, and I am confused. The rest of the class didn’t seem bothered by this at all. I may be one of the only First Nations kid in my entire class, but this does not give my teacher the right to say these things. I probably should say something, but definitely don’t have the courage. My mind races uncontrollably with what I could have done. Should I have spoken up? The teacher’s comments were critical and untrue statements, and they bothered me.

Sometimes when things are rough like this, I go to a place where I am able to figure things out. It feels like I’m leaving myself, going somewhere deep inside of me. I know this sounds kind of weird but I’ll give you an example. One time I was at the Ex with a few of my close friends. They told me I had to ride the biggest, fastest ride there and I was terrified. Then I imagined myself somewhere else and found the courage to ride that rollercoaster. The other time I was walking home from a movie and it was dark. There were some creepy guys standing around and I found the courage to walk by from this place. When I enter this inner place, I become stronger.

And now, here I am on my way home from school angry and disappointed. Not only am I disappointed in my teacher, I also feel accountable for not standing up for myself. I’m feeling like I let down Aboriginal people. For hundreds of years, our people have shown their pride in their culture by celebrating it through powwows, storytelling, feasts, round dances, traditional foods and language. Many cultural traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. Why didn’t I show my pride in my culture by standing up against racism?

I think of my Mushum and how he endured the ultimate racism in residential school. I often wonder how those children were able to overcome the affects of the residential schools. In all honesty, I believe many of them are still hurting from these terrible experiences. Just last year I heard the Government of Canada publicly apologize to all those that had to endure residential schools as well as their families and communities. I knew this apology was important because many parents are now struggling to adequately raise their own children, after experiencing the horrors of residential schools. Hearing these stories show me how important it is for an apology and, even if my experience is far less damaging, I feel an apology is the right thing.

At our school, the administration believes strongly in equality and civil rights. I clearly have the right to stand up to this discrimination. It’s simply a matter of finding that spirit inside of me. Social justice issues like this aren’t supposed to be set aside. I have that little voice in my head pushing and encouraging me to fight for this. It seems to be evident of who I really am when I seek help and strength from my inner reserve. This allows me to clear my mind and gain knowledge of what to do in tough situations.

One of my fondest memories where I felt confident and strong was when I was at my reserve, Waterhen Lake First Nation, last summer. I remember those crisp, Saturday mornings when my Mushum would wake up with the sun. He’d put on his old, worn cowboy boots and hurry his way to his herd of cherry bay mares. Horses require a lot of care, and everyday he was the one to do it. My favorite horse was Indigo. She always seems to stand out the most in the herd. Galloping with her is the most freeing experience ever! That gentle clip clop of Indigo’s hooves is guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. As my grandfather would work he would tell me stories of his early life on the reserve, and how the government and churches would take kids from their homes, forcing them to be who they were not. He believed that someday First Nations people could live in peace again. I see my Mushum as a fearless man, although I’m sure that his residential school experiences haunt him still. He seems so comfortable with his horses and he is satisfied with who he is. That is the kind of life I want to be able to live, without worrying about being somebody I’m not.

After a long day of racing thoughts, I quickly fall asleep and enter the world I have been waiting for. In my dream I hear the sounds of the men, softly beating their drums. A flood of security washes over me. Their voices are strong and empowering. I saddle up Indigo and begin with a slow trot. The speed of the beat increases, and all my emotions are expressed through the horse’s movement. She increases her speed to a gentle canter before moving into a smooth lope. My hair flies with the wind, releasing my confusion as well as my anxiety. Mushum is standing at the side of the gate, as I approach he opens the gate,” Welcome home”, he pronounces. “Welcome home.” Those words are probably the two most influential words I have ever heard. “Welcome home.” I knew right then that this is where I belong, and who I am.

Last night, I found myself again. I no longer wonder where I managed to gather that strength. I was reaching into myself, into my heritage for that courage. Today will be the day my life will come into perspective. I am truly content and proud of my roots. Now that same dusty sidewalk that was making me mad yesterday is giving me a different feeling. I’ve been connected with my true self again. I now recognize that my shyness was all a mask and from now on my identity will reflect the person I was all along. This courage is truly me, and today I will make the best decision of my life. When I walk through those school doors, I will be the person I was all along. I will be standing up for my beliefs and take pride in my heritage.