If you are bi-racial I know you will relate to some of the things I am about to share. If you are not, I hope this glimpse into my life and experiences helps you to empathize, gain a little more understanding, and ultimately compassion for the next person you run across in your life that is. This post is not meant to dive into the subject of racism, rather just share my personal journey and experiences with you.
If I am just meeting you for the first time and you inquire about my heritage (as people often do) I will tell you I am Mi'kmaq. I do not always take the time to explain that I am also 1/2 white. In all honesty people are not usually inquiring about my heritage because they think I am Caucasian, they are asking because I look "exotic" and they are curious which country my ancestors are from.
I was born here in Nova Scotia (Canada) and I have lived here my whole life. My mother is Caucasian. My father is Mi’kmaq, First Nations. The Mi'kmaq are Indigenous to this area. Meaning we were the first people who lived here, before any European settlers "discovered" it. So ironically enough the only part of my heritage that is truly "exotic" is my Caucasian or European ancestry.
Sometimes it confuses people if I don't self identify as Caucasian. People don't always understand how you can relate to one part of your ancestry more than another. For me I think it is the fact that I am not viewed by society as being Caucasian. It is easier to relate to how society treats me. It is harder to relate to white privilege if I have never experienced it. Also, the Mi'kmaq culture is so rich and there is such a deep history there that it is hard not to feel a deep connection with it.
My early childhood
I grew up with my mother off reserve. This means I did not grow up learning the Mi'kmaq language. I did spend a lot of time in my earlier years with my Dad, and I feel fortunate to have learned a lot about my heritage and culture from him and others in my family. The situation of how I grew up left me feeling both connected and disconnected to my Mi'kmaq heritage. This is still something that I struggle with today.
I grew up in a predominately white community. I was the only minority in my elementary school and my junior high school. When I got to high school there were 3 kids of minority in the school, and I was the only native. I have always looked different. My dark brown hair, my brown eyes, and tanned skin mean I stood out from my other siblings, my friends, and my peers. I was always aware of this as far back as I can remember. My mother told me that the very first time we went to visit my Dad in Eskasoni (the reserve he is from) I was 3.5 years old.
After running around and playing with a bunch of other kids, I ran up to her and asked, "Why does everyone here look like me Mum?" This was the first time I had ever been somewhere where I was the majority not the minority.
Growing up as a minority
My pride in my heritage has waxed and waned over the years. When I was in elementary school I remember feeling very proud. My Dad even came to my school to teach the other kids about the Mi'kmaq and shared some of our songs and dance. Junior high was different. I desperately wanted to fit in and be the same as everyone else. This is also when I started to be teased about my appearance and culture. Even what may seem to some as mild teasing, such as being called Pocahontas, has stuck with me through the years. It was a constant reminder that I was not the same as everyone else.
On the flip side, I was also teased when I went to Eskasoni. I remember being called a mutt and a half breed. I think the fact that I did not share the language and had grown up in a white household made me stick out. This pretty much sums up my life. I look native and I am viewed my society as being a minority, but within my own people I am also different, and viewed by some as colonized or urbanized. I had an ex partner refer to me as an apple: red on the outside but white on the inside. Meaning I look native, but act white.
These comments all hurt, even to this day. I still tear up when I share them. It may not seem like racism to some, but the reality is that I was being judged by my race on both fronts, from Caucasians and Natives.
I am not white but I am also not native enough either. Never feeling like you have a place where you truly belong is tough. It is hard to love yourself when you never feel fully accepted or understood.
My adult life
I have done a lot of work in my self acceptance and learning to love myself over the years. My fitness journey has been crucial in learning to love my body and being proud of myself again. My pride in my heritage has also grown as I have matured and started to care less and less about what other people think of me. Learning to just be unapologetic about who I am. When I became pregnant with my first child I started going to the Mi'kmaq Child Development Centre here in the city, and I think that was pivotal for me truly feeling connected to my culture. It is a place where I feel a strong sense of community and support with other urban natives. People like me.
Learning about self love, acceptance, and self identity
For some self identification is simple, for others it is more complicated. My children for example are a mix of 3 different races, and I know that they will face some of the same challenges I have, if not even more! It is hard learning to self identify and how to explain that to others. In all honesty it is usually explaining it to others that is the hardest part. People like to put you in a box, but the reality of being mixed race is that you simply don't fit nicely into any box. Sure, your blood quantum is a factor, but also how you were raised, where you were raised, your experiences growing up, how accepting and supportive your immediate family and friends were, and so much more comes into play when trying to figure out what heritage you relate to most.
I would like to end with saying I am hugely grateful for my loving and supportive family and friends. They have never made me feel less than because of who I am. My Caucasian side of the family has been hugely supportive and always encouraged me to connect and proudly represent my Indigenous heritage. My maternal grandmother who is from England gave my my very first dream catcher. She has always been so proud of me and my Mi'kmaq heritage and she also has carried a great deal of guilt for what her ancestors did to mine.
When I graduated Veterinary school she gifted me a piece of land with a card that read "One pale faced attempt to right an ancient wrong." It was the most powerful gift I have ever received.
At 97 years old she told me she never in a million years imagined she would be so lucky to have both Native and African-American grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her strong sense of responsibility for the past and love and acceptance for the future is something I think we should all strive for.
Are you of mixed heritage? If so I would love to hear your point of view and experiences on this topic. Please feel free to share below.