This year, I had a large number of people ask me what my ethnic background is. I’ve been told I look Mexican, Persian, Egyptian, native or biracial over the years. I’m actually of mixed European background and my last name is German, not Spanish or Italian like everyone thinks.
Meanwhile, I’m minoring in Indigenous Studies and I’m a member of the McMaster First Nations Student Association (MFNSA), which makes a lot of people automatically think I’m native. Let me be clear: I do not want to turn into a contemporary, female version of Grey Owl.
I just don’t see the reason why you have to be from a certain group (be it race, gender, ethnicity, social background, academic program, etc.) in order to participate in the activities of other groups.
I suppose a lot of my confusion stems from the way McMaster does things. There are many different cultural clubs and none of them excludes students from joining or participating because they are not part of that culture. For example, McMaster’s ALLY Program is open to any student who supports the LGBTQ community on campus. I’ve been a member since my first year.
I will admit it’s sometimes a bit weird being the outsider because I don’t always get all of the inside jokes and how certain things work sometimes needs to be explained because I wasn’t exposed to them growing up (among other things). However, I firmly believe – as a very wise author once put it – “a person is a person, no matter how small” (or tall, black, white, old, young, etc.).
I think there are many benefits to taking Indigenous Studies and I’ve learned a lot while being a member of MFNSA. I helped organize a welcoming powwow on campus; I’ve seen important individuals like Dr. Taiaike Alfred and Fernando Hernandez speak; I’ve helped organize a toy drive for the holidays and acquired donations from students so more toys could be purchased; and I’ve volunteered as a representative of McMaster at the Canadian Aboriginal Festival.
This upcoming semester there are a bunch of other events, lectures and activities in the works, and I’m excited to participate.
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned about another point of view: modern Western society, cultures, politics, history values and science vary greatly from that of Indigenous persons. I’ve had an interest in social justice since high school and what I’ve learned through my education and extra-curricular activities has made me try to facilitate change.
Let me elaborate: people choose to see certain truths when information is presented to them, which can be to their detriment or benefit.
Take Stephan Harper, for example, who said only a few months ago that ‘Canada has no history of colonialism.’ He was called a fool for his ignorance and it is clear he does not know the history of this country.
I have had an interest in other cultures for as long as I remember (thank you, parents for taking me travelling as a child; thank you to all the family who has given me books over the years; and thank you, Anthropology degree) and that has contributed my rebellion against certain societal norms.
I will continue to be involved in groups outside my self-identified box because I find them interesting. I enjoy my status as a liminal figure; I am doing what I want to do and that is the most important thing.