I sat down at my desk after the bell rang; I was feeling good about grade 6. It was a lot more comfortable than last year. Last year was my first year at South Park Elementary School and I had grown so much. No longer was I wearing tall rubber boots and dress, I had thrown out the bowler hat I loved so much. I would have kept it had my best friend told me I would never get kissed wearing something like that. So I through caution to the wind and threw it out, in the garbage, never to be seen again. I needed this year to be good. I managed to convince my mom not to hold me back, I told her I would try harder, and go to my tutors’ everyday after school. I wasn’t going to let anything ruin this year. This year I was going to make more friends and become popular. I managed to get my mom to buy me a pair of Adidas tear-away pants and plain white shows. The outfit all the girls my age were wearing. I have managed to blend in with all the other kids this year. I was camouflage this year. I also convinced my mom to take me to the hairdressers so I could get a layered haircut, all the other girls in my grade had layered hair and I wanted desperately to have it too. My mom really went all out this year. I got everything that I needed to make it into the popular crowd.
I was pleasantly surprised, and slightly anxious, because I was sitting behind my big crush. Sean Sullivan. I was in love (well at least I thought I was). He was the cutest boy in all the world. And I got to sit behind him. I was just getting my notebook out when I see an elbow on my desk out of the corner of my eye. I look at the floor and Sean’s feet are not where they are supposed to be. I shoot up and look at him. He’s looking at me curiously. “What are you?” he asks. Fuck (I probably don’t think this because I am eleven but in retrospect I am totally thinking this). HE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW I AM A GIRL! I am mortified. I start to sweat and panic. My hands are moist and I can feel my back getting hot. I look at him and say in the mousiest of voices, “a girl.” “No I know, but what ARE you? Are you black or Chinese?” “oh, well my mom is native and my dad is from New Zealand.” “ok, that makes sense.” He turns around. I have never been more aware of how I look.
A few years ago my mother and I were in Walmart in Chiliwack, BC, picking up some supplies for a camping trip. We came across an employee who gave my mom the colloquial headnod that I have come to recognize as the native nod of acceptance; a formal hello, and acknowledgement of shared history. My mom returned the nod before the man asked “where ya frum?”,
my mom looked at him and said “my husband and I live here in Chiliwack, we moved here a few years ago from Musqueam”,
“Oh, you frum the band ther?”,
“No,” my mom said “my mom was from High Prairie, Alberta, but we’re not associated with a band there either.”
“Oh ya,” he said “I’m from here, been here all my life.”
They spoke for a while before my mom received a phone call from my step dad. “I’m sorry, I have to take this.”
The man and I exchanged pleasant smiles, “so, where ya frum?” I looked at him confused and said, “she’s my mother,” pointing to the brown woman on the phone. He looked at me, then looked at her and nodded. He continued stoking the shelves while I contemplated the difference between my mother and myself.
MEETING WITH A WATER PROTECTOR
I knew I wanted to design the last river of my thesis project in collaboration with the Stop Alton Gas water protectors and allies so I messaged the group through their website. I summarized the project and asked if there was anyone I could meet with personally to discuss specifics and to ask questions about the groups intentions. Someone messaged me back right away and gave me their number to call them. I scheduled a meeting with them for the next day.
I met with a woman at her home. We sat in her living room with her 18-month-old son. She was breastfeeding and informing me about the politics of the Stop Alton Gas group. After a short run down of the groups intentions and the government interference we started to talk about the project I had in mind. I showed photos of the river sketch I made. I told her I imagined it being completed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Halifax in order to spread the word and continue conversations within an urban context. She was respectful and interested in the projects intentions but I could see she was holding something back. She was nodding while looking at the image and said “ya, well I am sure you have considered, as an artist, issues of cultural appropriation.” I looked at her and nodded. I wasn’t sure if she was speaking about the idea of including non-Indigenous people to participate in the making of the river or if she was referring to me and my skin colour. I tried to remember if I told her of my Indigenous connection. I don’t normally start conversations with ‘Hi, my name is Carrie and I am of Cree/Metis and Settler decent.’ Unless I am speaking in a formal setting of a gallery or situation where I feel it adds more context. I decided to mention it to her, to clarify that I wasn’t a white settler perpetuating control over Indigenous narratives and activist movements.
“I should tell you I am of Cree/Metis and Settler decent. That’s why I started this project. I am looking for a way to connect with an Indigenous community and activate kinship and allyship within this province.”
Instantly her tone changed. Context is everything.
Until I was five it was my mom, my sister and I. We moved around a lot; lived with family, slept on floors and in spare bedrooms. We were on and off welfare and my mom worked jobs she wasn’t entirely qualified to work. My mom was fearless and she wanted to give her girls the best life she could provide. I remember her scouring the paper for free events and coupons. She lied about my sister and I’s age so we could get into movies under youth until we were both in our early twenties.
We lived in Ontario until I was six. My mom moved there so she could get away from my father who was incredibly annoying and unrelenting in harassment. I am not sure if it was because we moved around a lot or because of the disconnected between our culture and community created by my grandmothers stay at residential school, but we never had much contact with Indigenous communities or cultures. Although my mom always tried. Any chance we had to go to a powwow in the areas where we were living she always tried to take us. I have a picture; I think I was five at the time. It’s in Ontario at a powwow. I was a blond haired, blue eyed, incredibly shy girl. I can’t remember the details of this day except that my mom wanted me to stand beside this guy in regalia. She asked the guy if he minded, he nodded and my mom pushed me beside him. I’m up to his waste twisting my dress in my nervous hands, looking up at him. He doesn’t make eye contact with me at all; just stares at the camera. “Carrie!” My head turns towards my mom, giving her a nervous childish smile. “Thanks” my mom grabs my hand and we continue to wander around the park, observing and feeling a lack of kinship.