Embracing Indigenous culture was tough for student when outside community

A young Indigenous musician from Pabineau First Nation says he could feel connected and comfortable with his culture at home but didn't like to draw attention to it at school in Bathurst.

University student from Pabineau First Nation shares his experience growing up in northeast

Tristan Grant, a fourth-year student at Mount Allison University, says growing up he was never comfortable practising his Indigenous culture outside his home on the Pabineau First Nation. (Contributed/Mount Allison University)

A young indigenous musician from the Pabineau First Nation says he could feel connected and comfortable with his culture at home, but didn't like to draw attention to it at school in Bathurst.

"Definitely at home, when I was hanging out with my grandparents or my mom, it wasn't tough to be part of that," said Tristan Grant, an ECMA-nominated hip-hop artist. "It was just everyday life."

Grant said he is one of many Indigenous young people who wonder if the tragic deaths of Tina Fontaine, Colten Boushie and Brady Francis could also happen to them. 

Mount Allison students held a vigil to honour the three youth this week.

Now a fourth-year student in Mount A's theatre program, Grant said that when he went to school in Bathurst, north of the Pabineau First Nation, and tried to fit in with others, he would hear inappropriate comments about his being Mi'kmaq. 

Tristan Grant is a young musician from Pabineau First Nation and a student at Mount Allison University. He talks about the fear young people experience when they hear about violence against their peers. 14:34

"It would make me extremely uncomfortable and of course, I'm a kid, I just want to fit in." 

For Grant, this meant not embracing his culture publicly "because I'd always be subject to these really weird remarks and it would make me uncomfortable.

"Even being singled out in class for good or bad reasons, and I'm the only native in class, and suddenly I'm the spokesperson for the whole culture, which is a weird position to be put in when you're, like, 10." 

Inappropriate questions

When he was in Grade 12, Grant said, he was even asked by a teacher if it was wrong to wear "an Indian costume for Halloween."

"Of course it's inappropriate," he said. "It's a weird thing to be asked when you're 17, in class." 

Grant comes from a musical family. His mother performs under the name Red Suga and his uncle is known as MO3. (Facebook)

Growing up, Grant said, he worried most about dangerous things and people coming into his community.

"When I was a kid, you couldn't really know who was driving through the reserve. So just part of growing up would be, 'If I see a car driving in my neighbourhood and I don't know who it is to get out sight.'

"So I would go and hide in the woods for a bit." 

Still nervous

Grant said this was just something he got used to doing, although he feels he grew up quite sheltered. It's also something that has stayed with him, and he still gets nervous if he sees a car driving around slowly. 

"It's like an instinct that's in me." 

Grant told CBC's Information Morning Moncton the best way for non-Indigenous people to understand what Indigenous people go through is to get to know members of First Nations and their culture. 

"A lot of people who don't understand what's going on don't know much about our culture in the first place." 

Time to learn

Grant is hopeful more people will take the time to learn. 

"If we're closer as a community across all cultures, then they can understand what's going on and make some change."  

The deaths of Fontaine, Boushie and Francis have brought communities closer together, he said.

"Because all of this is being brought to light, I feel that also more people want to learn. That's what I feel now." 

JJ Bear helped host the vigil at Mount Allison University this week, offering prayer, song and his own experiences with racism. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Grant said it's all right to ask Indigenous people questions if the goal is to learn.

"The only time it's harmful is if somebody is just saying something ignorant, and they have no desire to learn anything. They are just being rude." 

At Mount Allison, things are changing for Indigenous students, he said, as the university makes them feel more welcome and encourages them to express their culture more openly. 

Information Morning Moncton will be speaking with Tristan Grant on a regular basis about Indigenous issues facing young people today

With files from Information Morning Moncton