Monday June 26, 2017

'Am I Indian?': A young man's journey to reclaim identity

Matthew Shorting at Children of the Earth High School in Winnipeg.

Matthew Shorting at Children of the Earth High School in Winnipeg. (CBC / Andrew Friesen)

Listen 6:14

Growing up, Matthew Shorting knew that he was Indigenous — but didn't know much more than that. 

At two months old, he was placed in foster care. He moved from home to home, eventually becoming a permanent ward of the child welfare system in Manitoba.

Shorting said that none of his foster parents taught him about his Indigenous identity. So when he was 13 years old, he visited his biological mother and asked her a tough question.

"Am I Indian?"

Shorting told New Fire that his mother looked shocked, but laughed and responded, "well, what did you think you were?".

"I felt very lost at that point," said Shorting, "because I was reaching out to figure out what this identity was."

It wasn't until high school that he had the opportunity to learn more. Shorting attended Children Of The Earth in Winnipeg's North End. It offers students a chance to learn about culture through ceremony and Indigenous-focused curriculum.

Lisa and Matthew

Lisa Charleyboy and Matthew Shorting look at graduation photos. (CBC / Andrew Friesen)

Attending the school was Shorting's first time being surrounded by Indigenous people. It also gave him his first opportunity to attend a sweat lodge ceremony.

"I went into that lodge, and I felt that connection," said Shorting.  

"It was really interesting... they were praying for kids in care. They were praying for our people. And all along, all of those years, I never knew that there were people praying for me. I fell in love with it."