Monday June 26, 2017

BLOG | Lisa Charleyboy: my journey to Indigenous nationhood

New Fire host Lisa Charleyboy

New Fire host Lisa Charleyboy

by New Fire host Lisa Charleyboy

Growing up, the first time I realized that I was different was when I got called "brownie" at the public wave pool by a little girl who looked like Dakota Fanning. That event made me understand that not everybody thought being Indigenous was a good thing.

I was raised separate from my culture with my non-Native mother and my Dutch stepfather in the suburbs of Vancouver. I identified more with Clueless than Smoke Signals

Fast forward to my first year in Toronto as a university student. When I began a degree in professional writing, I finally had the chance to explore my cultural roots and meet some of the Native community in the big city.

I can remember being at an arts circle and while we were introducing ourselves, one woman identified herself as Métis. I was like "yeah, that's me! I must be Métis because of my mixed background of both Indigenous and European descent."

So when it came time to introduce myself I said I was from B.C. and that I, too, was Métis. The Ojibwe friend who invited me had a stunned look on her face but let me continue. At lunchtime she took me aside and very gently told me that no, I was not Métis because I have a mixed background. She said that perhaps I should just introduce myself with my nation and my home reserve instead. 

But the problem was that I wasn't sure what my nation was. Not that I hadn't heard it mentioned before, but I didn't understand entirely what it meant. Was I Dene, or Athapaskan, or do I say Tsilhqot'in? 

My father passed away when I was a very young girl so, to figure this out, I had to ask my eldest brother. 

Lisa and family

My brother John, on left, helped me reconnect with my Tsilhqot'in identity. Here we are with my nephews. (Lisa Charleyboy)

It was an awkward request. For one, I didn't talk to my brother much and there weren't a lot of points of connection. But this time, he got to be the expert — the big brother — and school me in my very first lesson of Indigenous nationhood. 

"Lisa, you're Tsilhqot'in from Tsi Del Del Reserve, which is also known as Alexis Creek or Redstone depending on who you ask." 

My sense of nationhood has solidified since then — especially in the summer of 2014 when my people won a Supreme Court case for the first Indigenous land claim title in Canadian history.

I still have a lot of work to do. I can only say a few words in my language, and I've got a lot of oral stories to catch up on, but thankfully, I can now claim my nation... and now I know that being Native is most definitely a good thing.