Indigenous·Point of View

What makes me proud to be Indigenous?

Lenard Monkman is an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit. He explains what being mixed-race Indigenous means to him.

CBC's Lenard Monkman on what being mixed-race Indigenous means to him

Lenard Monkman is an associate producer with the CBC Indigenous unit. (Mark Reimer)

The conversation around who is and who isn't Indigenous is one that happens often in the Indigenous community — and with good reason.

There have been many attempts to "kill the Indian in the child" through systems such as residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and arguably, the child welfare system — in which Indigenous children find themselves horrifically over-represented and more often than not, separated from their culture. 

The result — a lot of Indigenous people do not know their families or their roots.

Indigenous first

I am a mixed-race Indigenous person. My biological father is Vietnamese — but I identify as Anishinaabe, first and foremost. He came to Canada in the 80s, escaping the effects of a war that divided and devastated his own country. But that's about as much as I know about the guy. 

Out of my five other siblings, I am the only one in my family with a different dad. I was raised by my siblings' dad who was Cree from the Garden Hill First Nation, Man. He took me as his own and he was the only person that I ever knew as my dad.

My mother's side of the family is from the Lake Manitoba First Nation. With the exception of two years that I spent living on that rez, I grew up in Winnipeg's North End.

Winnipeg has a history of being a segregated city, divided by rivers, bridges and train tracks as much as it is by race and wealth. I went to school with Indigenous folks, hung out with Indigenous folks and lived with Indigenous folks.

An elementary school photo with his cousin Wendel, who is also Vietnamese, Anishinaabe. (Submitted)
During school breaks, my grandma and I would often travel back home to Lake Manitoba First Nation. While on these trips, we would go berry picking, medicine picking and would help out with ceremonies that were run by my family.

Back in the city, on the weekends, I would spend time with my grandma who spoke the language fluently. She would pray in Anishinaabemowin every day before bed and when she woke up in the morning, she would give thanks for another day.

Where are you from?

This experience of being with my family in ceremony, hearing the language, going back home for funerals and living in a neighbourhood that has been predominantly comprised of Indigenous peoples has helped to shape my identity of who I am as an Anishinabek person.

To this day, my grandma remains the most influential person in my life. Throughout my childhood, she stressed the importance of obtaining an education, but also instilled the teachings and values that would help me become who I am.

A recent picture of Lenard's uncle's and cousins. (Submitted)
Whenever we run into other Indigenous people, there are usually two things that are asked immediately: What is your name? Where are you from?

People want to know what land are you connected to? What is your connection to the community? For me personally, I trace my roots back to my First Nation because of the time I spent there as a kid, and that's also where my family members are buried.

There are many out there who also are of mixed-race ancestry, yet they identify primarily as Indigenous. Is it because they have grown up around Indigenous folks and have gone through the struggles that we read and live through? Is it about having connections to the land and the quickly-evaporating languages? Or is it merely having that connection to that one parent that has had more of an influence in your life?

Maybe it's more than just a feeling inside. Maybe it's something that's always been part of who you are.
 

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1