Indigenous women share the pride and challenges of their mixed ancestry
3 women who have struggled with their Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds tell their stories
When you're born with mixed Indigenous ancestry, sometimes being proud of who you are can get a little complicated.
That's been the reality for three women, with three different upbringings, who CBC recently talked to — each of whom shared a fierce pride in being Indigenous.
Yet all of them said they shared something else — the experience of having to resort to telling people they were not Indigenous at some point in their lives. The reason, they said, boiled down to one thing: self-protection.
Hogue's mom is Polish, and she describes her dad as "old-fashioned Métis."
Because of her skin and hair colour, she says she hasn't experienced discrimination like other Indigenous people. The same cannot be said for her brother.
"When my brother was young, he was darker than I am. He would be teased as being a 'stupid Indian,'" recalls Hogue.
"That really affected me."
Experiences like that prompted Hogue's family to tell people they were not Indigenous, and she remembers being told to tell people the family was French. Otherwise, she was told, "you would face a lot of hardship."
Hogue said one of the stories that sticks out in her memory is about her grandmother telling her aunties to pick the colours of their clothing carefully "so they wouldn't look dark."
Memories like that have troubled her.
"It's been hard to be Indigenous in this land. In some ways, that has come out in terms of protection. That protection has looked like — not sharing who you are with other people," said Hogue.
These days, she feels like she no longer has to hide that she is of Métis ancestry. When she thinks about why she's proud to be Indigenous, she says it's "because my ancestors are part of this land, and are connected to this land."
Although other members of Hogue's family are all card-carrying members of the Manitoba Metis Federation, she hasn't applied for membership herself.
"I didn't want to have a political organization be the reason I held identity," she explained.
As she gets older, Hogue is determined to learn more and build a stronger connection to her culture.
"It's good to be clear about who we are, and be connected to who we are."
A status Indian from Rolling River First Nation, Man., Bird identifies as both First Nations and African. Growing up, her father wasn't around much, which meant that she had a stronger connection to her mother's Anishinabe family.
With the exception of going back to her community to attend funerals, Bird spent the majority of her youth in Winnipeg's West End, growing up with a large family that included relatives who also have African ancestry.
"My world has always been both," she said.
Bird said she feels lucky, because she "was fortunate enough to be raised in a family where not only did I see my 'full-blooded' cousins, but I also got to see cousins who looked like me."
Bird now has a strong sense of pride in both identities — but there were times in her life when the fear of racial discrimination meant she held back on telling people that she was Indigenous.
"People would not even be friends with me if they found out I was half-Native," said Bird. "There were many situations where I've been lucky that I appeared as a black woman."
Black women with 'rez accents'
Those times didn't last, however, and Bird now revels in the uniqueness of her mixed family.
With a laugh, she remembers being at a family wedding and seeing "a bunch of black people jigging."
Bird is a new author, and talked about taking a friend to her book launch. She remembers giving a warning before the event.
"I told my friend, 'You're going to walk in and it's going to sound like there are Aboriginal women sitting in that room and you're going to walk closer in and you're going to see that it's black women,'" said Bird.
"You're going to see black women with the most 'rez' accents ever. That's my family."
As a child, McKay — who is of mixed Chinese-Ojibway heritage — said, "There was racism in elementary and public schools in Winnipeg for being Aboriginal, and on the reserves for being Chinese."
McKay said she hasn't had much of a relationship with her biological father, or that side of her family. He was born in Vietnam and moved to Canada when he was was 10 years old. More recently, though, she has started to connect with with her Chinese culture.
The young university student doesn't think she looks Indigenous and recalls having to fight in school.
"I got bullied really bad in the reserve sometimes," she said.
Her physical appearance aside, it was a deep connection to her grandma from Black River that strengthened her ties to the Indigenous community.
"I was proud of being Aboriginal because I loved my grandma and she was Ojibway," said McKay.
Although she grew up with the identity of an Indigenous person, the topic of "Indian status" is something that has angered her in the past.
A "status Indian" is a person who is under federal jurisdiction and eligible for certain rights and services.
McKay is a "non-status Indian" and has been denied status by the Canadian government — even though her brother, who has the same parents as McKay, does have status. She doesn't know why her brother's status was accepted and hers was denied.
"Because I'm Aboriginal, I should have the same rights as everybody else that's Aboriginal who has treaty [status]," said McKay.
She also says that the benefits of being a status Indian are "pretty minimal anyway, but it's better than nothing."