Unreserved

Growing up Indigenous when you don't look it

Has anyone ever asked you where you come from? Or what your ethnic background is? Ethnicity and how the world perceives you don't always go together. Which presents a challenge for a growing number of Indigenous people who might not look exactly like their ancestors.
From r: Trevor Jang, Julie Daum, and Daniel Bear. (Supplied)
Listen19:25
Has anyone ever asked you where you come from? Or what your ethnic background is?

Ethnicity and how the world perceives you don't always go together. Which presents a challenge for a growing number of Indigenous people who might not look exactly like their ancestors. 

This week on Unreserved we are speaking with several Indigenous Canadians who are not visibly Indigenous. 

Daniel Bear is an aspiring actor and filmmaker from Winnipeg, Manitoba. His father is Ojibway and his mother is English and while Daniel takes after his mother, his younger brother takes after their dad. Bear said he always knew he was Indigenous but did not start fully exploring his cultural background until junior high when residential schools were introduced in class.

As a young teen Bear experienced something all too common among those who are Indigenous but do not look it, peers being discriminatory towards Indigenous people in front of him because he looks white. 

"I was driving downtown in a car with some friends," Bear recalled, "they pointed at a group of homeless people and called them 'dirty Indians' but said 'don't worry Daniel you're not like that.' It kind of felt like betrayal." 

Julie Daum is a conflict resolution facilitator from northern British Columbia.

Her mother is Wet'suwet'en and was the first woman in her territory to marry a non-Indigenous man, Daum's father who had immigrated from Germany.

Although the marriage was accepted because her father was an active participant in the culture, Daum's mother still lost her status and had to move off the reserve. Being some of the first mixed race children in the community she recalled feeling isolated. 

"We were not white enough to be white and not Native enough to be Native," Daum said. 

Trevor Jang is a journalist currently living in Vancouver. 

He is Wet'suwet'en and Chinese and although he didn't grow up connected to his Indigenous culture he started exploring it as an adult. Despite facing racism and discrimination as a young person, Jang is now very outspoken about being multi-racial and encourages others of mixed ancestry to embrace who they are. 

"For young Indigenous people who don't look Indigenous, they want to explore their culture but they don't want to be judged … well what's worse? Being judged or not having a culture?" 


Click the Listen button above to hear the panelists in conversation with Rosanna Deerchild. 

now