This blog is the third in a series by guest blogger and YWCA Cambridge employee Tara Kleinsteuber exploring Truth and Reconciliation and her own story of moving through the world as an Indigenous person.
So, I’ve told you how I’ve watched my family endure racism. I’ve told you how I’ve struggled to identify. I’ve told you that my grandpa went to residential school (probably multiple times, because as I mentioned in my last blog, we Indigenous folk need to prove our trauma!). I’ve told you how I’ve rarely seen representation from women who have similar stories to mine. Have I told you how I have kept so much of this inside until now? Have I truly given you enough examples of how these things impact me day to day?
Before I was asked to attend YWCA Canada’s Annual Membership Meeting, I was asked to deliver a land acknowledgement at YWCA Cambridge’s She Talks event. I said yes to that opportunity, and after I walked away, I thought, “but I want to say more because this is my chance to be heard.” I started planning what I wanted to say. What I thought others needed to hear, an explanation for why we acknowledge the land, but also an explanation for my anger, anger that maybe others couldn’t see, but anger that I have always felt should be seen. People should see that it’s wrong to sell smudge kits or dreamcatchers if they’re white, as there are First Nations artists and vendors selling authentic pieces that mean something. People should see that it’s wrong to use “tribe” to describe their bridal party. People should know that it’s wrong to call coffee your spirit animal when spirit animals are a real thing within some folks’ cultural practices. And people should know that I feel less than, because I struggle to identify as a Metis woman, and doing so is significantly harder due to things like cultural appropriation and in turn, erasure. But, should they, though? Should people actually know these things? Can I hold people responsible for being a part of a systemically oppressive system? I can, if I and so many other Indigenous folks have repeatedly used our voices to call these things out, and people continue to do them.
That being said, here’s the thing: I don’t always use my voice to call these things out. I fear being shut down. I fear being told I’m wrong. I fear white people with more power than me will not only tune me out, but encourage others to follow suit. These fears run through my head, not only when I have an opportunity to speak in front of a crowd or write a blog post to call in or call out, but even when it’s my turn to speak at a meeting, when I have an idea to share with my colleagues, when my manager asks me a question.
I started volunteering with YWCA Cambridge, and soon after, was nominated for a Women of Distinction award in the Young Women’s category. I denied that I was worthy. I completed one of my placements at YWCA Cambridge with a woman who championed me harder than anyone ever has. I denied that I was worthy. I was encouraged to apply for a position that was hiring in YWCA Cambridge’s girls’ programs. I denied that I was worthy. I received said position in YWCA Cambridge’s girls’ programs. I denied that I was worthy. Fast forward years later; I was asked to attend YWCA Canada’s Annual Membership Meeting. I denied that I was worthy.
I denied that I was worthy. But I went. And I am glad I did. I’ve mentioned that I rarely see representation of myself in my line of work; at AMM, I saw myself represented. I saw First Nations, Metis and Inuit women speak of the same feelings and experiences I have poured into these blogs and shared with you. I heard women speak about how they didn’t apply for positions or take opportunities because they denied their worth. I know now that I feel unworthy because of all that I have endured. I know now that I feel unworthy because I stop myself from taking opportunities to speak. I feel unworthy because systemic oppression and racism have kept me from taking up space. If I didn’t see other First Nations, Metis and Inuit women take up space, I wouldn’t be here taking up space on your devices right now as you read this blog.
So, this is a reminder to myself to take the opportunities; to speak out without the fear of being shut down, to share my ideas knowing they are just as good as anyone else’s, to know that when I am calling in and calling out that I am right and deserve to do so. This is a reminder to myself to take up space, knowing the effects of what my family has been through. Piecing together the effects of it all.
Photo Courtesy Amanda Sills Photography