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Published by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation

‘We aren’t Indians’: Indigenous teens say words matter

Posted: 06/22/17 9:39am CST
Photo credit: Aperture Vintage

Nineteen-year-old Kassidy Harper feels only one emotion when she hears the word “Indian.”

“Anger,” Harper said. “We aren’t Indians.”

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre and other bodies have recently purged “Indian” from their names.

Harper and other Nutana Collegiate students interviewed by CBC News say that change is welcome.

For Harper, a member of the Moosomin First Nation, the word “Indian” is a symbol of shame. Her father, grandmother and others have been subjected to repeated slurs using the word. She said it has been used to stereotype them as savages.

Harper is saddened that the shaming continues. Last week, she began to braid the hair of her niece. The little girl told her to stop, fearing it would make her look “too Indian.”

“She doesn’t like her skin colour because some of the kids at school make fun of her for it. She’s only seven,” Harper said.

‘I am what I am’

Harper is studying to become a social worker to help Indigenous people heal the wounds of residential school and other oppression. Terminology and identity are central to that effort.

“My identity is Cree. I’m very proud of my nation, my culture,” she said.

“I [also] prefer the words ‘First Nations’ or ‘Indigenous.’ I don’t really like ‘Aboriginal.’ It’s like ‘abnormal,’ like we’re a fungus or something.”

Fellow Nutana students Kayla Fiddler and Caitlin Works have also spent a lot of time thinking about issues of appearance, terminology and identity.

“There’s been racism because, you know, whenever I tell people I’m Métis, they are always kind of taken aback, like, ‘Oh, you can’t be Métis. You’re too fair. Your eyes are blue,'” said Works, who hopes to become a conservation officer.

“And I’m not sure how I’m supposed to look. I can’t really change my appearance. I am what I am.”

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