Our surroundings teach and shape us. As children, it’s even more impactful as we begin to learn ideas, beliefs, and cultural norms.
Fifty years ago, Indigenous peoples were called ‘Indians’ and for our family from India, we were called ‘East Indians’. Yes, the word ‘Indian’ was still used in 1969 when we moved to a Canadian town of 1000 people. Furthermore, it was in this small town where I learned there was a distinction between a ‘good Indian’ and a ‘bad Indian’.
In the 1970s when we settled in the largely caucasian town, my parents acted on their belief to always leave something better than you found it. This meant our family was very active within the community. Inadvertently, this reinforced our status of being one of the ‘good ones’. My father’s commitment to creating many learning opportunities for his students at the high school and my mother’s focus on community work while simultaneously learning English continued to reinforce this status.
Ensuring that their children maintained good behaviors was adamantly reinforced by my parents. For me, this included the cross over of what being a good ‘Indian’ was. For example not going near the town hotel pub as it was linked to Indigenous peoples drinking excessively. As I write this, I am very aware of how much shame the example of this belief holds. There is xenophobic judgment in this belief and am now aware I hold shame in stating it. I am also aware it is only when I put light on the shame, can the idea shift. As a family, we had a heightened awareness of behaviors associated with Indigenous peoples.
My childhood journey reminds me, prejudice within races is real. I work towards understanding and supporting Indigenous peoples presence in Canada by removing prejudice. And that classism within races is a teaching that can be untaught. Within races, we may all swing between oppression and privilege. And more importantly, I am aware that my childhood learnings had misinformation which as an adult today I have a responsibility in creating a just world.
Responsibility to be curious and question.
Responsibility to be open to understanding.
Responsibility to speak to what you know now, and what has changed.
Responsibility to take action.