Monday, March 14, 2011

1 - Identity Crisis

I grew up knowing that I am a Scottish Canadian. I did all of the things that good Scottish descendants do. I took highland dancing lessons and learned all of the traditional Scottish songs, because I was told that this was my history. I was taught that tradition is important. It is. Nothing about this has changed for me. This experience is part of my story. What I didn't know, was that I didn't have the whole story.

Last summer, I discovered that my maternal grandmother is Mi'kmaq. The Mi'kmaq are the indigenous people of the eastern part of Canada and northern Maine. I watched my grandmother reclaim her heritage at the age of 86. I know now that I am fortunate to have witnessed this. Many, with relatives in her community, did not have the opportunity to learn this history while their relatives were alive. Many hid their identity and took it to their graves.  I am learning this was not uncommon across the continent for people of her generation. Thankfully,  I know my own nation and have many answers about where my native ancestors originated. I do not have to say "I think we are part Mi'kmaq."

After the initial excitement of finding we were connected to such a rich and ancient culture,  what came next was sadness.  I am left with surprisingly intense feelings for traditions  and community I missed in not having this information earlier in my life. I am looking for answers and a connection to this part of my culture. I am a singer. My instinct has always been to sing the songs and hear the stories. I have been disconnected from this community by shame, ignorance and distance. I am the stranger in the nation.

I am now beginning to tell people about this wonderful part of my heritage.  I am often greeted with looks of surprise or even laughter. Maybe they think I'm pretending to be something other than what I am. I'm not pretending. I assume I don't have the traditional "look" of a Native American if that means anything. I have white skin and blue eyes.  It doesn't make this less of my heritage. I have met many people from many nations and no two people look the same. I am learning to look deeper. There must be a little more to it than this.

This blog will be about my experiences, not only in looking into my Mi'kmaq heritage, but into many Native American cultures. It will not be an exhaustive study, but merely my observations on the things I learn. I have already learned that people cannot be lumped into one simple category under the names of Native American or Indian as we so often do.  This is a continent that contains many nations, each with vastly different beliefs and traditions. If anything, I have been given the gift to learn another perspective. So...... here goes. I will seek first to understand.

1 comment:

  1. Heather:
    I just finished reading your words. They convey a true, heartfelt excitement for your journey. I wish you well along the way. LR