The racialization of an Indigenous person

Let’s Talk About It

Lori Deets

I have been asked to attend a national conference about creating a women’s housing strategy. I will be attending as a voice for “racialized women.”  When I first saw those words I really wasn’t sure how I felt. Am I really a racialized woman?

Sadly, yes I am. I don’t like to say that out loud, but hearing it in my head is even worse.

There have been many times in my life when I have thought I was being racialized as an Indigenous person, treated differently because of the colour of my skin. It is often in a negative way, and yet I usually shrug it off. But now that I think about it, I realize this happens more than I have been willing to admit.

I have often chosen to ignore it because it’s easier for me to live in my denial and pretend it’s just in my head. Can I really prove that I am being racialized? Do I just come out and ask the person: “Are you treating me this way because I am an Indian?”

Who would admit that to me?

I had a professional relationship with someone lately where I believe I was racialized, treated less than because I am Indigenous. At first, I wasn’t sure, but what finally convinced me was our last encounter. I was treated like a nobody — like I no longer mattered.

Over the course of our relationship, I started getting feelings that things weren’t right, but I knew I couldn’t prove it. Even if I could prove it, there was nothing I could do about my situation and our required relationship. In the end, I did what I needed to do, determined to do so with my dignity and my character intact. It was hard to bite my tongue.

Now I am going to speculate about what many of you are thinking: “That’s not true! That wouldn’t happen here!” or “I need more details!”

Well, if you have never been racialized before, I got news for you — chances are really good, people of colour cannot give you these details. We can’t “prove” this. If you are a white settler, you never see these types of interactions. You won’t understand how this works unless you are of lower income and even then, it’s still not quite the same.

What I can tell you though is, unless you become willing to believe that these things happen every day all around us without people of colour having to constantly “prove it,” chances are good that you may never really understand how this works. And that makes me sad and a little angry.

Indigenous people are portrayed as the victim and the whiner when we speak out. We get a barrage of questions trying to make us “prove” that we have been discriminated against. Questions like: “Are you sure you weren’t going to steal that chainsaw?” or “Well, what really happened when they asked you to leave?”

What happened was simple: 400 years ago, European settlers moved to our country and started taking away our land, our rights, and our way of living. We have been oppressed ever since.

Now please don’t misunderstand me here. I don’t go walking around thinking I am being racialized by everyone I meet. For me it’s quite the opposite. I actually have to take off my rose-coloured glasses to see what is really going on.

I like to believe the best in people. I’d like to believe people don’t see me by race and treat me differently because of it, but again, sadly, this just isn’t true.

I am very much looked at differently because of my Indigenous heritage. There are Indigenous people who do believe the worst. They believe they are constantly being racialized by everyone they meet. Because they are.

Imagine yourself walking around with a big sign around your neck that says, “RACIST.” Most people would look at you with disdain. That’s how it feels for an Indigenous person who has been racialized their whole life. There is a sign around my neck that I cannot take off, and I am frequently treated poorly because of it.

People see me as a stereotypical Indigenous, single mom who struggles to make ends meet. But I am so much more than that.

Do you know what else I am? I am a courageous, resourceful, hard-working single mother who raises her son completely on her own because we lost his father to lung cancer.

I am a writer, a speaker, a family support worker, a domestic violence advocate. I volunteer almost as many hours as I work, for various non-profits. To you, I may just be a single low-income Indigenous woman, but to anyone who knows me, I am so much more than that.

Much respect to those who have gotten to know me for who I am. I wouldn’t be here doing what I do if it wasn’t for you. Megweetch!