History is the constitution of the present, a hodgepodge of tragic mistakes and missed opportunities. Lessons our leaders and members of society can never seem to learn from; they'd rather ignore and forget than apologize and evolve. There are still barriers placed up by government definitions and imposed identities, making the era of apology, compensation, and reconciliation look cheap.
I exit my Indigenous Studies class with a heavy heart, Professor Agnew's words echoing in my head as I pull my binder close to my chest. I've always tried to embrace my Métis lineage, the blending of European and Indigenous traditions. But never, in a million years, did I think I'd have a class filled with such sad prose. I was aware of what the Canadian Government did to First Nations and Inuit students during the residential school era – it's part of the reason why I refuse to celebrate Canada Day. What I failed to realize is that Métis children were included in the immoral system from the time that the schools first opened to the closure of the last residential school in 1996; my ancestors were forced into admission.
Before I step outside, into the whirlwind of falling autumn leaves and the pre-existing kiss of winter, I set my binder down on a nearby table and pull on my dark green bomber jacket, the scent of my pumpkin spice perfume overpowering the musky scent of the university's hallways. I collect my binder, keeping my eyes averted from the papers sticking out of it. Outside, the weather is crisp and clear, the sun reflecting off of the coloured leaves. The University of Northern British Columbia has the most beautiful campus in Canada, in my opinion, but even the striking pine trees and pops of colour from the deciduous trees can't cheer me up.
The basement suite I'm renting for the next two years is located on the other side of town, but I'm within walking distance. Instead of taking the road, I decide to take one of the trails back to town. Around me, I can hear people buzzing about the upcoming rough winter we're supposed to have. I haven't experienced a winter in Prince George yet, but I hear they can be brutal. I'm not looking forward to it at all.
With my best cognitive efforts, I try not to focus on all the information I just absorbed in class. But I can't. There's too much to think about. I can't process how an entire society could ostracize a specific group of people and force them to partake in schools whose sole purpose was to convert them; to strip them of their beliefs, languages, and cultures. And, because Métis were referred to as 'half-breeds' during their time at these residential schools, they were considered outsiders. They were bullied and forced to alienate their own unique culture. They existed in the margins of residential schools, disowned by other Aboriginal groups because of their Indigenous-European blood and lighter skin tones, and neglected by the staff, students, and the Canadian Government.
I press a hand to my stomach, glancing up at the sky as an autumn breeze from the north rustles my dark-brown hair. I'm beginning to feel sick; sick over the information, sick over how unaware I was, as well as the introductory essay I have to write. It's supposed to based on personal experience in relation to Indigenous Peoples. It should be easy for me to write considering my connections. But the more I think about it, the more I begin to feel a puddle of self-disappointment in my stomach. How could I be so unaware when the blood runs through my veins?
The interesting part about being Métis is the differences in family members; there are some who have much more defined Indigenous features and some who look like your typical white person. It's something I've noticed throughout the generations of my family. Take my brother and me for example. Aside from the shape of our eyes and the defining features of our facial structure, my brother and I look nothing alike. While he has a warm ivory skin tone, mine is more a honey-brown tone, very similar to the natural highlights in my hair. But in the end, we have the same blood running through our veins: Métis. A mix of Indigenous and European.
My binder slips from my hands as I jump, turning around to see where the voice came from. Behind me, I see a boy with strawberry-blond hair jogging after me, the unzipped black leather jacket blowing with the breeze. I cock my head to the side as he gets closer. He looks familiar, but the familiarity doesn't soothe my anxiety. Unlike my brother and my friends from back home, I'm not particularly fond of anything that's out of my comfort zone. And being approached by a boy that I find to be indecently good-looking is definitely out of my comfort zone.
He skids to stop in front of me, his lanky figure lacking any grace as he nearly tumbles over his own two feet. He regains his balance, his chest rising and falling at a fast pace while he tries to catch his breath. "You know it's bear season, right?" he pants. "Students aren't supposed to walk alone in the spring, summer, or fall. Unless you've got a dog or something."
I frown at him as my anxiety begins to peak. Ever since I can remember, I've always been the shy, timid student; the one who never likes to speak aloud or attract attention. Why does he have to give me attention?
"Oh, shit." The smile on his face falls. "I'm sorry. I should have introduced myself. My name is Beau Pattinson. And you're Mina Ashfield." He jerks his thumb over his shoulder, back towards campus. "I'm in your Indigenous Studies class. I, uh, wanted to talk to you about the group project that Professor Agnew mentioned on the class syllabus." Pausing, he frowns and cocks his head at me. "Are you even supposed to be here? You look a little young to be attending university..."
He trails off, waiting for a response.
I have two options here: I could either run or I could talk to him. And considering the fact that I can't seem to move my feet, I go for the first option. "I just turned seventeen," I explain. "I took the homeschooling route and finished early."
"Ah," Beau nods, "that makes sense." He glances at the pathway ahead of us, the sound of the creek trickling in the background. "So, um, do you want to walk together? We can talk about that, err, enlighteningly depressing class we just experienced."
I choke out a small laugh. I'm still getting used to the idea of being social, so I need to cut myself some class. I also need to remind myself that not everyone judges someone based on their skin colour. I've experienced many racial slurs and derogatory terms throughout my life, but Beau seems nice. "Right," I say. "Um, sure. Why not?"
"Cool," he smiles. His smile is dazzling, reminding me of the blissful sunny days we would experience in Tofino.
We begin to walk down the trail, the dirt crunching beneath our shoes. The silence is stretched thin between us as we continue, passing by a few other students and citizens walking their dogs.
"You know what the worst part of that class was?" Beau asks, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
"What?" I ask.
"The fact that we are required to take Social Studies in high school and yet we never learn about any of this during that class. It kind of pisses me off."
Thoughtfully, I nod in agreement. It's an appalling fact that he's brought to light, really. But, in the same breath, it's also a good piece of information. Our final project has to be based on something to improve life for future generations of Indigenous kids. "Maybe we could propose changing the curriculum of high schools as our final project?" I suggest. "As a Métis descendant, I know that would be greatly respected."
Beau snaps his fingers. "That's a brilliant idea!"
A shy smile forms on my lips. "You think so?"
"Yeah!" He pauses. "You're Métis?"
I nod, scared of what might happen next. People's reactions are always different.
"Cool," he shrugs. "This class must be really interesting for you. I'd like to hear more about your family." Pausing, he clears his throat. "Hey, we're supposed to be able to see the Northern Lights tomorrow night. Would you, uh, want to maybe go see them? You smell really good, too, by the way. Is that pumpkin spice? Sorry if I sound stalkerish. I'm not stalking you, I promise."
I find myself nodding before I can fully process this.
"Great!" he smiles.
Tenaciously, I smile back. Maybe attending a public campus isn't going to be so bad after all.
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This is my entry for the #ShawRocketFundContest. We were required to write the opening chapter of a teen fiction/young adult story that aims for diversity. If anyone wants to join, simply search "Shaw Rocket Fund Contest" and write a chapter with th...