I am proud to be a First Nation person. I am about as pure bred as an Aboriginal person can be in Canada as both my mother and father were born on the land in their traditional territories. Visibly, I look like a Native Canadian. I even have long hair and I keep it in a ponytail. I feel comfortable with my long hair as I have been growing it for the past 20 years.
I was born and raised more or less on the land in Attawapiskat and the James Bay coast. I still feel very close to the land and for the past 15 years, I am happy to have had the opportunity to share my culture and traditions through my writing. I am also living in the modern world outside my traditional home. At times, I feel caught in the middle.
Some First Nation people back home think I have forgotten my roots and see me as not so Native anymore. Most non-Native people I meet in my travels don’t believe me when I tell them that I am a Canadian First Nation person. In other parts of the world, this becomes very strange for me. The fact that my first name is Xavier confuses people. It sets me up as being someone from South America as the name is common in places like Peru, Ecuador and Columbia.
The fact that I have a long ponytail and my name sounds like it has Spanish roots has actually caused me problems in immigration points of entry in some countries. They look at the fact that my name is Spanish sounding, my long ponytail makes me look like someone from South America and, of course, I am not white. After much explaining and producing all my documentation, I sufficiently convince border officials that I am in fact a First Nation person from Canada. At the same time, I always wander away with the feeling that they don’t quite believe my story.
So, as I have pointed out, I feel as though I am in the middle of most people’s perception of who I should be. I feel very well-grounded and good about myself and I can point to my sobriety for a large part of that. It also has a lot to do with my growing up on the land and being able to speak my language. I feel concern for so many young Native people just starting out as they must feel caught in the middle of two different realities and regretfully, most of them might not have discovered a life of sobriety yet.
Mostly, I am very happy with the support, encouragement and respect I get from Native and non-Native people when it comes to my writing and my sobriety. However, there are those First Nation people that think that I should be leading some kind of life that fits their view. There are also a lot of non-Native people I meet that often don’t agree with me when it comes to First Nation issues such as treaty rights and our history. As a matter of fact, strangely enough, when someone really does take interest in me, more often than not it is because they want to jump on the Indian bandwagon somehow. I get a lot of requests from people who want to use my knowledge, experiences and uniqueness for their own benefit. In some circles anything having to do with Indians is current and popular.
I have to laugh to myself sometimes, when I recall that as a teenager, I and most of my friends felt that being a Native was not something positive. Our experiences had convinced us that we were second-class citizens. Thankfully with the help of many good educators, the Friendship Centre program, Elders and traditional teachers, there has been a positive development and Native people are feeling stronger these days.
Perhaps I will always feel caught in the middle of two realities and I think that as long as I remember to be humble, grateful, cautious and sober, I can stay strong and choose the life I want.