Love, Dignity & Hope
Date posted: April 5, 2018
BY MONIQUE GRAY SMITH
“HOW INDIAN ARE YOU TRYING TO BE?” The words still sting, almost 25 years later. I was picking my mom up to take her out for dinner and had Pow Wow music playing in my car when she got in and asked me that question. I was almost 2 years sober and a huge part of my recovery and healing was reconnecting with my Cree and Lakota cultures.
Perhaps her words stung because they came from my Mom or perhaps because they were such a powerful indication of the internalized racism woven within her heart and mind.
I have many memories where I saw my mom shrink in response to the racism hurled her way. There is no question my mom is Indigenous, but me, I often get asked if I’m Italian or Greek. I didn’t inherit my mom’s dark skin or her black hair. I did inherit her high cheek bones and dark eyes. I remember as a child, that my mom used to run her hands over my arms and along my face and smile at the difference in our skin colour. I think it brought a sense of peace to her to know that I wouldn’t experience the same racism she did. However, I have experienced racism and I do experience racism. From both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Even from my own family and friends. There are days when I am blindsided by the racism. Especially when it comes from someone I love or someone who I thought understood the pain of looking one way and feeling another way on the inside.
Not long after my mom’s comment to me, I was in Toronto and struggling with how to walk in two worlds, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, especially when I didn’t feel accepted in either. I was with friends at an outside bar and about to drown my pain and throw away my sobriety. Just as the waitress approached, an Indigenous gentleman with a beaded medicine wheel around his neck walked by. He stopped, looked directly at me and said, “never question it, it’s in your heart and it’s in your eyes” and walked away. It happened so fast, I wondered if he had been a figment of my imagination, but in my heart, I knew he and his message were real.
That gentleman taught me an important lesson; identity is not about skin, hair or eye colour. It’s about what’s in my heart, about a life long journey of learning my culture and language, self-love and being a healthy role model for my children. And it’s as simple and as complex as knowing I am the descendent of my Ancestors and an Ancestor to my descendants, and within that, there are immense responsibilities.
I may not have the right skin tone for some and there may be a lot about me that’s ‘not right’ for the boxes people want to put me in. But I’m not really interested in boxes, or other forms of colonization. I’m interested in love, dignity, and hope.
Monique Gray Smith is of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent and is the proud Mom of fourteen-year-old twins. She is an award winning author, international speaker and sought after consultant. She is grateful to live, write, play & raise her family on the traditional lands of the Lekwungen & WSANEC people.
©Monique Gray Smith
Photo of Monique Gray Smith by Centric Photography