On January 25th, 2001, I was born to an Indigenous father and a Romanian mother. If not for my paternal grandmother’s marriage to a white man, my last name would be Whitebear, or in the Cree language Wapimuskwa. Chief Wapimuskwa, my great-great-great-grandfather, is the namesake. It is important to state my ethnic background as it greatly influences my developmental stages. From the day I was born, I was subject to various traumas of Indigenous oppression. I would not understand this until many years later. My traumas included a broken household, an abusive and alcoholic father, racial and physical discrimination and poverty. My oasis in life was my grandparents. My maternal grandfather was my trustworthy caregiver and father figure. My paternal grandmother was my ever-loving mother figure after the sudden death of my biological mother the year after I was born. My maternal grandmother was herself an elementary school teacher for twenty-five years. It was clear that her motherly love was a trait she brought to her classroom. My maternal grandfather was a self-employed contractor. Hearing their careers might give the impression that I was well off growing up; the truth is the opposite. While I always had clothes, food and a roof over my head. My clothes were hand-me-downs, my food was poor nutrition, and debris cluttered my home.
I went to a catholic elementary school, which only deepened the trauma of my Indigenous oppression. Instead of learning my traditional religious practices, I was subject to the word and teachings of the Christian God at an impressionable young age. I was discriminated against racially, both at school and at home. At school, I was a lazy, dirty Indian. At home, I was too white to be Indian; whitewashed. These incidents were the root of my self-identity crisis in the future. My father was in and out of prison throughout my youth. Random calls at unsuspecting times informing me he is back in jail. These calls, in particular, were very traumatic and emotional.
As I progressed to high school, I was hopeful of a new journey full of experiences and adventures, new friends and hopefully no new enemies. However, almost immediately, I became aware of the high school social hierarchy. I did not have the materials all my peers seemed to have. The nice clothes, the expensive phones, the modern cars. Not being able to keep pace financially would ultimately be at the expense of my rank in the social hierarchy. To boost my status, I joined the school’s football team. The football team was a hierarchy of its own. In my sophomore year of high school, the future seemed bright. I had made some solid friends, and I was doing good in my classes, with perfect attendance and straight A’s. Then disaster struck. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years, my father had died, A terrible, violent, sudden death. I will spare the gruesome details but suffice to say a man had killed him in a two-on-one assault. His death destroyed me and was the final nail in the coffin of my high school career. I dropped out, and I went into a stage of severe depression in the years that followed. I had to attend the trial of my father’s murderer, which took months—reliving the horrific circumstance of his death. Despite his unfulfilled role in my life, I loved him so dearly.
It took me two and a half years to finally heal enough to enroll myself back into school. I then attended the adult campus in Regina, the population of the school was purely adults; I could tell the difference. A more mature environment without the social hierarchy and the drama. It was here I made good friends and realized my academic potential. I graduated with straight A’s and awards. The summer following my graduation, I lived the life I missed in high school. I, of course, mean the parties I never got invited to because, as it turns out, you do not need an invite to go to the nightclubs.
The fall semesters came around, and I could not decide what I wanted to do. I applied to several different programs at the University of Regina and SaskPolytechnic. Finally, I committed to attending the Power Engineering program at SaskPolytechnic. I packed up my bags and took off to Saskatoon with one of the friends I made while attending the adult campus. In the end, I failed on my commitment. After researching the future job opportunities, my program would acquire, I realized that the industry was dying with fewer and fewer jobs. I did not want to waste money on that tuition with no certainty of paying it back.
I ended up getting a job as a cook at the Chop Steakhouse in Saskatoon. I worked there for a few months but fell out with management, So we part ways. Then there I sat, with no job, not going to school and clueless about what I wanted to do. The self-identity crisis I mentioned earlier in this paper happened at this time, with the discovery of the mass unmarked graves, the protests and memorials. I asked myself the question, “who am I.” I thought of how I was raised by a white father and attended a catholic school with white friends. I always knew I was Indigenous, but I had no idea what that meant. I did not learn how to sing or dance. How to speak Cree, or who our creator was. I presented myself with the dilemma: Do I want to remain the way I am? I could pass as white for the rest of my life, and no one would know. Or do I want to learn who I truly am? Embrace my Indigeneity, help revive my culture and let everyone know I identify as aboriginal. I chose the latter because had I not done so, the government would have won in their genocide of the Indigenous people. My first endeavour to embrace my Indigeneity would be to grow my hair long.
I would not say I decided to become a teacher; I would say that fate decided I became a teacher. One night I found myself again pondering what I wanted to do—looking over many programs until I stumbled on to education. From there, some otherworldly force took the wheel that was steering my life. Without even thinking, I immediately applied to the University of Regina’s education program, spent a hundred dollars when I was out of work and poor enough as it was. Once again packed my bags and left to return to Regina.
Education has been the first ideal that I have never waivered from or second thought. I envision myself with my long braids, teaching my students with passion and care, reviving Indigenous culture with my lessons and ensuring every student goes on in life with a fond memory of Mr. Tokar-Katz’s class.