Mi’k-what? Mi’kmaq is my heritage, or so I believe. Pronounced <mik mak> or with silenced k and q <me mah>, and representing a large native population in the Maritime provinces, specifically my father’s province of New Brunswick and the accompanying Indian Island (yes, that’s a real place).
Shawn Atleo recently returned to VIU’s Nanaimo campus to meet with students and faculty to speak on a variety of issues (story is on page five), inspiring the audience to be proud of their culture and to work hard at safeguarding the language, stories, and the many wisdoms of our Elders. This got me thinking about my own Elder’s story.
Some say I look Italian, but the freckles usually throw them off. I get those from my English and Scottish mother. Upon first glance at my father, you can begin to see the genes of Indigenous blood in his warm skin tone and dark features. Furthermore, his father exudes a colourful past-—one that is only held together by stories and secrets.
In the early ‘30s, my great grandmother got pregnant, worked in a hospital to pay for the birth, and single-handedly took care of my grandfather, Raymond—until she met Isaac Barrieau, with whom she married and had two more children who literally paled in comparison to their darker, bilingual half-brother.
So, raised in a white family, Ray never entertained the idea of having Indigenous heritage, in a world where bastard children and Indigenous culture were not widely accepted by the government at the time. It was not until my own father grew up, and saw the lineage pass through his own children (my little sister was born two shades darker and with wild, dark hair—aptly nicknamed Eskimo Child).
The search for our heritage took my father and I on a wild goose chase, provoking a drive to Richibucto (also a real place) during a New Brunswick trip to track down a Chief in the area, only to realize that the only way to prove our bloodline is by directly testing my DNA. With no viable birth certificate from Ray, Canada cannot prove we are Mi’kmaq.
And you know what? I feel it, as my mother says, “in my jeans.” I don’t care that I don’t know what potlatch looks like, or what bannock tastes like. In my opinion, I’m about as Canadian as you can get—a healthy blend of English, Scottish, Irish, and Mi’kmaq. I couldn’t be happier representing such a beautiful minority of Indigenous women, succeeding in my field, and sharing my story in the front of the newspaper I publish.
So, check out the rest of the paper, and stay tuned for our last issue in April, where we will be covering Indigenous Survivance: The Truth in Reconciliation, an event happening on campus March 30. Also, if you’ve made it this far, don’t forget to apply to work with us next year if you’re still going to be a student—we’d love to hear from VIU’s writers and graphic designers.