When I was adopted at nine, I was moved from the bush of northern Ontario to a suburb of Toronto. I was the only native kid in my whole school. That wasn’t new. In my last foster home that situation had been the same and I thought I was used to it. I wasn’t.
My first day at my new school the kids played baseball at recess. I’d never played the game. There wasn’t room in that northern schoolyard for a ball diamond because the school was surrounded by bush. Our games were kick ball, tag, Red Rover, Red Rover or just racing around on the jungle gym. No one had ever played baseball and needless to say, I was horrible at it.
I could throw because I’d grown up knocking partridge off tree limbs with stones. But when I tried to catch with a glove, I was miserable. When I tried to bat, I swung so wildly I fell right over. Everyone laughed.
Walking away with that laughter ringing in my ears I felt four things; fear, anger, embarrassment and shame. I was afraid I would never fit in. I was angry because they laughed. I was embarrassed because I failed. I felt shame because I couldn’t do what everyone else took for granted.
Those four feelings came as a result of facing a strange, new process and coming up short. They came because it was outside my life experience and because nothing had prepared me for it. They came because everyone, regardless of their background wants to fit in with their fellows. They were hard feelings to navigate because of their strangeness.
I felt unworthy and like I did not belong.
But see, I’m not talking about baseball here. I’m talking about the same four feelings that
aboriginal people experience whenever they confront a system or a process they have no experience with. I’m talking about the realities of meeting Canada face-to-face for the first time sometimes. I’m talking about the reason we’re so often seen as a problem to be solved.
For me, it was a simple schoolyard game. But for others it could be the first time in a university or college, a new job, moving from to a city from a reserve or Metis settlement, or confronting a new technology for the first time. Anytime we confront something other people take for granted we confront those same four feelings.
That’s important stuff to understand, especially for those in the helping professions who work with us. People wonder why aboriginal people sometimes struggle to cope with certain situations. They can’t comprehend why our lives remain mired in desperate circumstances. They don’t understand why we don’t just get on with things.
Understanding this goes a long way to comprehending all that because emotional turmoil is nobody’s fault, it’s just a fact of life.
I dealt with those four feelings as a kid. I taught myself how to play the game and learned to excel at it. I survived the torment of laughter and ridicule. I became proficient at what others took for granted and I moved on to be able to tackle other, huger challenges. I also began a lifelong love of baseball.
So what does this mean in the big picture of native issues in Canada? Plenty. It means that what’s taken for granted by some may be a huge challenge for others. We need to be able to help people adjust to changes in life and circumstance. Understanding what they’re feeling is the surest way to really help.