By Kristin Grant
When I was sixteen in the 1990’s heading out west via train to visit relatives, I knew because I am female that I had to be careful. Even now, in my thirties, I try not to put myself in risky situations – don’t always succeed, but I try- for that same reason; also because I am petite only 4’9 ¾” (And yes the ¾ is important!) It has never occurred to me until Premier Wynne speaking about the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women put it in sobering terms “Canada is not safe for aboriginal women” that I could be at risk because I am Cree.
I never ever once worried about travelling anywhere because of my race, especially in my home country. That has changed now that my blinders have been removed. It saddens me, but at the same time I am grateful to those bringing the issue of the missing women back into the media. Premier Wynne had made her statement in response to our Ontario Regional Chief’s fundraising efforts to have an inquiry into this issue because they are dissatisfied with government inactivity. Canada’s first Mrs. Universe 2015 winner Ashley Callingbull-Burnham is using her position as a platform to also raise awareness to the plight of her fellow First Nations Women. (Callingbull-Burnham is of Cree background)
Perhaps I was sheltered and naïve, I have been aware of the missing women for several years, but interpreted the situation as simply police indifference because the women weren’t white. I still saw the repugnant racism of the situation but not that that the women were victims because of their race.
This probably largely in part due to the fact I have never really personally experienced racism, despite growing up in mostly white communities, so I can’t fathom being treated poorly because I am Native. The worst I have ever gotten is cashiers on two occasions using the expression “you people” while I used my tax exempt card.
It could be because I am only a quarter Cree, that on several occasions I have actually been mistaken for Latina. I’ll never forget arriving at Penn Station in New York City, a cashier just started speaking Spanish to me assuming I knew the language (I happen to but I digress) Then there was this time in Paris, when I walking to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time, some guy coming up to me randomly asking me if I was Spanish. There was this time when I was eight or so with my parents crossing the border from Mexico back to the States and customs thought my mom and I were Mexicans my Dad was trying to smuggle across. In Europe, in my experience First Nations were treated like exotic flowers (Perhaps that is because the company I kept was mostly indigenous rights activists.)
My sixteen year old self fearlessly dreamed of going to B.C. by train one day. The current me has yet to make it there and would still like to go and won’t let fear hold me back. When I do travel there one day, I will be seeing everything with a very different set of eyes then I once had, this new perspective will hopefully allow me to be safe and not become another statistic.
Kristin Grant is of Cree background, an avid theatre-goer and lives in Central Ontario with her fiancé and two cats.