Having a foot in two canoes.

Emily Wood
Anchorage, AK

Growing up in small town Minnesota where the local summer celebration was “Swedish Heritage Days” could be awkward for a girl with a white dad and a Native mom. My parents raised my brother and I to celebrate the fact that we had two sides to us, that we lived with “a foot in two canoes”. But what I realized later in my life, standing between these two worlds with an uneven foundation can make for a shaky existence. I always felt that my Native-ness and my White-ness were on two poles of the same axis; never converging, just rotating to make room for the other identity when the appropriate time arose. I felt uneasy about being Native around my white friends, one time coming back to my locker after lunch to “Indian bitch” scrawled over it. Another time a friend told me she and her family had to work to pay for college because their “skin wasn’t getting any darker,” resentful of the gift of a small scholarship I received from my tribe. I went to college to understand more about my culture and enrolled in the Indian Studies program, but realized that I had no idea how to have Native friends. I was always the “token Native” in my group. It took my a long while to rid myself of the resentment I had towards the ignorance I faced, angry that I had to explain myself on a daily basis. But now as a cultural anthropologist who travels throughout Alaska interviewing Alaska Natives, I’ve found my “Mixed-ness” a gift. No one needs me to qualify myself to them, they aren’t asking for my Tribal ID. They know that I share something with them, a few phrases or characteristics that makes us similar in a way. Often that’s enough for them to feel comfortable as I interview them on personal details of their lifestyle. As my Mom once told me “You were born Anishinaabe, you will die Anishinaabe.” This is the part of me that helps me not only survive in this shaky world, but to thrive.

 

Tweets by Michele Norris