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Change Needs to Happen for Metis Youth

December 15th, 2010     by Erin Konsmo     Comments

This is the third and final part of an introductory series of posts. Parts one and two can be found here and here. What makes us different as Metis youth? What makes me different, and why do I continue to fiercely voice this opinion?

There are specific vulnerabilities to Metis that increases the chances of us being affected by HIV, and I am sick of the racism that is felt by being placed in this colonial grouping of all Indigenous people. I’m not the same. I grew up eating doughgots, not bannock; I grew up with beading/arts/crafts as my medicine, not learning off the medicine wheel (I don’t want you to relate everything to the medicine wheel, because that means nothing to me!); my grandparents spoke Michif (a language specific to Metis), not Cree or Anishnaabe; I say thank you by saying “Marse eki” not “meegwitch,” I grew up trying to feel out two drastic different sides of identity (my soft Metis mother and my white, loving, conservative father). Yes, it’s true my grandmother also felt the effects of residential school, and yes, I feel the effects of colonization and blood memory, but they are not the same experience as every other Aboriginal youth. They’re specific to me, a Metis.

When we lost my Metis grandmother it greatly impacted my family in a way I believe to be related to the absence of our last sense of indigeniety, placing myself and my sister/brothers into the potential to be affected by HIV. I did not grow up with ceremony and tradition knowing it to be Aboriginal, so when you throw me into ceremony and Aboriginal culture and say that will save my sexual and reproductive health without recognizing that I’m scared, I’ll retreat. I’ll retreat back into my shell and hide from any sexual health teaching. You have to be gentle with me. You have to recognize that I still have to answer to the whiteness that is portrayed in my facial features and that I don’t want to completely alienate myself from my father’s Norwegian blood, because after all, that is my blood as well. This is a careful massage specific to so many other Metis people and communities. It’s a careful massage that in this current time local AIDS service organizations do not recognize, that local, provincial and federal health programs could care less about, and an attack, however subversive, at assimilating Metis-specific health needs into the general health needs of all Canadians.

I’m sick of it. I’m sad about seeing my Metis elders and other Metis youth affected by HIV. It makes me sick to my stomach when I argue with Health Services back home and talk to nursing students who think just taking a Tobacco 101 course will keep me or my Metis brothers and sisters from being affected by HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. It’s so much more. My sexual and reproductive health go way beyond this.

You tell me that my experience isn’t the same as someone who lives or grew up on the reserve, you tell me that I don’t experience racism like someone who has darker skin, so why the hell would you lump my experience and sexual health needs within the First Nations or Inuit experience to be the same as mine?! Better yet, why would my experiences of sexual health or of HIV/AIDS be the same as the general population?!

I ask the Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Movement, my government, AIDS service organizations, local, provincial and federal health services: why I can constitutionally be recognized as a distinct Metis person and can carry around my Metis ID card, but when it comes down to my sexual and reproductive health as a Metis person, that can’t be recognized as distinct? I urge everyone to recognize how colonization and racism are intertwined with Metis sexual health in unique ways, and that I want to be heard as a Metis youth. One of the greatest effects of colonization and racism continuing to happen is assimilating my sexual health within the general populations needs, or by lumping me within a pan-Aboriginal approach.

Sincerely,

A concerned Metis youth. A Metis youth that will no longer stand for having other Metis youth affected by a health system that does not recognize our distinct culture and how that affects our vulnerability to HIV. A Metis youth who is pissed off and will not stop until all Metis people have sexual health education, HIV education, and responses specific to our communities.

Marse eki ~Erin-Marie

Tags: race and racism, sexuality

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