Sarah Koi: Learning to accept my identity as a 'born again' Cree

"My name is Sarah. I was born in Vancouver on May 20th 1989 by a pure blooded, beautiful Nêhiyaw (Cree) woman. My mother struggled in Vancouver’s, ‘Streets of Plenty.” The intergenerational trauma of Residential School and the breakdown of family left an open wound that riddled my bloodline with addiction, abuse and sickness. She died from an overdose in 1995; I never got to meet her. I’m not quite sure if I was taken or given up at birth. Either way, my biological mother could not care for me, thus I was adopted into a European family. This is my story as a colonized Cree.

I had always considered myself to be white. I knew no other way of life. My parents are from Finland. They speak Finnish, think Finnish, and live their lives as devoted Christians. For many years, actually for the majority of my life- I felt perfectly comfortable being Finnish or white. I had no clue what an ‘Indian’ was. I only knew of Indians on Hastings Street, the scary kind. I grew up with absolutely no Aboriginal culture or peoples around me. I wouldn’t say I was taught that Indians were ‘evil’, but somehow I developed this belief as a young child. I remember seeing the Totem poles in Vancouver parks. I was afraid of the carvings. I remember hearing the beating of drums while camping near Kelowna. I covered my ears because the sound terrorized me.

I wouldn’t say my parents are racist, but rather misinformed, or stuck in their influenced perceptions and ideas of Indigenous peoples and our struggle. They only see the statistics and thank God, Jesus, and Lord that I was saved from the savages! (No, my life has not been easy or handed to me– nor was I necessarily ‘saved.’ I was not immune to drugs, abuse and alcohol.)

During elementary and high school I faced exclusion and racism in different forms of physical, emotional and even spiritual abuse from students, strangers and church members. I remember being at private Christian schools and having basketballs thrown at my head, having my nose busted up and being called a “Chug” too many times to count. I didn’t have Cree pride to protect me. I couldn’t care less if someone was attacking my heritage. I was angry that I had the features of an Indian worthy of discrimination."

Get the Story:
Sarah Koi: Change Happens (The Last Real Indians 7/6)

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