Resilience of Being Native
When my cousin Lee asked me to write about what my life was or is like in a non-native family, I really didn't know what to write as I've always considered my Family, my Family.
After all, I was just a 10 month old baby when I was adopted and I was the eldest daughter by 5 days.
I have 3 sisters who are younger than me. My sister Kirsten who is 5 days younger than me and who I consider my twin. (we were always referred as twins growing up) and then my sister Hannelore, who is 2 years younger and then Heidi, who is 5 years younger. Our parents, raised us with Love and Fairness and didn't treat any of us any differently than the other sister. Though, whenever we went to museums, we did go to the Native Section first, to the point that Hannelore would comment, “why do we always go to Karrie's section first?”
This was one way that my parents would introduce me to my Native Culture. Though I do have to admit that this did make me feel special.
So being adopted into a “white family” does have it's challenges. Being the only one in the family who is Native, means that I do stand out! I can remember a number of times when we as a family would meet new people and I was usually referred as one of my sister's friends, to which my parents would say, “no, these are all our daughters”. At first, I thought that this was rather funny but after awhile, it did bother me as it made me feel like I didn't belong! Though I do have to say that this was the only time that I ever felt this way. Even with my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cousins and my nephews and niece, I was never once treated differently than anyone else.
Having said this, I feel much more comfortable living in the “White World” than I would if I had to live in the “Native World”. To be honest, Natives intimidate me! They intrigue and fascinate me yet they make me feel nervous. I feel like that they “know” I am not a “True Native” as I wasn't raised within the Native Culture. I remember when I was visiting my family in Winnipeg and we all went to The Forks for Aboriginal Days. I couldn't get over how many Native's were there and commented on that in a rather loud and surprising voice, which was loud enough that people other than my family heard me. When they looked to see who said this, my dad was pointing towards me and saying that “she” said it!
So as I mentioned, I am part of this family and am not treated any differently than my sisters, except in one area. My parents are incredibly smart and they passed this on to my sisters. As for myself, well I struggled through school in every subject except for phys-ed. I had tutors, put into special classes where I would get more help. I was put back a grade which was fine until we moved to another city or school and I had to follow Kirsten. Which made me mad as the school would see “Wurmann” and put me into the “smart classes” which I would fail and get moved back into the special classes. My reaction to all of this was one of resentment as I could see my sisters getting these high marks and my marks were at the “just passing”. So I would lash out at my teachers, my parents and the other kids who would bully/pick on me for being dumb and Native. So it was a constant fight for me whether physical or verbal throughout my school years. My saving grace was that I was great at sports and this is where I excelled! I was the Best in any sport that I tried and I was better than my sisters, which was important to me! Why, because this was something that was mine and mine alone that I could do better than anyone.
It wasn't until later that my mom had me tested for FASD and when we were told that I had this, it came as a relief! I wasn't “Dumb or Stupid” I just wasn't firing on all rockets! Though I do struggle with the fact that my Birth Mother drank while she was pregnant and made me this way! It's something that I still struggle with but I also realize that she didn't know any better either. So how this affects my life, is that it pushed me into learning more about what is going on in the world by watching and reading the news and talking with my dad so that whenever I am involved in conversations on world issues, I can hold my own.
Though living with FASD, at times, I am full of doubts about myself and my life. Meaning that I often compare myself against my sisters and all that they have done and accomplished. They all went to University, got their degrees and are all working in their chosen fields. As for me, I'm on a Disability Pension as I can't hold down a job without getting bored with whatever job I had. So I do a lot of volunteer work with the RCMP and work very part-time as a cleaner in the detachment. Which works for me as I love working with people and doing the best that I can. But living with FASD, brings stress and anxiety which is something that I don't do well with. I stutter if I am really stressed/anxious or if my routine is disrupted.
So how I deal with this, I would call my mom and now my dad everyday to talk with them. When my dad is away, then I call or message one of my sisters and on weekends, I would FaceTime with them so that I would be able to see them. My mom would always know when I was dealing with too much as she could see me getting more frustrated and out of sorts. So she would always call me (when they lived here) and say that she's coming to get me so that I can go fishing for the day. After a day of fishing and being outdoors in nature, I can feel myself calming down and feeling relaxed. These days, I go for my morning and evening walks for a couple of hours each time and just be by myself. I also play my guitar and do my photography and spend time with “my” horses. I used to volunteer for a Horse Rescue and I still go out there and play with “my” horses.
So this is how I survive and stay strong not just for myself but for my family and friends. After all, they are who I live for and who I love the most!
So while we can support Karrie and love her, we cannot take away the hardship of being Native and growing up in a privileged white family system. We can just love her, not judge her and admire her as she practices the resiliency skills of staying connected to people who love her, exercising, spending time outdoors, finding attunement through relating to animals, being creative and working to find purpose and meaning in her life to help her cope and enjoy her life.
I love you Karrie. I am proud of you for speaking your truth so clearly and eloquently. And I am pleased that you are the first person (that is not a celebrity or famous) to be honoured in my blog posts this year, as someone who models resiliency and hope.