Wednesday, April 28, 2010

These are my moccasins.

When I was sixteen years old, I asked my grandmother to make me a pair of moccasins. My grandmother is a talented craftswoman who owned a Native arts and crafts shop, and had made me moccasins as a child (and ribbon dresses, and shawls, and Halloween costumes, and beaded barrettes, and skirts for dances, and the list goes on). But this request was different. I felt grown up – after all, I was banking my first pay check as a summer day camp counsellor on the reserve – and I wanted a pair of moccasins for a specific purpose: I wanted boot-style moccasins, as opposed to slippers, that I could wear outside.

On Christmas Eve a year and a half later, I opened my present from my grandparents to find my moccasins (and a pair of PJs). They were lace up boots, made with durable hide rather than thoroughly softened leather, and had a fuzzy lining inside. Most stunningly, their faces were entirely beaded and their bodies were a beautiful bright red. They were perfect.

Fast forward five years. I was in my third year of university majoring in communications and I registered for a course in public speaking. The course consisted of a series of different types of speeches and the first assignment was to introduce ourselves in a speech about an object. I wondered, what makes me unique? How am I different from the lululemon-and-Ugg-wearing blondes around campus? (Although I must admit, I had and still have a pretty hefty collection of lululemon yoga gear.) The answer was, of course, my moccasins. More importantly, the culture, history, traditions, and heritage that my moccasins embody.

So, I wrote my speech. When my name was called, I walked to the front of the room in my moccasins, and began: “These are my moccasins.” And that’s when it started. I could feel my throat starting to constrict, my palms beginning to sweat, and my voice shaking with every word I managed to squeak out. I stared at the faces in the crowd. Every colour in the medicine wheel was represented; one black, two yellow, one red (me), and, all the rest, white. I realized I wasn’t getting ‘stage fright.’ I was nervous because in this speech I wasn’t simply introducing myself as the assignment called for; I was confronting these people with my identity, my ‘ethnicity,’ my indigeneity, my pride of being Anishinabekwe.

Now here I am. It has been almost ten years since I asked my grandmother to make my moccasins. They are still in excellent shape, unlike those sold in stores, and I wear them all the time. At work. On the city bus. Around the house. Walking through 'bo-bo' (hipster) neighbourhoods. What feels like a lifetime ago, I offered fellow university students the opportunity to get to know me and my moccasins. And today, I make that offering to you.

These are my moccasins.