To be, or not to be? This is a question we constantly face within this society that surrounds us. Living in this world, existing as actors on its stage, we are encouraged to play a role that is anything but ourselves. “I should do this or that in order to appear to be like this or that” some might say. “If I don’t have this or that, I won’t ever amount to this or that.” And we worry, and we stress, and we strain.
We are told what success should look like, yet our standards of success are hardly based on our own perspectives. These standards are instead based on societal illusions that whirl around us, and our true selves dissolve, blurring within the peripherals of our vision. Instead, all we see is our society, and it always seems to work against our ability to be ourselves by forcing us to be that which we ourselves are not.
And when we realize this, we desire freedom. We desire to escape it, to rid ourselves of it. Yet, we cannot. And it grabs a hold of us tightly in its grip because it is what we were born into. It is what we have known our entire lives. It is convenient to remain within the mould. And so we are stuck, for the collective need for this and that and the desire for more and more hinders our ability to be free. It does not have to be like this, though.
Last month, solutions regarding straying from your identity, especially amongst indigenous people, were brought to light during the very first REDx Talks at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. Through it’s duration, some of Alberta’s indigenous leaders, academics, and creative thinkers discussed the beauty of their identity.
Existing in the same vein as TEDx Talks, REDx Talks, organized and curated by Cowboy Smithx, is a not-for-profit intellectual discussion which is meant to enlighten, inspire, and instill ideas within the minds of those who attend.
“I’ve spoken at TEDx Talks before,” says Ashley Callingbull-Burnham, current Mrs. Universe and one of this year’s speakers at REDx Talks. “They restrict you to things you can and cannot say. But with REDx Talks—and I really thank you, Cowboy—it lets us have this time to be very open and share as much as we possibly can! It is important for indigenous people to share their stories, and this is a great beginning to something that I think is going to be huge.”
From elder Dr. Leroy Little Bear, who deconstructed what a true nation is, to Chris Hsiung, who delved into the constructs of his documentary Elder In The Making, the conversation that transgressed through the afternoon (and well into the night) uncovered truths of the past and hopes for the future.
Coming to know these, it is only natural to ask how it is possible to thrive within the present? First Nations people have always struggled with never fitting into the mould. The thing is, though, we never were interested in even creating a mould in the first place. We ooze out from being jammed within such constrictions. We end up becoming seekers of truth, endeavouring to find our own purpose in this life. We create our own selves. We form one culture. We exist inside truth. What is more is that because First Nation’s people have cultivated such intricate belief systems, the truths that lie within them still resonates within us today. We are connected, and it is because we have our beliefs to fall back on that we can remain so close to those within our culture.
“For me, being a First Nation’s woman and coming from the background that I come from, people don’t expect me to succeed,” says Callingbull-Burnham. “People don’t expect me to be in the spotlight. People don’t expect me to be accomplished. I think this is a ridiculous stereotype. I’m going beyond that, though. I don’t care what people say about me. I don’t care what people say about my people. It’s not true. So I’m going to push myself in every direction that I think I want to go in, and I’m going to do well for myself by breaking barriers, breaking stereotypes, and breaking the mould. It’s inspiring other First Nations people to do the same, and so I don’t care what society says. I’m gonna do what I want. I’m going to do it, and I am going to succeed.” And it is this kind of power that is gained from believing in our culture. It is this kind of admirable resistance that sparks change. And, really, all it takes is finding the ability to just be yourself.
Sometimes we think too much. Sometimes we get stuck in our mind, and it feels like we are barely latching on to that which we call ourselves. We have to stay attached, though. The answer First Nations Drum uncovered during REDx Talks is simple: finding the ability to be is not only denying the convenience found in not being, but labouring against the harshest of barriers in order to let others know that it is okay to just be.