by Jessica Bonilla-Damptey
Originally posted on McMaster University’s Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars blog.
Hello amig@s (friends),
My name is Jessica. I am one of 14 participants in the first ever Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars Program at McMaster University. I am happily participating with the blog for the program. I want to let you know that I will be writing the blog as letters to my loved ones. This first letter is for my son.
When mamá leaves the house in the morning, after kissing you good-bye, I go to school. You are familiar with my school –McMaster University – and identify it as the place where you see your aunties and uncles; it is also where you always get some sort of new toy to play with (beaded corn, sticky brains, a little drum, sticky notes and McMaster pens), and, of course, candy (sometimes fruit) from every office we visit.
Since July 2 and until August 14 (6 weeks) I am participating in the Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars (IUSRS) program. Some of your aunties/uncles are participating in this program too; now thanks to the program you have more aunties and uncles who are wonderful, loving, intelligent people who you can look up to and go to for support and wisdom when you need it. If you ever want to know about neuroscience, psychology, medical school, history, literature, social work, engineering, linguistics, etc., don’t worry, your aunties and uncles have you covered! Your aunties and uncles also help papá and I keep you grounded and nurture your spirit. They will show you how to have a good mind, to give thanks, about the Great Law of Peace, to be proud of who you are and be humble at the same time and so much more.
I want you to know that this program has been so beneficial for mamá! In the past I have thought about going to graduate school and have even said that I would go to graduate school, but now because of this program, I feel prepared to go into graduate school and can see myself as a graduate student. I even have an amazing woman as my research supervisor who is guiding me through the application process!
Wait. First an explanation: the first 3 to 4 (or more) years of education in University are called undergraduate studies. Then when you successfully complete those years, you graduate with an undergraduate degree. After that, if you decide that you want to continue to study in University you go on to graduate school. Usually a Master’s program and if you want to keep going, you move on to a PhD program.
Anyway, this program has really encouraged me to “keep going” (shout out to Rudy Tijerino & the KGF) in my education and made me feel like I belong. The program name for me is “scholar.”
Me a “scholar”…
I can do this! I can go to graduate school.
Me a scholar…
I need to do this!
For myself, for our familia, for you, for our comunidad.
You see, when mamá does something, I do it with all those around us in mind. I think of you and the babies, our cousins and the youth, your tios and those my age, your abuelitos and our elders – who I know are watching me and taking notes. If I go to grad school … WHEN I go to grad school I can then encourage our comunidad to continue onto grad school … to post-secondary education.
The IUSRS has brought that big ivory tower down a little and made me feel like I belong.
We recently went to my graduation from McMaster University. I and those in attendance could hear you say “mamá” as you waited very patiently for the ceremony to finish. Guess what? I am a scholar. I have been a part of the academy, but I never thought of myself in that way. And from what I have learned and heard, a lot of your aunties and uncles in the program right now also felt like they haven’t belonged. But we do and so do you. This program has let me see that I do belong, that I will continue in academia and that I will do so in my own way. I will write in a way that is comfortable for me. I will write for our comunidad in a way that we can all understand. If someone says “I don’t get it” then I will have to keep working until they do. I will do research with and for our comunidad, lead by our comunidad and in a way that is accountable to our comunidad.
Hijo, I know I have written a lot. Sorry. A few more things before I end.
This program has allowed me to learn from many Indigenous scholars who are paving the way for us, for future scholars and our communities, so that the road won’t be as hard for us as it was (is) for them. This program is a definite example of things being easier already! They have utilized Indigenous methodologies in their work, have fought and continue to fight to have them accepted. They write books and articles so that we can use them in our work. They do all of this for us, for themselves, por el pueblo – the peoples- so we may be recognized. For that we must say Gracias, Niá:wen.
p.s. Whenever we do anything we must think of those around us, past, present and future. Therefore, I cannot end without acknowledging that there are THOUSANDS of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women in Canada and 43 missing Indigenous students from Ayotzinapa Mexico who are not with us, who are loved, who are missed and aren’t able to participate in this program. I believe, m’hijo, that to honour them, their families and ourselves we must do the best that we can in whatever we do, and keep them present in our hearts, our minds and with our voices.
“ Nos quisieron enterrar, pero no sabían que eramos semillas” – “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know that we were seeds”
Jessica Bonilla-Damptey is also a former SACHA volunteer. Check out why she volunteered at SACHA in this video: