When I was a little girl, my dad taught me this lesson: "You have two strikes against you already. First, you are a girl, and second, you are an 'Indian.' You are going to have to work that much harder to prove yourself, not because of who you are, but because of how others see you."
Growing up, I used to seriously resent this mindset, and often butted heads with my dad, believing him to be one of the persons who saw me that way (my dad is white). It wasn't until much later when I realized that he was simply preparing me for the real world, and the harsh reality that existed for Aboriginal women in our society.
The truth is, in many instances I was viewed as "less than" by my non-Native counterparts, and faced racism on a daily basis, in school, in sports, in almost every aspect of my being as a child. As a First Nations child growing up in foster care and often referred to as a "throw-away kid," it was evident that I would have to develop a thick skin in order to survive my childhood. I got into arguments and fights often, and though I was never the one who started them, I was always the one who got blamed, even by the many social workers I saw growing up. Eventually, I learned to just keep my mouth shut and take the abuse. And for a time, I started to buy into the idea that I WAS less than, without even realizing it.
Perhaps it was this thought that motivated me to keep pushing myself to excel at various things. In school, I maintained straight As up to high school. As a teenager, I became a track athlete, and trained every day to ensure a spot on the track team each year. As an artist, I practiced drawing and singing at every opportunity, becoming an exceptional portrait artist and singer.
And even though my dad seemed to project very specific expectations regarding male and female roles in the home and in the workforce, I decided that, despite my dad's view on the female role, I was going to be a police officer and, at the age of 19, I joined the RCMP as a Special Constable.
My career as a police officer was short-lived, however, as I had the misfortune of being married to an extremely abusive man at that time, whose final act of violence towards me left me physically unable to meet the requirements of a police officer, thus ending my dream of becoming a regular Member of the Force.
For the longest time, I blamed myself...for everything. Without even recognizing it, I blamed myself for being a foster kid, for fighting, for all the physical and sexual abuse I endured growing up and, ultimately, for marrying the wrong man. I blamed myself because I unconsciously believed I was "less than."
And then one day, I woke up.
The truth is, I was never what society wanted me to be. I was never a throw-away kid, I was stolen. I was never to blame for the actions of my abusers, I was a victim. And I am most definitely not to blame for the way that society views me. I am not, and never was "less than." And once I made the conscious decision to change my own mindset, my life began to change, most definitely for the better, because I simply decided to be whoever the hell I wanted to be.
Today, I am a motivational speaker for young and old people alike. I share my story with others, because it is empowering...not only for me, but for others as well. In determining my own sense of self, and in talking to others about learning to do the same, I realized the power of self discovery.
We all have it within us to be a shining beacon of hope for others, simply by being who we are and sharing our stories, and it is through this sharing of self that we discover just how wonderful life can be.
Lani Elliott survived a harrowing attack from her then-husband in 1993. She rebuilt a life for her and her sons, and now travels all over Canada sharing a message of hope for those who may be struggling with issues related to domestic violence.