WATCH: Canadian Family Honors Traditions from Biracial Jamaican and Indigenous Heritage

Tanya Ironchild lives in Canada with her family. She was raised in her Indigenous community, and after rediscovering her Jamaican heritage through links in the Black community, she decided that her life and her family would honor the traditions of both communities.

Recognizing her two heritages

Ironchild told CBC News that she was raised “more Aboriginal” but remembers her mother teaching her that outward appearances didn’t matter because “we all bleed red so don’t let anybody ever make you feel anything less than what you are.” Ironchild had mixed feelings about her biracial heritage at the time, saying that she felt “too Black for my Native side, and I wasn’t Black enough for my Black side.” She said added that she thought a lot about “who am I? Why am I here? What is this about going on throughout my life.” She had already been curious about her Jamaican heritage when her biological father reached out to her. While she had always thought she had to pick one side, she realized that the heritage from both sides of her family make her who she is.

Honoring Native roots

Ironchild began to honor both parts of her ancestry, although she leaned more toward her First Nation side because she felt that she “fit in” more there. In elementary school, she participated in beading class and dancing, and when she became an adult, she made Native dance regalia for her community’s children. She said she loved seeing the children smile when she helped them with their dress, just seeing “how much joy they have on their faces is the best thing for me.”

Honoring her Jamaican side

Her connection to her Jamaican heritage came from her friend, Melody McDonald, who taught Ironchild’s children about who they are from the Caribbean point of view and how to love themselves for who they are. Her children all participate in Caribbean dancing now. McDonald emphasized that by strengthening each other and their “makeshift families” and “adding that cultural component in there, then we’re just allowing our children to have that strength that we didn’t really have.”

Her daughters agree

Ironchild’s daughters agree and all work to keep the traditions of both heritages alive. “All I know is it feels pretty good when I’m dancing,” Neveah Ironchild said, adding that is “how I get to impress my mom,” always keeping anchored and strong. ShaDaya Ironchild said that she does both Native and Caribbean dance and that both were a big part of her life, shaping who she is. She is active in efforts to sustain her cultural identify. Now that she is 20 years old, she and some of the other girls are “starting to take that over and carry the traditions on since everybody else is starting to get older,” she said, adding that they are “passing it down through the generations, which is really nice to see.” Melissa Ironchild declared that the legacy she wants to leave her children is that they respect and honor who they are and retain the strength of that knowledge to one day pass it and the traditions to their own children.

Her legacy

Tanya Ironchild noted that the family’s biracial diversity has “made us a force to be reckoned with. Honoring the Native culture, which is “beautiful within itself and its history,” in addition to having the Jamaican heritage, prompts her to exclaim, “ Oh, my goodness, I think it was one of the greatest things that my mom could have ever done!” As for her legacy, Ironchild defines it as something “embedded in your core, your essence,  who you are. I’m going to leave my children with the roots of not only myself, but the ancestors. I feel like I’m truly blessed in the traditions of being indigenous and Jamaican.”

Photo – Tanya Ironchild