Eagleclaw Thom says he grew up in a hostile city where he faced a lot of racism that made him ashamed to be Indigenous.
As an adolescent he says pretended to be, “Mexican, or anything else other than those drunk Indians that you see on the corner.”
When he was nine, his mother offered to change his name, because she saw him being bullied and discriminated against.
“And so my teachers wouldn’t treat me differently and like an idiot and beat me and send me to the principal, (who) would whip my knuckles with a belt that was heated on the radiator,” says Eagleclaw.
The “factory mentality” in schools made him aware of the traumas students endured in the earlier days of the education system.
It seemed to Eagleclaw that the way white people see Indigenous people is exhibits in a museum, where First Nations artifacts and culture are placed between the displays of buffaloes and extinct dinosaurs.
“What are you saying about the culture that is still living inside us each day?” asks Eagleclaw.
As a mature student attending the First Nations University of Canada, Eagleclaw realized that the academic setting was “structured, but there was a lot of freedom to explore and think and play with your own ideas, interpret things in your own way.”
He says in those university classes he was introduced to “new ideas, new levels of engagement,” and was “insanely important.”
University allowed Eagleclaw freedom to meet like-minded people and “explore things in my own perspective.”
“It allowed me the freedom to have my feet in both worlds,” says Eagleclaw.
Today, Eagleclaw is working with the Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association creating three sculptures to mark the graveyard of former students.
“I am by far not the worst off of people who have grown up in the city,” he says. “I live a blessed and good life. I’m insanely lucky for that and incredibly grateful. I finished school and not a lot of people do that.”