Alana holds a degree in Indigenous Administration and Governance, and is studying both Cree and Stoney Nakoda. She hopes to inspire and engage youth in the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation community to make a difference.
life story so far
Alana Yellowdirt grew up in Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation with her mum, dad, and two siblings: an older brother, Joby, and a younger sister, Alice.
“When I was younger, I was always outside, even if it was raining or it was a cold, snowy day,” though now she prefers being indoors, Alana says. “I was always by myself, too, because I’m the only girl my age within all my cousins. Everybody’s older. Though sometimes I was with Jake (Bruno). He was like my little sidekick.”
Her grandma and grandpa played a huge part in her life; she lived with them from age 14 to 15, and her grandpa is her godfather.
“Every milestone, he was always there for me,” she says. “I grew up with ceremonies, and being able to be taught traditional medicines from my grandmother. I’d say my family is very rich in culture.”
Alana went to school off-reserve from Grades 6 to 12, where she was pressured to conform to Alberta curriculum and social norms that made little room for her language and culture.
“From being so proud of who I was and where I came from, I began to feel so ashamed of who I was, and the colour of my skin,” she says. “Being labelled as different because I came from another place than most students in my class, I suffered with an identity crisis for the rest of my childhood and my teenage years. I got so tired of always having to stand up for myself, explaining myself, and going to school smelling like smudge.”
Her high school guidance counselor had put her in cosmetology, so after graduation she went straight to beauty school. But after a couple of months working in hair salons, Alana decided to study business at Yellowhead Tribal College (YTC).
“Originally, I just planned to do the diploma level. But at the time I was living with my mom’s mom, my kokom, and she kept talking to me, ‘Just do your degree. You’ll never know where it could take you. The door opens wider if you have a higher level of education, especially because you’re Indigenous.’ So I did my degree in Indigenous Administration and Governance.”
During her final year of school, Alana not only had to navigate the pandemic, but also being a new mom dealing with postpartum.
“I actually graduated with honors, which was pretty cool because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.”
with her grandfather
It was the Indigenous governance aspect of the degree that began to shape how Alana viewed her identity.
“Before that, even though I’m Indigenous, I was living in a colonized world and I had that colonized mindset that even hated being around my own people. That’s how I was, you know. I had the blonde hair. Always making sure that I didn’t tan so my skin was lighter. I was just ashamed of who I was. But that governance portion really opened my eyes, and I started finding my Indigenous identity, because I lost that a long time ago.
“They say you can feel your spirit crying and longing for the culture and language. Emotions would flow in, and hit me like a train whenever I would hear someone praying in the language, and even listening to round dance and pow-wow music,” she said. “Feeling that pain of wanting to be connected, but not knowing how to connect, or to take the step towards that journey had me so confused in my early adulthood.”
Early on in her studies at YTC, one of her teachers greeted her with “Tansi,” which means “hello” in Cree. She didn’t understand.
“He said, ‘You know, that’s pretty sad. It’s going to be my job to decolonize your mindset and you just wait, by the end of this, you’re gonna be somebody different.’ I said, ‘OK, I’m gonna hold you to that.’ And he did, because I feel more proud of who I am rather than being ashamed.”
And so, following her degree, she went right into YTC’s language program, studying both Stoney and Cree.
“Growing up, we were always focused on our Stoney side and our Stoney culture. My mom, she’s actually Cree, but she doesn’t know anything about it due to residential schools, because her mum wasn’t able to learn and pass it down to her. We’re all very clear of the effects that come with intergenerational trauma. Being a product of that system has really made my spirit suffer,” she says. “When I went into the language degree and started taking all these Cree classes, I thought it was going to be so hard for me, but it just came so easy, probably because I do have that Cree in my blood.”
Alana, Joby and Jake
Lisa and Alana
Her classes have also helped Alana connect with Indigenous knowledge, including going out to the land and picking medicines, or learning through stories and songs about Creator’s Laws, actions that lead to a good life: “kindness, sharing. Be good to Creator’s creations and he will return back to you. Live an honest life. Don’t lie. If you see somebody that needs help, then help them regardless of the return.”
“There’s this thing in Stoney, it’s called “waûsiginach” (to be generous). And that’s basically what I think I was meant to do. It’s a teaching that was from my grandma,” Alana explains. “You’re always obligated to help people regardless of the situation you’re in, because that’s how my grandma was. She was never able to say no to people because she was a medicine woman. When people would go to her for help, she always had to say yes. And so that was something that she taught me to do. Just always say yes.”
Alana with the Pecamu Makoce program participants
rooted in people or place
This set of values passed on to Alana from her grandmother gives her purpose, and a sense of rootedness in that calling.
“I feel like what I’m connected to is just wanting to help people,” she says. “I want to help Indigenous people to be in the workforce, to be able to do something rather than just stay in their home, or in the Res and just living up to that stereotype.”
“I hope to inspire or help youth that struggled like I did. It was the worst feeling that I had to go through,” she says. “We need to continue educating our struggling youth, as they are the leaders of generations to come.”
Becoming a mother has given Alana a sense of duty to make sure her daughter is rooted through language and culture.
“I never really shared much about my daughter, but she’s my reason for everything,” she says. “I want my daughter to be able to know both sides, Stoney and Cree. I never want to fail her like I had been failed, I don’t want her to resent me for not teaching her both sides. I’m learning now, I’ve awakened that language spirit within me. Everything about this journey I’m on is wholesome. I ultimately feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be in life. I proudly say ‘I’m Nakota Sioux with a dash of Nehiyaw,’ and being able to say that without being ashamed is beautiful. I feel connected.”