I'm asking who I am and where am I from. I am asking who are my people. That's what this journey is about for me.
Maybe that's why Joseph Boyden's inability to talk clearly about who he is and where he is from really doesn't sit well with me. Maybe he does have some Aboriginal blood somewhere down the line: that's a context he needs to talk about if he is talking about reconciliation. But, that would mean removing himself from the centre.
For graduate school research, a Inuk woman I interviewed started the interview by saying first that she doesn't speak for her whole community, that she speaks for herself. There was this reluctance to speak on behalf even of her own people. She consulted community elders and her mother before she confirmed details. I've seen this repeatedly.
In one of Thomas King's books (I honestly can't recall offhand, might have been one of his children's books) one of the characters accuses another o acting like they have no relations. I've read that other places too.
Relations are the community you are accountable to. Relations and communities are complicated. They can be dysfunctional. It can be healthy to get away from certain communities and/or families. But in the end we all have to have communities of people we are accountable to. That's what I believe, anyway.
As Jesse Brown pointed out, Indigenous people questioning Boyden aren't measuring his blood. They are asking if he has been lying. Because there are signs he has been lying. And when someone becomes the spokesperson for entire communities of Indigenous people, that's important. It's important too, that he has the support of the Indigenous people he's supposed to be representing.
There are so many people doing great writing work on this issue.
First, Hayden King, who published piece in the Globe and Mail, asking where Boyden is from, pointing out a list of inconsistencies: "The list of brilliant and deserving but barely surviving indigenous writers and artists is very long. So when (already privileged) writers claim prizes for their performance instead of real indigenous peoples, the result is material harm as well as insult."
Peggy Blair is a non-Aboriginal lawyer who specialized in Aboriginal law on the First nations side and she writes about the meaning of community and community acceptance. Peggy's blog post sent me to Daniel Heath Justice's Facebook page for a response to the controversy. Jesse Brown over at Canadaland has been staying close to the story and reporting how First Nations communities, writers, and commentators are responding. The article "Things Joseph Boyden Has Claimed to Be But is Not" covers a lot of bases. Also Canadaland twitter feed was where I saw the original headline to the Globe and Mail piece, that referred to criticism of Boyden as a public lynching (before some editor changed it to something less offensive.)
Robert Jago, one of the researchers whose evidence led to questions about Boyden's claims, published a piece on Canadaland: Why I Question Joseph Boyden's Indigenous Ancestry.
And finally, because so much of this story is taking place on Twitter, I've enjoyed following apihtawikosisan
Really, such a huge thanks to all the writers engaging on this topic. The issues are complex, tensions are high, and feelings are tender. Thank you for wading in and leading the way.
But, back to asking "Where am I from?" People like Joseph Boyden potentially have so much to contribute to this conversation we are having about reconciliation, Indigenous histories and Indigenous futures. The best way to join that conversation is from the complexity of who he actually is. No doubt Joseph Boyden's family tree is complex in some ways. But if Boyden has any claim to Indigenous heritage, then the conversation Boyden missed out on is the complexity of having multiple origins, the complexity of where Canadians go now, with who we are.
So in this journey I am on I have to recognize that while I am legally Métis, I am also other things. I am European too. I don't look Indigenous. I'm one of those light-haired, light-eyed Métis. That is part of the journey and part of this conversation. I'm not sure how it all fits together yet. But there it is. It's a beginning.