The issue of indigenous citizenship is one that will be increasingly controversial. With half our population growing up off the reserve many young people are growing up and never setting foot on the reserve. They have no concept of the community and its history.But in the end the responsibility lies within the community itself. We have to bring everyone into the tent and be inclusive. Our growing diaspora of off reserve people must be made aware of their heritage and their place within our circle of relations.
but we must ensure that they enter the tent for the right reasons and not possess the mind set of a “convenient Indian”!
Star Phoenix – Doug Cuthand
In late November I received an email detailing the genealogy and family tree of Joseph Boyden. At the time I had other things on my plate so I let it slide. The email was widely circulated and Jorge Barrera, a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network took the information and ran with it.
After Barrera wrote his article non-indigenous columnists and opinion leaders weighed in with their two cents focussing on aboriginal blood quantum and the indigenous community’s harsh treatment of someone of such a high profile.
The result has been a story that will not go away.
Joseph Boyden is a Canadian writer of some renown. His books, Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce and The Orenda have all won awards and received critical acclaim. His stories revolve around Indigenous themes and he has spoken out on First Nations issues such as Attawapiskat.
His claim to Indigenous heritage is tenuous at best and has been questioned and discussed in the past. On one hand he has been accused of misrepresenting his cultural identity but on the other he is a talented writer who has told stories from an indigenous perspective.
This is where things got off the rails. As Indigenous people we have the right to determine who holds citizenship in our nations. Boyden has stated that he has Ojibway heritage and I won’t dispute it. It is between himself and the Ojibway Nation to determine.
Membership in an indigenous nation is both personal and a function of First Nations government. It should be determined by the nation itself. In the past people asked if they could join a Band or they would be invited. Many “outsiders” such as Métis would marry a person from the band and be invited to join. Also sometimes a person would live among the people and be a supportive individual who would be invited to join.
At the time the treaties were signed some Métis families were given the choice to take script or join with a First Nation.
Membership was not considered a racial designation but rather citizenship in a Cree, Saulteaux, or Nakota Nation and so on. The detractors for First Nations treaty rights refer to our citizenship as race based which just cheapens and narrows the definition. If we are to accept the nation to nation relationship that exists between Canada and the First Nations then race should be disregarded.
If you are a member of a First Nation you know who your relatives are, you know where you come from and your family history. Because First Nations were originally comprised of family groups your last name is just as valid as a postal code. When you meet someone and you know their last name you can pretty well guess where they came from.
I have sat with elders at gatherings and listened to them place individuals within the context of a First Nation or several First Nations. Relationships are important within our culture and they are more important than blood quantum.
If someone announces that they have Indigenous blood it doesn’t really mean much. You have to know where they come from, what their First Nation is and who their relatives are. Then they can be placed within that great circle.
We joke that while Black people are brothers and sisters, Indigenous people are all cousins.
Up to now the colonial office has assumed they have the right to determine First Nations citizenship. No other nation in the world has to put up with such interference. It is this colonial attitude where the roots of this issue really lie.
The issue of indigenous citizenship is one that will be increasingly controversial. With half our population growing up off the reserve many young people are growing up and never setting foot on the reserve. They have no concept of the community and its history.
But in the end the responsibility lies within the community itself. We have to bring everyone into the tent and be inclusive. Our growing diaspora of off reserve people must be made aware of their heritage and their place within our circle of relations.