I have a few thoughts on manufactured indigeneity.
I grew up thinking I was Indigenous. Or more particularly, that I was part Indigenous. I was taught that I was Métis, and that meant part French and part Cree.
I was proud of my Indigenous heritage, despite the fact that my family (immediate and extended) did nothing to celebrate that heritage. I knew nothing about the Métis people and nothing about Cree people, outside of what I was taught in school.
We never attended a pow wow. No relative I knew could speak Cree. And I had never visited a Cree reserve.
Despite a lack of exposure to Indigenous culture and community, I still considered myself Cree. When I registered for Grade 11 at a new high school after we moved provinces, I even self identified as “non-status” on the application.
Actually, on that note, at one point, all the self-identified Indigenous students at my high school were called into an all-day assembly, where we learned about Indigenous culture and discussed Indigenous issues. For introductions, the facilitators went around the circle, asking each of us to introduce ourselves, what band we came from, and which ancestors were Indigenous (I wasn’t the only white-looking person there). When it was my turn, since I didn’t know which ancestor was Indigenous, I just said “grandparents”, and I just said “Woodland Cree” for the band.
The problem, however, is that I’m not actually Indigenous.
The family belief that we were Métis was based on a myth. Despite my mum and several of her family members apparently having what they called “Métis cards”, we weren’t Métis. In fact, we have no proof whatsoever that we have any Indigenous ancestors.
When I tried registering with the Métis Nation of Alberta about 15 years ago, that’s when things started to unravel for me.
That’s when I discovered that there’s more to being Métis than being part First Nations and part European. The Métis people are a group of people with a distinct culture and history. To register with the Métis Nation of Alberta at the time meant that you had to prove lineage to the original Métis settlements of the Red River area. Since my family were from Saskatchewan and had immigrated there directly from Québec, I had no connection to Red River.
I was devastated. As a European mutt, I was looking forward to having an ethnicity I could identify with. After I got over the disappointment, however, I redirected my indigeneity to my supposed Cree ancestry. If I wasn’t technically Métis, at least I was still Cree.
However, there’s no proof that I’m Cree either. Not even a little bit.
There are no treaty records and no scrip records. None of the birth, marriage, or death records I’ve accessed over the last 30 years show proof of indigeneity. Heck, even my own DNA results show 0% First Nations/Native American DNA.
Why was I so desperate to be Indigenous?
I think it comes back to something I heard in an episode of the mediaINDIGENA podcast once. I don’t remember who the guest was who said it, but they said something along the lines of settlers caring about Indigenous people only because they want their “dress, dance, and drum”.
That was me. I wanted the culture. I wanted the language, the food, the dancing, the sense of belonging. I had family members who wanted the “free education” and the “hunting rights”.
But I’d never experienced the racism. I’d never experienced the residential schools or the intergenerational trauma that came with my parents or grandparents attending residential schools. I’d never experienced what it was like living on the reserve. I’d never experienced the institutional disadvantages of being Indigenous: the lower life expectancy, the higher incarceration rates, the higher poverty rates, the higher high school dropout rates, and so on. I’d never experienced the state trying to erase my identity.
I wanted to eat the food, dance the dances, wear the clothing, and listen to the music, but at the end of the day, I could still go home and live my white, settler life.
You see, I was never interested in being an Indigenous person. I was only interested in dressing up like one.