Vowel (2016). Culture and Identity. (Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada.)

Vowel, C. (2016). Culture and Identity. In Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada (pp. 23–114). Winnipeg, Canada: Portage & Main Press.


[§3. Got Status? Indian Status in Canada” (p 25) …]

[“Status versus membership” (p 26) …]

[“Who is Aboriginal?” (p 27) …]

[“Status Indians and registered Indians” (p 27) …]

[“Bill C-31 and status” (p 28) …]

“Enfranchisement was a concrete way to assimilate Indigenous peoples out of legislative existence, extinguish their rights, and solidify colonial control over lands and resources.” (p 28)

[“Bill C-31: Way to not fix sexism!” (p 30) …]

[“Sharon McIvor and Bill C-3: Gender equity in Indian Registration Act” (p 31) …]

[“Band membership” (p 31) …]

[“Reserves” (p 32) …]

[“Treaty Indians” (p 33) …]

[“Confused yet?” (p 33) …]

[§ “4. You’re Métis? Which of Your Parents Is an Indian?: Métis Identity” (p 36) …]

[“Is there Métis status?” (p 37) …]

[“Little m and big M arguments” (p 38) …]

“This leads us into the big _M_ discussion. Big _M_ Métis tends to be a sociopolitical definition, one that still often relies on the core concept of ‘mixture.’ The belief is that mixing between European men and Indigenous women happened, and the Métis were born as a people (a process known as ‘ethnogenesis’) when they began to share a common experience that eventually crystallized into a national identity during a specific period of time in the history of Canada.3 There is _less_ focus on race, although kinship ties are very much present.” (p 38)

[“So, who really is Métis?” (p 39) …]

“Families linked to the Red River moved west into Alberta, founding communities and forming strong relationships with First Nations there.” (p 40)

“The point of all of this is to give you a better sense of how kinship and history play a much more important role in my identity as a Métis person than quantifying my ‘mixedness.’ This has absolutely impacted my views on who is Métis.” (p 40)

[“Dude, I still don’t get it; just how Indian are you?” (p 40) …]

“We all have our own ideas about what it means to be Métis based on our lived experiences.” (p 41)

[“This isn’t helpful at all; surely there is some definition you can explain?” (p 41) …]

“The Powley Test, as it is known, set out basic criteria for determining who is accepted as Métis by the Canadian state. … ‘Métis means a person who self-identifies as a Métis, is distinct from other aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation ancestry, and is accepted by the Métis Nation.’13” (p 41)

“The Powley definition is still fairly vague, though, and the issue of Métis identity continues to be hotly contested.” (p 42)

[“Okay, so where do you stand?” (p 42) …]

[“Rejecting the myth of Métissage” (p 43) …]

“Apparently, we’re the only ones who married out, interbred, mixed. According to this logic,
anyone with a single Indigenous ancestor 300 years ago is mixed, and, therefore, Métis.

“I hope it is obvious that this claim is ridiculous.18 It also needs to be said that we are not the only post-contact Indigenous people. The Lumbee, Oji-Cree, Comanche, and Seminole are other examples of Indigenous peoples who formed a unique identity after contact with European settlers.” (p 43)

“Of course, the problem with this is the fact that many of the people claiming us are not claimed _by_ us. Self-identification is not enough. As an Indigenous people, the Métis have the right to define our own kinships rather than having anyone who wishes come along and claim kinship with us.” (p 44)

“Please stop viewing Indigenous peoples as ‘the other,’ but do not replace that with ‘we are all Indigenous’ (I’m looking at you, too, John Ralston Saul).” (p 45)

“Sometimes I want to shake people and say, ‘Being non-Indigenous is _okay_.'” (p 46)

“At first, these organizations may have just been a way to connect people who share genealogical interests. Now, it is becoming more common for these groups to advance claims to rights based on section 35 of the _Constitution_, and to insist on a right to be included in things like resource extraction negotiations.” (p 46)

“Further, the claiming of indigeneity by settler populations means circumventing any need to engage in decolonization. Once we are all Métis (and Indigenous), none of us are. The categories of ‘settler’ and ‘Indigenous’ collapse into each other, allowing settlers to claim an unearned legitimacy in perhaps the most bizarre of ways. Rather than denying Indigenous peoples’ right to the land and resources, this move to innocence affirms that right and then strips it of all meaning by ‘Indigenizing’ the settler.” (p 47)

[“Sounds confusing; doesn’t this exclude a lot of people?” (p 47) …]

[“The Daniels decision” (p 48) …]

“In April 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada released the Daniels decision,34 …” (p 48)

[Notes to Chapter 4 …]

  • 3. By national identity, I do not mean in the nation-state sense. Indigenous peoples are not trying to claim or prove we are nation states, necessarily. Rather, it refers to national identity in the sense of being a connected people with our own sociopolitical orders, shared culture, territory, and history.
  • 13. Métis Nation of Alberta webpage, http://www.albertametis.com/MNAHome/Home.aspx.
  • 18. Adam Gaudry, “Respecting Métis Nationhood and Self-Determination in Matters of Métis Identity,” pp. 152–163 in Aboriginal History: A Reader, Geoff Read and Kristin Burnett, ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2015). If it isn’t obviously ridiculous, then please read this spot-on piece by Adam Gaudry, which helps to clarify the origin of the Métis identity.
  • 34. Daniels v. Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development), 2016, SCC 12. Available online: https://scccsc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/15858/index.do.

[§ “5. Feel the Inukness: Inuit Identity” (p 55) …]

“You might want to start with Becky Qilavvaq’s 2012 short film starring Anguti Johnson called _Feel the Inukness_.2” (p 55)

“To date (and in my opinion), no other Indigenous peoples in Canada have so successfully seized hold of modern technology to tell authentic, Indigenously rooted stories as the Inuit. I am a bit biased, though, because I am an Indigenous-language fanatic. The fact that so much of what the Inuit produce is in their own language, rather than translated into English or French, makes me extremely happy and provides me with a concrete example of something to strive for.” (p 56)

[“Okay, but maybe list some digestible facts about the Inuit” (p 56) …]

“The Inuit also have strong ties to other Inuit peoples in Alaska (United States), Greenland (Denmark), and Chukotka (Russia) through the international Inuit Circumpolar Council.11” (p 56)

“Although there is no such thing as an Inuit status card, from 1941 to 1978 Inuit were forced to wear ‘Eskimo’ identification discs similar to dog tags.” (p 58)

“Official government correspondence often used only these disc numbers to refer to individual Inuit. The discs were phased out after Operation Surname, undertaken by Inuk Abe Okpik. He visited every Inuit home and asked each family to choose a surname.17” (p 58)

[Notes to Chapter 5 …]

  • 2. Becky Qilavvaq, Feel the Inukness. YouTube video. Released 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iawDXQGQsr0.
  • 4. Available for viewing on IsumaTV: https://www.isuma.tv/atanarjuat. While the film can be viewed for free, please consider donating whatever you can afford to support the work of IsumaTV, ‘a collaborative multimedia platform for Indigenous filmmakers and media organizations.’ They have amazing content.
  • 6. The Journals of Knud Rasmussen are available to view for free (or preferably for a reasonable donation) at IsumaTV/Arnait Productions: https://www.isuma.tv/isuma-productions/journals-knud-rasmussen.
  • 7. Zacharias Kunuk, Before Tomorrow, IsumaTV/Arnait Productions, https://www.isuma.tv/isuma-productions/beforetomorrow.
  • 11. “Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada,” ICC International, accessed October 14, 2015, http://www.inuitcircumpolar.com/iccinternational.
  • 17. Ann Meekitjuk Hanson, “What’s In a Name?” accessed December 30, 2015, http://www.nunavut.com/nunavut99/english/name.html.

[§ “6. Hunter-Gatherers or Trapper-Harvesters? Why Some Terms Matter” (p 60) …]

“Culture informs our interactions with the world around and inside us. It informs our pedagogy. When you look at some of the principles of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ),3 which is traditional Inuit knowledge (I avoid the term epistemology because, holy cats, that’s an annoying word), it is not difficult to see how these principles have been shaped by hunting.” (p 60)

“As with other Indigenous peoples, these hunting principles were eroded by the introduction of fur trapping.” (p 61)

“… the framework of the ‘Inuit Way,’ which continues to be rooted in a hunting
culture, not a trapping culture.5” (p 61)

[“Is the difference between hunting and trapping at all important?” (p 61) …]

“Yes and no. Yes, in that trapping is an activity focused on the individual, commercial aspect of one particular form of hunting. As discussed above, trapping tends to be an activity that is more individual, rather than collective. The values of a hunting culture are not necessarily the same as the values of a trapping culture.” (p 61)

[“So, what is going on here?” (p 62) …]

“So, while the English terms focused on trapping as an imported, individual economic
activity, the Cree terms (translated into English through a Cree world-view) make it clear that trapping is part of a wider hunting culture governed by traditional laws and central to the Cree culture.” (p 64)

[“All very cool, but where is this going?” (p 65) …]

“Rather than seeking better English or French translations for Indigenous concepts, I feel it is important to return to our languages for the proper terms. The Inuit and the Cree of Eeeyou Istchee are already doing this. In this way, we centre ourselves in our traditional laws and our traditional understandings of the reciprocal obligations we have to our territories and to one another. Far from being feel-good, back-to-nature yearning for precontact mumbo jumbo, our legal principles are foundational and applicable to the modern era.” (p 65)

[Notes to Chapter 6 …]

  • 3. Government of Nunavut, ‘Hivunikhaliurutikhat,’ Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs, accessed October 13, 2015, http://www.eia.gov.nu.ca/PDF/IQ_Principles_2010.pdf.
  • 5. ‘The Inuit Way,’ uqar.ca, accessed October 13, 2015, http://www.uqar.ca/files/boreas/inuitway_e.pdf. This is an amazing resource on Inuit culture that should be read by everyone who works with Inuit people, or who intends to visit Inuit territories.

[§ “7. Allowably Indigenous: To Ptarmigan or Not to Ptarmigan – When Indigeneity Is Transgressive” (p 67) …]

“For thousands of generations before contact, diversity of culture was a fact in what is now known as Canada. Despite today’s official policy of multiculturalism, Canada has nonetheless collapsed cultural diversity into, essentially, four categories: White anglophone settlers, White francophone settlers, Aboriginal people,2 and Newcomers (which is basically Everyone Else and is, in my opinion, the more honest term).” (p 67)

“None of these categories is neat, or even particularly coherent when examined at all closely. For example, Black families who have lived in Canada as long as any of their White counterparts are still often categorized as Newcomers, and the existence of slavery as a reason for Black presence in Canada is thoroughly denied.” (p 67)

“Despite the flaws inherent in these categories, there is still a strong sense that Aboriginal culture was supplanted by White settler culture, and Newcomer-Everyone Else cultures are welcomed only to the extent that they enrich the Canadian experience; in other words, as long as they are expressed via costumes, food, and music.” (p 67)

“Cultural expressions that can be purchased in the form of goods and services, or entertainment, are acceptable. Cultural expressions that cannot be so easily commodified can be seen as threatening, transgressive, or simply not Canadian.” (p 68)

[“What does it mean to be ‘allowably Indigenous’?” (p 68) …]

“Thus, there is almost always an element of culture shock for those Indigenous peoples leaving their nonurban community for an urban centre.” (p 68)

“You have a situation where Canadians are accustomed to seeing Indigenous peoples only within very narrow circumstances: as urban homeless, struggling with addictions/mental illness, or within the context of cultural celebrations (costumes, food, or music). Any other show or embodiment of culture is not socially acceptable, because Canadians have no way of categorizing them according to settler norms. This is what it means to be allowably Indigenous when you step outside an Indigenous community.4” (p 68)

[“Indigenous transgression: Connection to the land is weird.” (p 69) …]

“Later, she was asked where people who want to eat ptarmigan can go and buy one. I was
struck by the leap to commodification here, as in, if a settler wants something, it must be available for purchase, or at least defined by its monetary value. Christina had to once again explain this is not how things work when you’re discussing country food.

“I wonder if this made the interviewers a bit angry, like they were possibly being denied
something that, whether they wanted it or not, they felt they should at least be able to have if the desire came a-knocking. It’s probably mean of me to even wonder, so I’ll cut it out. The funny thing is, as Christina explains, if they really wanted ptarmigan, they could probably get it for free if they were willing to put in the work to build a relationship with Inuit folks. But picking it up at the local supermarket? Hahahaha – now _that’s_ weird.” (p 69)

“For Indigenous folks who have relocated to the city, on the other hand, getting some wild meat is a little slice of home.” (p 70)

[“She should become a superstar!” (p 70) …]

“Commodification of Indigenous cultures as a tourist attraction (and enticement to settlement) has a long and sordid history in Canada and continues unabated.7” (p 70)

[“We’re not the weird ones; true Inuk pride” (p 71) …]

[Notes to Chapter 7 …]

  • 2. I deliberately use the singular here to highlight the perceived homogeneity of Indigenous cultures.
  • 4. The rules governing what is ‘allowably Indigenous’ inside our communities are less clear, since settlers are often not there to provide guidance.
  • 7. Jennifer Adese, “Aboriginal: Constructing the Aboriginal and Imagineering the Canadian National Brand” (Hamilton: McMasters University, 2012), https://macsphere.mcmaster.ca/bitstream/11375/15246/1/fulltext.pdf. Here, you will find an in-depth analysis of historic and contemporary commodification of Indigenous peoples, lands, art, and culture.

[§ “8. Caught in the Crossfire of Blood-Quantum Reasoning: Popular Notions of Indigenous Purity”

[“The ‘no true technology’ fallacy8” (p 75) …]

“Once again, the desire to return to traditional Indigenous principles [page break] somehow gets conflated with the notion that doing so requires Indigenous peoples to eschew all forms of technology and revert to exactly how they lived precontact.

“I would really appreciate it if authors and individuals stopped pushing precontact conditions as a goal or a desire on our part. … Integrating settler technology into traditional Indigenous practices does not require us to accept settler philosophies, and it certainly does not erase our indigeneity.” (p 75-76)

[“‘Fake’ Indians: The blood-quantum mess” (p 76) …]

“Blood-quantum rules have been called a ‘slow genocide,’ and I think this is an apt description. … I’m sorry, but what are we? A breed? Or peoples with distinct languages, customs, and beliefs?” (p 77)

[Notes to Chapter 8 …]

  • 8. This is a trope often applied to Indigenous peoples. If you are interested in the way in which science fiction depicts indigeneity, you might want to check out the Métis In Space podcast, cohosted by myself and Molly Swain. Here is the show description: “In otipêyimisiw-iskwêwak kihci-kîsikohk (Métis In Space), Molly and Chelsea drink a bottle of (red) wine and, from a tipsy, decolonial perspective, review a sci-fi movie or television show featuring Indigenous peoples, tropes, and themes.” You can find us on the Indian and Cowboy Media Network (http://www.indianandcowboy.com/) at: metisinspace.com.

[§ “9. What Is Cultural Appropriation? Respecting Cultural Boundaries” (p 80) …]

[“Knee-jerk arguments to avoid (if you give two craps)” (p 81) …]

[“A guy walks into a bar and asks…” (p 82) …]

[“Restricted versus unrestricted” (p 82) …]

[“Cheapen the symbol, cheapen the achievement” (p 83) …]

“The symbol most appropriated from Indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States is the okimâw-astotin, the headdress. For the most part, headdresses are restricted items. In particular, the headdress worn by most non-Indigenous peoples imitates those worn traditionally by only a handful of Plains nations. These headdresses are sometimes further restricted within some of those nations to _men_ who have done certain things to earn them.” (p 84)

[“How do I know what’s restricted and what isn’t?” (p 84) …]

[“Stop rolling your eyes at the term sacred and think important instead.” (p 85) …]

“… the translation of terms from our languages into the word sacred can sometimes cause confusion and trouble — being associated mostly with organized religion.” (p 85)

“Usually when we say ‘sacred,’ there are more complex terms in our own language that apply, all of which basically mean the thing in question is important and meaningful in a specific way. When you see the term _sacred_, please remember that.” (p 85)

[“Adapting to the interest” (p 85) …]

[“Respectful access” (p 86) …]

[“If you admire a culture, learn about it.” (p 87) …]

[“Combating misinformation” (p 88) …]

“The emergence of social media platforms has created amazing possibilities for Indigenous peoples to combat centuries-old stereotypes and misconceptions. However, we are up against the sheer volume of those stereotypes, and sometimes it can feel like a losing battle.” (p 88)

[“Try celebration, instead of appropriation.” (p 89) …]

[§ “10. Check the Tag on That “Indian” Story: How to Find Authentic Indigenous Stories” (p 92) …]

[“This kind of thing is harmful.” (p 93) …]

“Let’s call the practice of fabricating ‘Native American’ stories what it is: colonialism. This is one of the ways colonial governments acquire full political control over lands and people — by erasing pre-existing cultures and replacing them with the culture of settlers.” (p 94)

[“Start asking questions.” (p 94) …]

“You see, our stories have provenance; a source, an origin. That means you should be able to track down _where_ the story was told, _when_, and _who_ told it.

“There are specific protocols (rules) involved in telling stories that lay this provenance out for those listening. The person telling the story describes how he or she came to know the story, often sharing the circumstances surrounding being gifted with this piece of entertainment and knowledge. This can be done orally, or in writing if the story is being printed. There are often protocols involved in what kinds of stories can be told to whom, and when. Every Indigenous nation is going to have its own rules about this, but all of them have ways of keeping track of which stories are theirs.” (p 95)

[“Indigenous genres” (p 96) …]

“The âtayôhkêwina are often described in English as sacred stories.12 These are stories describing ancient times – the original creators or storytellers are long forgotten.” (p 96)

“The âtayôhkêwina continue to have social and cultural importance; they are not merely entertainment. They represent and express a nêhiyaw world-view and philosophy, as well as forming a body of nêhiyaw laws. In order for laws to be effective, they must be known. The telling of âtayôhkêwina ensures these laws continue to be passed down from generation to generation.” (p 96)

“The âcimowina, on the other hand, happen after the âtayôhkêwina and tend to be regarded as more factual than mythological — though within the âcimowina are many tales that are not always meant to be taken literally. … Because many of the âcimowina are specific to certain communities and families, they are not all necessarily as widely known as the âtayôhkêwina and may be passed down within just a family or community. These stories are not restricted in the same way as the âtayôhkêwina, but you can imagine that if a story belongs to a certain family, it would be extremely unbecoming to tell that story without permission.” (p 97)

[“Be okay with difference.” (p 98) …]

“Listening to, or reading, authentic Indigenous stories means you are accessing different cultures. Please don’t forget that. Sometimes, what you are reading simply will not make sense to you because you lack the cultural context.” (p 98)

[Notes to Chapter 10 …]

  • 12. Robert Innes, Elder Brother and the Law of the People: Contemporary Kinship and Cowessess First Nation (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2013), 23–42. For a longer and more detailed discussion of the importance of âtayôhkêwina and âcimowina, see this source.

[§ “11. Icewine, Roquefort Cheese, and the Navajo Nation: Indigenous Use of Intellectual Property Laws” (p 100) …]

[“Why terms like Navajo and Native American matter” (p 101) …]

[“Fakers are not always so blatant.” (p 102) …]

[§ “12. All My Queer Relations: Language, Culture, and Two-Spirit Identity” (p 106) …]

[“Peace, baby!” (p 107) …]

[“I came here to read about Two-Spirit identity; Why am I reading this language stuff?” (p 108) …]

[“Nation-specific terms” (p 108) …]

[“Love in the time of Indigenous resurgence” (p 109) …]

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