March 01, 2021

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HOLDING ARTISTS ACCOUNTABLE IS NOT “LATERAL VIOLENCE”

HOLDING ARTISTS ACCOUNTABLE IS NOT “LATERAL VIOLENCE”

Michelle Latimer directed Inconvenient Indian which debuted at TIFF this year | Image source: Toronto International Film Festival

All Indigenous people have their own unique experiences living in a colonial state. Some are well connected to their homelands others not, some can speak their languages and practice ceremony, while others have grown up with little knowledge of their ancestry due to adoption or dislocation. One is not better than the other. Each brings different strengths, stories, and skills to the table based on our life experiences.

Over the last couple of days, I have witnessed a barrage of online commentary accusing Indigenous people and communities of “lateral violence” and “being haters” because they are calling for accountability when individuals such as Michelle Latimer knowingly misrepresent their Indigenous ancestry. Making these accusations is wrong, racist, and upholds the white supremacist ideal that Indigenous communities don’t possess inherent authority to determine their own citizenship. When several media outlets consulted legitimate leadership in Kitigan Zibi – where Latimer claimed to be a member- they clearly communicated she was not. In addition, they relayed that they take false ancestry claims seriously due to the negative impacts of cultural appropriation.

The events that have occurred in the last couple of days aren’t isolated. This has happened many times before, and it won’t be the last time it happens. Events like this reveal what we already know: some people will stretch the truth and lie to benefit themselves and advance their careers. Often ancestry claims go unquestioned as many Indigenous people fear being rude, insensitive, and accused of “lateral violence”. After witnessing this over and over again, it’s time to normalize asking critical questions and holding people accountable from the beginning. Holding someone accountable is not lateral violence.

As an Indigenous person growing up- when I wasn’t in my community of Pikwakanagan, I was surrounded by White people and White communities. My family was poor, so it was especially hard growing up surrounded by middle-class White people who were plainly afforded privilege and more extensive opportunities. This is just one example of what it’s like being an Indigenous person of color growing up in Canada. Nowadays we have White people claiming Indigenous ancestry and taking away resources for Indigenous artists.

All Indigenous people have their own unique experiences living in a colonial state. Some are well connected to their homelands others not, some can speak their languages and practice ceremony, while others have grown up with little knowledge of their ancestry due to adoption or dislocation. One is not better than the other. Each brings different strengths, stories, and skills to the table based on our life experiences. That being said, we are each responsible to locate ourselves in a truthful manner. If you have little connection then just say it! With little to no connection –use common sense and do not attempt to tell the stories of others or become a spokesperson for Indigenous communities. It is wrong to lie or misrepresent oneself and take up space in marginalized communities – especially if you have not done the work to confirm this with the community you claim to be from.

Our people have suffered enough while settler-Canadians continue to benefit from the wealth of Indigenous land. We do not need any more White people taking away the limited opportunities earmarked for Indigenous creatives. What’s worse is when White people do this, they misrepresent Indigenous people. From the perspective of their dislocated, colonial lens, they often paint two-dimensional Indigenous characters and write stories that perpetuate harmful stereotypes, causing more harm than good. Often for the sake of making Indigenous stories and art more palatable for White consumption.

I’m done with ‘just’ surviving in this colonial state. Indigenous Peoples can and must tell our own stories. We can and must create our own narratives and be recognized for it. As Indigenous people, we should not be afraid to stand our ground and make sure fellow artists get the same opportunities that are afforded to settler people. Confirming questionable claims to Indigenous ancestry is not an act of “lateral violence”- it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s ensuring our communities’ authority to determine our membership while holding up the storytellers whose voices need to be heard. We are ready to thrive!

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as a Staff Writer for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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11 Comments

  1. Nathaniel Poole

    I can’t imagine the pain this causes, especially among those Indigenous folks who might have admired her and her work. As if taking the land and resources wasn’t enough, this is like taking Indigenous identity as well. After that, is there even anything left to take? Kudos to those like yourself who can stand up and push back against this kind of appropriation.

    Reply
  2. L.Shirt, Plains Cree/Anishinaabe

    “From the perspective of their dislocated, colonial lens, they often paint two-dimensional Indigenous characters and write stories that perpetuate harmful stereotypes, causing more harm than good. Often for the sake of making Indigenous stories and art more palatable for White consumption.” Yes Erica!
    I’m so tired of seeing ‘Pan-indigenous” white washed being the norm. These ones made famous because they may or may not have native blood, put on some ‘war paint’ and change their name to a cree word. They dont represent me. They are safe for this society.
    Traditionally we would ask who is your family, where are you from? What is your clan? If you don’t know; go find out.

    Reply
  3. Donna Meness

    Eight Stages of White Settler-Colonial Denial

    “They didn’t exist” (terra nullius)
    Complete denial of Indigenous presence in a given area (country, province, etc). Includes denial of Indigeneity, e.g. “Indigenous Peoples are Settlers too”.

    “If they did, they weren’t here” (terra nullius)
    Denial that Indigenous People inhabit/travel/harvest/exist in a specific area. Often based on euro-centric definitions of evidence of occupation.

    “If they were, they didn’t use the land” (doctrine of discovery)
    Denial that Indigenous People have a connection to the Land. Often based on euro-centric worldviews of the land as something to be owned and extracted.

    “If they did, they didn’t deserve it (great chain of being)
    Denial that Indigenous People have rights to their Lands. Often based on euro-centric value judgments of “primitive vs. civilized”, “nomadic vs. sedentary”.

    “If they did, they lost it” (right of conquest)
    Denial that Indigenous People retain the rights to their Lands. Often based on false claims of supremacy of colonial legal institutions and systems

    “If they didn’t it doesn’t matter any more” (Westphalian sovereignty)
    Denial that Indigenous Rights are still binding and take precedence. Often based one false claims of supremacy of colonial legal institutions and systems.

    “If it does, we need to move on” (liberalism)
    Denial that violations of Indigenous Rights requires redress. Often based on claims redress is “disruptive/unfair/reverse racism” & false calls for equality”.

    “If we can’t, we are you” (self-indigenization)
    Denial of separateness of Indigenous Peoples and Rights. Often bases on attempts to reduce Indigenous Rights to Human Rights, claim Indigeneity, etc.

    https://www.facebook.com/OccupiedAustralia/photos/eight-stages-of-white-settler-colonial-denial1-terra-nulliusthey-didnt-existcomp/2789546444470852/

    Reply
  4. Donna Meness

    https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/columnists/indigenous-identity-is-about-more-than-self-declaration-492907291.html

    Nowadays, many … self-declare an Indigenous background. Most do so by citing a long-ago ancestor on a branch of their family tree. Some claim a “percentage” of Indigenous blood. Blood is in fact how the Indian Act determines a “status” Indian or not.

    This is based in the thinking that the introduction of non-Indigenous people to an Indigenous bloodline eventually dilutes and erases Indigenous identity.

    The problem of course is that Indigenous identity doesn’t work at all like this.

    Indigenous identity, to put it simply, is like being a part of a family. It’s more about who claims you then who you claim.

    This is called kinship.

    Kinship is a complex membership system determined by how people relate, show responsibility and commitment to one another, and share aspects of culture, space, and language.

    It takes a lifetime to build kinship but this is how Indigenous nations legally and politically define themselves.

    This is particularly in the area of claiming Métis identity, which has become a catch-all for Canadians thinking they have Indigenous ancestry but do not know how or where.

    Reply
  5. Donna Meness

    https://sencanada.ca/en/Content/Sen/committee/391/lega/32evb-e

    In the Powley case, for example, people did not know what would happen at that the time. One has to take the blows that come with it. That is the fact of section 35 that I am talking about. One has to take the consequences of the action that was done in the past.

    RCAP:VOL. 2 PT TWO Appendix A: Summary of Rec in Volume 2, Pts 1&2 3. Aboriginal peoples are not racial groups; rather they are organic political and cultural entities.

    It pertains to the definition of “Indians” and the status of “Indian” in relation to the Indian Act. In its opening remarks, the court addressed the concept of “Indian”; in other words, who should be considered an Indian.

    The court stated the following:The concept “Indian” is a creation of statute.

    Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Aboriginal peoples who inhabited the region that would become Canada had their own forms of social organization with their own names by which to identify their social groups.

    Fundamental aspects of these forms of social organization included rules for the identification of members of the group, the transmission of membership status in the event of marriage and the transmission of membership status to descendants.

    These rules were diverse and often quite different from the forms of social organization of the colonists.

    Reply
  6. Donna Meness

    What does self-identification mean?

    Self-identification refers to the voluntary, confidential, self-described declaration of Indigenous identity. Why is it important? It’s important because it allows employers, educational institutions, health providers, all levels of government to keep track of how many Indigenous people are using or applying for services, jobs, courses etc. The institution/organization can then determine if it needs to expand its current programming and services or to develop new strategies to attract more Indigenous Peoples. It also allows them to stay in touch with the Indigenous employee/student/patient to determine if they need any additional services, to advise them of bursaries, training, or cultural support.

    Is it discriminatory to ask about heritage? No.

    Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is not a discriminatory practice to collect information if it is intended to be used in adopting or carrying out a special program, plan or arrangement designed to eliminate discrimination of certain groups of individuals (Canadian Human Rights Act, 2004, Section 16 (3))

    https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/self-identification-why-ask-why-answer

    Bob Joseph Self-identification – Why ask? Why Answer? June 24, 2012

    Reply

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