Grey Owl, Photo: Unknown
Indigenous peoples have found themselves under a constant state of siege since European contact. Land, resources, children, language, and culture- nothing has been off limits to thieving colonial hands. Now, Indigenous identity itself is the target of settler encroachment. Usurpation of Indigenous identity has reached epidemic proportions.
In an alarming new research paper, titled “White Settler Revisionism and Making Métis Everywhere”, Gaudry and Leroux describe the tendency for Canadians to identify as Indigenous based on distant ancestors uncovered through genealogical records. This process, which disregards kinship and the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples is referred to as ‘settler self-Indigenization’. The authors also identify several self-identified “Métis” organizations which have sprung up in areas where no Métis communities were historically present. These organizations have replicated colonialism by advocating publicly against the rights and interests of local Indigenous peoples.
Settler appropriation of Indigenous identity is hardly a new phenomenon. Archibald Belaney immigrated to Canada in 1906 and fraudulently manufactured an Indigenous identity. He became known as Grey Owl and was widely praised for his conservationist efforts. His reputation was tarnished after his death when it was revealed that he was not in fact Indigenous. Belaney was the product of a country which simultaneously glorified and violently suppressed Indigenous culture.
Belaney’s identity crisis was the result of an eccentric infatuation with Indigenous peoples. The rampant white settler revisionism occurring today, however, is the result of something decidedly more sinister. Organizations which appropriate Indigenous identities have proliferated across the country. These organizations, many of which charge exorbitant membership fees, are not designed to facilitate reconciliation. Rather, they are designed to enable mass usurpation of Indigenous identity.
The Mikinak “Tribe” is perhaps the most glaring example of this phenomenon. Comprised primarily of French-Canadians, members of this colonial construction need only show that they have some form of Indigenous ancestry. The organization caused friction with nearby Indigenous communities by threatening to erect blockades until Costco was persuaded to offer tax breaks to members.
The Métis Nation, in particular, has found itself assailed by rampant settler self-Indigenization. The 2016 census revealed explosive growth in the self-identified Métis population. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick witnessed 900 and 450 percent growth rates in the number of self-identified Métis people. These demographically impossible growth rates reveal that Métis identity is being appropriated on an industrial scale. Much of the confusion stems from organizations which promote loose conceptions of Métis identity. The Métis Federation of Canada (MFC), for example, does not require prospective members to demonstrate any form of Métis ancestry. In doing so, the MFC dismisses the unique historical process through which Métis Nation arose. MFC and similar organizations denigrate Métis peoplehood which arose in the Métis homeland.
Indigenous identities are being treated as fungible commodities to be consumed at the whim of curious settlers. Newly minted organizations are facilitating this practice. The process of settler self-indigenization underpins this noxious movement. The membership systems and criteria put in place by Indigenous communities represent legitimate exercises of political autonomy. Respecting this autonomy is essential in order to stop settler self-indigenization in its tracks.