A while ago, I began to follow this really dynamic Indigenous blogger who has a legal degree and works with Inuit here in Montreal. I was really impressed – (and still am!) at how well spoken she was, and admire her Advocacy. She had an online book discussion. Métis, by Chris Andersen, UBC Press (ISBN: 9780774827218) was the book reviewed. I was very interested.
Chris Andersen argues that Canada got it wrong. He weaves together personal anecdotes, critical race theory, and discussions of history and law to demonstrates that our understanding of “Métis” – that our very preoccupation with mixedness – is not natural but stems from more than 150 years of sustained labour on the part of the state, scholars, and indigenous organizations. From its roots deep in the colonial past, the idea of “Métis as mixed” pervaded the Canadian consciousness through powerful sites of knowledge production such as the census and courts until it settled in the realm of common sense. In the process, “Métis” has become an ever-widening racial category rather than the identity of an indigenous people with a shared sense of history and culture centred on the fur trade.
Andersen asks all Canadians to consider the consequences of adopting a definition of “Métis” that makes it nearly impossible for the Métis Nation to make political claims as a people. (Source: http://www.ubcpress.com/search/title_book.asp?BookID=299174387)
I jumped right in. I wanted to learn more about challenges facing Métis and the description was exactly where I thought I should start and I looked forward to connecting with Métis from everywhere.
As I read through this very scholarly book, I began to realize that its author, a Faculty of Native Studies Professor at the University of Alberta, was actually presenting his seemingly well researched opinion that Métis are members of a Nation exclusive to the Northwest parts of Canada (more specifically Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and that all other persons that came to be through the relationships between fur traders and Indigenous persons were not Métis, but mixed-blood persons. Maybe Indigenous, maybe not.
That was a first for me. I always knew that I was Métis – I’ve never questioned that. What was he talking about? I left the discussion group. I felt very disenfranchised and really, really confused.
I started inquiring to try to find out if this was a common theory amongst a circle of Sociologists that teach in Faculties of Indigenous Studies across the country.
I have had discussions on Twitter or Facebook with a few of them, including Dr. Andersen. Their narrative reminds me very much of the narratives of Quebec Sovereignists that assert – erroneously – that all Francophones are in Quebec. Yeah, people here in La Belle Province are always so shocked to learn that there are strong Francophone communities in places far, far away in Canadaland!
I hate this narrative. I find the narrative very Colonialist. These scholars are actively promoting an argument of exclusivity necessary to make political claims as a people, excluding others that have self-identified as Métis (or Michif or Bois-Brûlé or Half-Breed). I’m not cool with that.
My great-grandmother identified as Métis. She was born in 1882, and died in 1981. I got to know her, speak to her, listen to her. I have to write a post just about her life. It was very interesting.
Anyways… SHE IDENTIFIED AS MÉTIS. Not the Government. Her. Her family. Me. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read my last post. I used Spotify to show the a recap of a discussion on the “rights to claim Métis identity” I had with Adam Gaudry, who’s an Assistant-Prof in Native Studies at USask. It’s a doozy, I promise you. Read how a young man who didn’t know he was Métis when he was growing up (see the Acknowledgement section of his 2009 thesis) tell me “if you have Indigenous ancestry, it’s with Indigenous peoples in Quebec, not with us.”
This guy is standing on a podium, spewing this rhetoric to Indigenous Studies University Students.
Denying my ethnicity. NOT COOL.