The following is a Critical, Satiritical Comment of Settler Colonial construct of identity.
TUESDAY, 19 APRIL 2016
The Inuit Fantasy of Being ‘Indian’?:)
This is a response to the piece which was published in Alberta Poliblog Monday, 18 ApriL, 2016 by Professor Daniel Leroux, and retrieved from http://albertapoliblog.blogspot.ca/2016/04/the-white-fantasy-of-being-indian-brief.html.
To illustrate the bias of the Writer and the agenda of exclusive Métis organizations, the author of the present piece simply interchanged Métis, metis and corresponding Indigenous community names with Inuit, inuit, Inuk, inuk and Inuit communities. ed: Inuk is and actual Indigenous word meaning “person“; Inuit means “many persons” or “People“.
It has been several days since the Daniels decision came down from the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), and not surprisingly, it is being welcomed by an incredible range of organizations and individuals. To be clear, I’m cautiously favourable to some of the decision’s likely impacts, but I want to take a moment to focus on the section that is getting the most attention among those organizations and individuals that I am familiar with given my research.
Let me begin with the following statement, offered by Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella on behalf of the court, which is being repeated over and over again by nascent “inuit” organizations a little bit all over: “’Inuit’ can refer to the historic Inuit community in Nunavut Settlements or it can be used as a general term for anyone with mixed European and Aboriginal heritage,” Abella wrote. “There is no consensus on who is considered Inuit, nor need there be. Culture and ethnic labels do not lend themselves to neat boundaries.”
The statement seems relatively inane, but taken to its logical conclusion – as these organizations and individuals wasted no time doing – it explicitly argues for a position that fulfills the always-appealing Inuit fantasy of being “Indian.”
In the immediate aftermath of the decision, Pam Palmater has explained the impacts well in, “Don’t partake in celebrations over new Supreme Court ruling on Inuit just yet”: “To my mind, the Daniels decision is less about reconciliation and more about erasure of Indigenous sovereignty and identity. It takes John Ralston Saul’s idea of ‘we are all Inuit people’ together with the newest Canadian slogan ‘we are all treaty people’ and opens the floodgates to every person in Canada claiming a long lost Inuk ancestor and asserting their identity and control over our lands and rights. It has the potential to effectively eliminate any real sovereignty or jurisdiction Indigenous Nations have over our own citizens and territories. It does not bolster Inuit claims, but instead confuses them. It does not address the discrimination faced by actual non-status Indians, but paints them with the Inuit “mixed identity brush.”
Indeed, demographic research in Québec has demonstrated that a significant majority of the descendants of 17th-century French settlers today have at least one Indigenous ancestor, likely from one of the 13 Indigenous women who married settlers prior to 1680. I am one of those descendants, who, due to intermarriage among French-Canadians for 11 generations, has multiple Indigenous ancestors. But keep in mind that having 2, 3, or 5 Indigenous ancestors in the 17th century or 10+ generations ago represents no more than 0.1-1% Indigenous ancestry, a fact borne out over and over again in both genealogical (family history) and genetic (DNA ancestry testing) research in Québec. – ed: This factoid is running contrary to the Esteemed Dr. Gérard Bouchard, Historian, Sociologist and writer actually from Quebec, Canada, affiliated with the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. His brother is Lucien Bouchard, founding member of the Quebec Sovereigntist movement. See Professor Bouchard’s article here: https://goo.gl/HDP8gp (translated via Google for Readers and Esteemed Unilingual Academia)
In fact, the same studies, conducted by Québécois researchers in French, strongly suggest that it’s still more likely that today’s French-descendant population have English ancestry and ancestry from another European ethnicity (e.g., German, Portuguese, Irish) than Indigenous ancestry. In my own ancestral history prior to 1700, I am related to the daughter of a German aristocrat who later became the proprietor of an infamous brothel in Montréal and to an English woman who migrated to New France with her French husband.
Of course, in today’s world, Inuit obsessively mark our long-ago Indigenous ancestry, often in order to claim Indigenous identity. It has become integral to Inuit strategies to dispossess Indigenous lands, as the days-old response to the Daniels case is making clear. The glee with which these new “inuit” groups are claiming a slew of “rights” and even territorial jurisdiction is breathtaking. What’s more, many of these organizations – for example, a couple of “inuit” organizations in NunatuKavut and the largest in Nunavik, Québec, – actively oppose Indigenous peoples today through a variety of innovative revisions to history and political claims. It’s disheartening to see these efforts come to fruition in the Daniels decision.
In, “The Supreme Court ruling on Inuit: A roadmap to nowhere,” a noted Inuk scholar laid out what’s at stake in the Daniels decision for the Inuit people, hours after the decision: “If Inuit identity really is simply about mixed aboriginal and non-aboriginal ancestry, can a distant ancestor located in an archival document or even a DNA test now serve as bases for adjudicating claims of Inuit identity rather than culture, community or link to the Inuit people? … Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Thursday that the government of Canada plans to respect the Daniels decision and will work toward reconciliation – let’s hope that governments are clear on what it means to reconcile with historically rooted indigenous peoples rather than more recently identifying individuals.”
Without a doubt, the new “inuit” – who often openly admit to identifying as “inuit” either because they’re not accepted as Indigenous by those Indigenous peoples whose territories they inhabit and/or as a way to access Charter rights – are largely French-descendant people whose claims to Indigeneity must be challenged. While there are certainly parallel claims by peoples who have been unjustly disenfranchised by the Indian Act regime – and I am personally quite sympathetic to such claims – the new “inuit” employ the language of colonialism, violence, and victimhood as a symbolic weapon against Indigenous peoples.
I’ll leave you with this thought: under the SCC’s recent argument, upwards of 10 million descendants of the earliest French settlers now living in Rigolet, in Yellowknife, in Goose Bay, in Nain, and other locations, can be considered Inuit, simply because they have one Indigenous ancestor (often the same!) prior to 1700, a period in which no more than a few thousand French settlers lived in a dozen settlements along Northern rivers.
The SCC’s inability or unwillingness to adopt Indigenous forms of governance and self-determination – including when it comes to community membership and/or citizenship – in its own boundary-making exercise, speaks to its role as a colonial institution. I hope the ensuing conversation presents a coherent challenge to the white fantasy of becoming “Inuit” that Daniels has authorized.
Qallunette is an *actual* keeper of her family’s Oral History. As Métis from unceded Atikamekw Nation land of Nitaskinan, her grandparents did not let her forget her kinship. She grew up Métis with her parents in Lanaudière and Nunavut and currently resides at Tiohtià:ke unceded land.
Qallunette is neither Academia nor Polity, but grows increasingly irritated at its lateral violence while Indigenous Peoples attempt to Own Ourselves, and would like to see more effort on Decolonization of Academic spaces – or at a bare minimum, respectful discourse towards Indigenous communities who share land outside their own. Policing identity and belonging must be left to the communities who share common land.
If the Supreme Court of Canada does allow to do so, strange that Professor Leroux allow himself there from an external standpoint.
Whether Inuk, First Nation or Métis, it is our ties to the land that identify us – certainly not persons who are (or who have chosen) to self-identify as Easterners-White-With-Indigenous-Ancestor-Yet-White-Nevertheless-Pride.