White people: stop defining us and defiling our symbolism.

I first saw this picture last week. Several people alerted me to this image. The graphic rates well for shock effect. It was published to accompany an article published in the September edition of Maisonneuve magazine, to go along with Halifax’s Saint-Mary University professor Darryl Leroux’s article “Self-Made Métis,” in which he writes how tens of thousands of Canadians have begun calling themselves Métis, and now they’re trying to get the courts to agree. 

I can’t tell you who the artist is or whether s.he is Indigenous. It’s obvious that whoever made this drawing knows something about Indigenous symbolism and was going for a shock factor.

Everyone should be concerned about this image.

Who might fit a stereotypical image of the Noble Indian?

Before you continue reading, stop. Ask yourself if your grandchildren’s grandchildren would loose claim to your Nation, to your community, based on how s.he may physically appear on the outside.

The drawing is being used as a commentary on identity politics between First Nations without status and Métis from outside the branded Métis “Nation” (a specific geographic area that excludes parts of BC and Ontario, as well as all of the NWT, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.)

Let’s face facts:

This picture is violent in nature. It’s blasphemous. It’s full of imagery and innuendos intended to send a clear message of segregation. The image clearly mirrors disrespect for Indigenous symbolism by way of poking fun of sacred objects such as the Medicine Wheel and traditional Regalia. It uses the stereotype of a Caucasian, Aryan-looking male desecrating the Peaked Hood  worn as part of the women of the Wabanaki Confederacy Regalia.

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Traditionally embroidered with beaded swirls, the Peaked Hood is sacred to the woman of the Confederacy. In this case, a Christian crucifix that looks like a Nazi cross replaces the bottom embroidery.

The Peaked Hood is placed on top of a camouflage-coloured baseball cap that would somehow imply that everybody seeking to assert Indigenous identity is doing so for hunting privileges.

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Along with the rappala fishing lure that misappropriates the use of the Sacred Medicine Wheel, while featuring colours of the four directions in wrong order, the graphic seeks to reaffirm the trope that Indigenous Peoples get free, unlimited money and harvesting rights in Canada.

The Fleurs de Lys: an image associated with the French-Indian war, a symbol used by Louis Riel’s provisional government. The Fleur de Lys was a symbol of resistance to the Hudson Bay Company and to British colonization.

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In what should be seriously examined as an affront to all Métis, the artist misuses the Fleurs de Lys, a symbol close to the heart of every Métis with French ancestry as well as every First Nation  who held alliances with France.

S.he makes it about how Québécois identity is not compatible with Indigenous identity and reduces the history of Indigenous Peoples to British colonial rule.

Last but not least, the red nose. Symbolism of the drunk native. Reducing to a stereotype the blood quantum theory at the basis of the Indian act.

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One can assume the image content displays that whatever DNA is left in a mixed-blood native individual is a genetic leftover of generational alcohol dependency. The drunken Indian stereotype, one of the most harmful discriminatory tropes associated with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, seemingly is what remains during Whitewashing, all cultural traits diminish and are lost yet only the worst stereotype remains, carrying forward to future generations.

I’m sure I’m missing a few more imageries in this egregious art piece. I’ve relied on the keen eye of a few Métis and First Nation artists (who wish to remain anonymous).

Readers may or may not agree on the definitions of Indigenous identity.  These are important, crucial discussions that should not be influenced by White academia, in my opinion, no more than the criteria that states community acceptance be dictated by its Own People and not by the Settler’s governments.

We owe it to ourselves to speak out. We need to do it for our grandchildren’s grandchildren; those not yet born, for whom we hold land, traditions and culture.

The image has been made public and no copyright infringement is intended during this artistic critique and study of this work. 

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ALL OUR RELATIONS

The Lakota saying: Mitákuye Oyás’iŋThe phrase translates in English as “all my relatives,” “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys. (p.160,  ISBN 0-8061-3649-9.)

We are all related. All my relations.

What does that mean to me?

As the eldest of the eldest of the eldest, I benefited from knowing five of my great-grandparents – three of them with verifiable connections with a First Nation ancestor. All from the same historic communities in Lanaudière, Québec. All of them with kinship connections: cousins, aunties, uncles who settled in the West. All of them with kinship to Voyageurs, or Voyageurs themselves.

As every generation passes, as more of the elders passed on, the thread between kinship becomes thinner. To the glee of Colonizers. To the glee of Settler Governments.

Here are a few kinship connections. No matter which ancestor I choose, I can link them to each other, no matter where their travels have taken them and their descendants:

Here are a few examples: (click to see)

 

Our ancestors who were alive during the hanging of Louis Riel and who were able to recount our kinship connections passed on.

Settler Governments were able to begin to legislate the Rights of Métis.

1982: Enter Section 35 of the Constitution Act:

35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.

(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

1993: Enter the Powley Test.

Let’s see if I can answer it with empirical evidence:

1. The characterization of the right claimed (eg: was it hunting for food?): Not claiming anything – yet.

2. Whether the claimant is a member of a contemporary Métis community:   Yes.

3. Identification of the historic Métis community:                    Lanaudière, Québec

4. Identification of the contemporary Métis community:         Lanaudière, Québec

5. The historical time-frame of the practice:                                 17th C to present

6. Whether the practice is integral to the culture of the claimant:                Yes.

7. Whether the proposed practice is continued by the Métis community:    Yes.

8. Whether the right was extinguished:                                              No. Occurring on unceded land. 

9. Whether the right was infringed upon:                                          To be continued

10. If the right was infringed, can that infringement can be justified:     To be continued

This exercise has allowed me to verify the empirical proof of my family’s oral history. It’s a pretty big deal to me. I wish to express gratitude to Dr. Sebastien Malette, Professor of Indigenous Law (Métis Rights) at Carleton University in Ottawa. I met Sebastien on the comment board at http://apihtawikosisan.com/2015/03/the-mythology-of-metissage-settler-moves-to-innocence/#comments on March 11, 2015. He has since then become a good friend, mentor and ally. If I would ever do a PhD, he’d be the guy who I’d beg to be my Advisor. Merci, cher Seb.