Author Joseph Boyden’s shape-shifting Indigenous identity

Author Joseph Boyden’s shape-shifting Indigenous identity

APTN National News
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Jorge Barrera

Three Day Road author Joseph Boyden’s uncle went by the alias “Injun Joe” and wore a headdress while selling drums made of tin cans wrapped in birch and other “Indian” items to tourists from a shop near Algonquin Park in Ontario.

A Maclean’s article in 1956 titled, The Double Life of Injun Joe, reported Earl [Erl] Boyden “may look like an Indian, think like an Indian and spend most of his year among Indians, but as far as he knows he hasn’t a drop of Indian blood.” The article said Earl Boyden’s father was a “well-to-do Ottawa merchant who traced his family to Thomas O’Boyden in Yorkshire” and that his mother was “Irish.”

Earl Boyden, who died in 1959, appears to have embraced Indigenous culture to the point where the local Ojibway would refer to him as “not a white man,” according to the article.

Over the years, Joseph Boyden has referred to his uncle’s “Ojibway ways” and once told an interviewer that he saw parallels between himself and his “Indian uncle” Earl.

“Just like my Indian uncle, I had a taste for the road and for adventure,” said Boyden, in an interview with Penguin Books for a reading guide accompanying Three Day Road, his breakthrough novel which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. “At the time, I didn’t recognize the parallels between my uncle and me.”

The nephew eventually discovered something his uncle did not know—Indigenous ancestry hidden somewhere in the Scottish and Irish branches of the family tree.

Boyden has never publicly revealed exactly from which earth his Indigenous heritage grows. It has been an ever shifting, evolving thing. Over the years, Boyden has variously claimed his family’s roots extended to the Metis, Mi’kmaq, Ojibway and Nipmuc peoples.

The nature of Boyden’s ancestry claims caused an undercurrent of concern within some segments of the Indigenous community as the author’s prominence as a spokesperson on Indigenous issues grew…

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