Who Can Call Themselves Métis?

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Canada, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2018-01-03 04:36Z by Steven

Who Can Call Themselves Métis?

The Walrus
2017-12-29

Chris Andersen, Dean of the Faculty of Native Studies
University of Alberta


iStock / selimaksan

With the latest census surge in the Métis population, it’s time to start talking about how we define the term

The Métis are an Indigenous people that originated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century on the northern plains of what is now southern Manitoba. Centred historically in and around Red River (now Winnipeg) and intimately tied to the buffalo-hunting economy, the Métis became a powerful force by the middle of the nineteenth century, pushing back against the Hudson’s Bay Company’s claims to economic monopoly and later leading two armed resistances against the Canadian state. Despite this powerful historic presence and the fact that the 1982 Constitution Act enumerated the Métis, along with First Nations and Inuit, as one of three Aboriginal peoples in Canada, the term has, in recent years, largely fallen into racialized disrepute.

Today, many people understand “Métis” not as an Indigenous nation but as denoting people with a mixture of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry. The Government of Canada has used the term in this manner in multiple policy contexts. Inconsistent usage of Métis has produced confusing and even contradictory results in the heart of some of Canada’s most powerful institutions, including the census. This has exacerbated an already-confusing state of affairs in the minds of the general public and many policy actors about who the Métis people are and the kinds of relationships with government to which we aspire…

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It’s Not My Job to Teach You about Indigenous People

Posted in Articles, Canada, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2017-07-23 16:36Z by Steven

It’s Not My Job to Teach You about Indigenous People

The Walrus
2017-07-18

Melanie Lefebvre, Red River Métis/Irish writer and visual artist
Kanien’kehá:ka Territory

If you don’t have time to educate yourself, then I can’t help you

I recently spent the evening with someone who is half Indigenous and half white. “Sally” was eager to learn more about her history, her family, and traditions. She was raised white and from what I learned, has a white perspective and approach to the world around her—meaning, her lens is very colonized.

Sally and I had just finished up dinner and were well into a bottle of Ménage à Trois (the name of a good wine, not the situation). Sally proceeded to ask me where she could learn about Indigenous peoples and cultures—you know, as a starting point. I said, the library. Obvious answer, right? Open a book and ye shall find information. Sally wasn’t keen on that response. Apparently, she was tired of reading and needed something a bit more readily available.

“I don’t enjoy research like you do,” said Sally, sipping. True, I spend a lot of time researching. I’m a writer. It’s what I love to do. And I look for positive Indigenous stories, but they often get overshadowed by ones like the recent murder of Barbara Kentner in Thunder Bay or the crisis of suicides among Native children. I attempt to read all of the stories on my feed because I am a witness to what has happened before, what is happening now, and what will happen to my children in the future. Still, many choose not to see…

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Double Vision

Posted in Articles, Biography, Canada, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Women on 2012-10-12 04:38Z by Steven

Double Vision

The Walrus
July/August 2012

Emily Landau, Lecturer
Department of History
University of Maryland

Poet Pauline Johnson enthralled Victorian theatregoers with a stereotype-smashing spin on her Mohawk-English heritage. Along the way, she became Canada’s first postmodern celebrity

In late 1892, Emily Pauline Johnson, a prim thirty-one-year-old bluestocking, made her first appearances as her alter ego, Tekahionwake, decked out in a leather dress, moccasins, and all the other accoutrements a Victorian audience might expect a Native woman to wear. For the better part of the previous year, Johnson, a half-Mohawk, half-English poet, had been reciting her work in the salons of English Canada. She was building momentum in the world of letters for her romantic naturalist ballads, and was renowned for her beauty, her striking stage presence, and her impassioned recitals. She had developed a niche as one of Canada’s most accomplished New Women, a cohort of late nineteenth-century feminists who were shedding the sexist shackles of the era. But as her act gathered steam, she created the onstage persona of Tekahionwake, an exaggerated, heightened riff on existing stereotypes, but also an ambassador to familiarize theatregoers with the conditions suffered by Native women.

She ordered a buckskin costume from the Hudson’s Bay Company; ironically, she couldn’t find an authentic outfit on the Six Nations reserve outside of Brantford, Ontario, where she grew up. The dress came with moccasins and a beaded belt adorned with moose hair and porcupine quills. She tore off one sleeve and replaced it with rabbit pelts, then completed the outfit with a hunting knife. (She would later add a bear claw necklace, a wampum belt, and a Huron scalp that had belonged to her grandfather.) Johnson’s audiences ate it up, and she became one of the country’s first celebrities, her distinctive costume generating the same tittering, slightly scandalized, and utterly enthralled reactions as Madonna’s cone bra or Lady Gaga’s meat dress would provoke a hundred years later.

For the next seventeen years, Johnson toured the world as Tekahionwake. She was billed by her promoter, Frank Yeigh, as the Mohawk Princess (a marketing ploy she used throughout her career), and although her branding played into the stereotypes, her stories broke them down. Her tales and poems gave agency to First Nations women, hooking her audience with a mix of poise and campy histrionics. In a trademark flourish, she shed the buckskin during intermission and returned in a staid silk evening gown and pumps, eliciting gasps from spectators as they marvelled at the transformation. The two modes of dress served as an external manifestation of Johnson’s own dual identity: the name Tekahionwake, which she came to use in both her performances and her published poetry, means “double life” in Mohawk…

With her curly brown hair, grey eyes, and light skin, Johnson could have passed as white, but throughout her life she insisted on asserting her Mohawk heritage. Her need to exaggerate her nativeness in her persona was a conscious act, but it was also likely born of the fact that Indigenous people were — and still are — the only racial group to be legally mandated in Canada. First Nations people had to prove their heritage by establishing that they were biologically descended from a member of an Indian band, which entitled them to certain rights and protections, but diminished their individual agency and relegated them to being glorified wards of the government. (Even the blood-determined “science” of status wasn’t fixed: a Native woman could lose those protections by marrying a non-Native.)…

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Africa’s Latin Quarter

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive on 2011-06-16 02:38Z by Steven

Africa’s Latin Quarter

The Walrus
July 2008 (Escape: Summer 2008)

Stephen Henighan

Despite bleak poverty, Mozambique’s multi-ethnic literary culture thrives

In downtown Maputo, the monument to the origins of apartheid is just off Karl Marx Street. Maputo, with its manageable proportions, dreamy views over Delagoa Bay, and cosmopolitan restaurant scene, is one of Africa’s most pleasant capital cities. I walked to the apartheid monument through windblown red dust and young people lugging buckets of water into high-rise buildings. Most modern conveniences—such as traffic lights, credit cards, and cellphones—work in Maputo, but a few, such as the water supply in apartments, are unreliable.

Mozambican literary culture, which I’d come to Maputo to explore, is rooted in the country’s history as a Portuguese colony that gained its independence through a Marxist-Leninist revolution in 1975, and in its proximity to neighbouring South Africa. Nowhere are this history’s contradictions more evident than in the Louis Trichardt Memorial Garden. On the back wall of a patio sunk below the street, a plaster frieze depicts Trichardt, a stout Afrikaner, leading oxen through the wilderness in the late 1830s. A trilingual inscription in Afrikaans, Portuguese, and English, under the heading “They Harnessed the Wilds,” lauds the Portuguese colonialists for their hospitality to the South African Voortrekkers, and their solidarity in fighting off “native tribesmen.” Most self-respecting Marxist revolutions would have demolished this racist kitsch, but Mozambique, a coastal nation with a tolerance for strangers, prefers to allow all the dissonant chords of its past to resonate at once.

“Mozambique is a crossroads,” Mia Couto, the country’s best-known writer, tells me. “Things happened here that are unique in the history of Africa. There’s an acceptance of others, a way of receiving others, that I haven’t found in other African countries. This doesn’t mean that we’re better than others, but rather that there’s a very long history of relating to outsiders.”…

Mozambique’s racial mixing dates back to between AD 300 and 800, when a vast wave of people of Indonesian descent invaded the East African coastline. Travelling in coastal Mozambique, I passed through areas inhabited by tiny, fine-boned people with remotely Asian physiques. The African languages spoken by these people contain vestiges of Malay vocabulary. There was even significant trade with China, and the spread of Islam brought a tradition of marriage alliances with the Arab traders who dominated Mozambique’s economy in the early Middle Ages. The residue of this period is evident not only in the high-cheekboned racial inheritance of people in northern Mozambique, but in the country’s many mosques, ranging from the Aga Khan’s shimmering Ismaili mosque in downtown Maputo to the tiny, green-painted huts used for worship in villages. Too poor to build minarets, the villages designate their mosques with crescents raised on poles.

Portuguese colonialism, which began with the arrival of Vasco da Gama in 1498, intensified Mozambique’s racial mixing. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, unable to manage the sprawling, distant colony, Lisbon assigned Mozambique’s governance to the Viceroyalty of Goa, the Indian jewel in the crown of the Portuguese empire. In defiance of every stereotype of colonialism, Africans in Mozambique had a European language imposed on them by administrators who were ethnically Indian. Many of these Portuguese-speaking Indian civil servants or adventurers intermarried with local leaders. In the Zambezi Valley, in central Mozambique, mixed Indo-Portuguese-African elites broke away from government structures to form autonomous settlements known as prazos.

In the nineteenth century, these palisaded outposts fought a sixty-year war of resistance against Portuguese colonial authority, only succumbing to the central government in 1902. Miscegenation between Europeans and Africans was less common in Mozambique than in other Portuguese colonies, such as Angola or the Cape Verde islands, but the roots of Mozambican identity spring from a tradition that assumes everyone descends in part from an outsider.

The frelimo guerrilla movement, which led Mozambique to independence from Portugal in 1975, promoted interracialism and the Portuguese language—at the time spoken by just a sliver of the country’s population—as the keys to building a nation from the more than twenty distinct ethnic and linguistic groups inhabiting the country’s long Indian Ocean coastline. Photographs of early meetings of the new government, in the Museum of the Revolution in downtown Maputo, reveal a sprinkling of white, mixed-race, and South Asian faces among the black majority…

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