Calling oneself Indigenous or First Nations is equal to calling oneself European or African. Neither of these regions are a single culture. They are a multitude of nations, customs & traditions. So it is for the Indigenous in North America.
It’s often asked in Canada, “what makes someone Metis”? Asked & answered by the Metis Nation in 2002 and received Canadian recognition of it. The real question should be, “what makes one Indigenous”? Who believes a distant ancestor from a generation over 100 yrs ago or more now qualifies anyone to be recognized as Indigenous? You might be surprised by the number in Canada who think they are – in the hundreds of thousands.
When one says they want to connect with their Indigenous culture, but can’t name the nation they’re from, what then? This is where the Metis Nation is often chosen because of the misinformation it’s a culture that accepts any mixed ancestry. That is not the case, as is being spoken about frequently now by design to educate the public.
The Metis Nation has specific unique languages and customs & traditions of its own. There is a verification process in place for this nation. It is being enforced now because of widespread fraud (intended or not) that takes from the Metis Nation reputation and all opportunities meant for them as an Indigenous people.
So, what about those who got lost in the diaspora caused by Canadian policies? I’m well aware of the separation from Indigenous culture by events like residential schools and the 60’s Scoop. I was one of those kids. I’m also aware that I was lucky to know exactly what my nations are and the names of my grandparents, but I had to search for everything from there to know where I came from, including the customs & traditions of my nations.
Re-connection to one’s culture can only be attained by connecting with cultural centres or relations who can help guide anyone who knows at least their nation. Otherwise we’re really only learning about someone else’s nation and customs, aren’t we?
Although the Cree Nation is well known, I knew I came specifically from the Plains Cree. That was important because there are different Cree nations: Plains, Swampy, Woods, Moose, etc. They all have differences in their languages and customs in the same way any European grouping like the Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian do.
So calling oneself First Nations or Indigenous is not an automatic entry into a grand, pan-Indigenous experience. It certainly looks like that from many people’s promoted experiences of doing just that, but there is dishonesty in that; it does nothing in honouring one’s ancestors or culture.
These efforts only sustain and cement stereotypical ideas as often taught by ‘self-identified/proclaimed Indigenous people’ and onto those Canadian promotional materials using the Plains nations tipis and headdresses to depict an entire culture of cultures. This is rather insulting considering these items were never used in most Indigenous nations.
There are millions of people on this continent from Africa. They have no idea where their families originated from there; a continent of nations. They do not and cannot assume to know which nation is theirs. Some have been very lucky to learn their own historical truths, but most will never know. Unfortunately, this is the case for some people of Indigenous ancestry.
It’s criminal that this sad history persists, but no Indigenous nation is responsible for this horrific stain on Canada’s history. Neither are they obligated to let in just anyone who comes knocking on their door. This includes the Metis Nation. This seems to seriously antagonize a lot of people who want to claim themselves Metis regardless of their history. It may be infuriating and heartbreaking, but that is not the responsibility of the Metis Nation and its people.
So, where do people who don’t know their nations go? I don’t have an answer for that any more than I’d be able to tell African Americans what to do for representation. The only thing that can be done is an ancestral hunt to the best of one’s ability with a heap of good luck thrown in. This unfortunate diaspora is Canada’s doing and what they will do to make it right is the greatest unknown. In all honestly, I doubt it will be much.