You can’t drink an apology

A somewhat cynical column by Scott Gilmore on apologies. While I agree that an apology by itself may not address (or redress) historic injustices, their symbolic value should not be discounted:

Canadian parliamentarians are so chronically petty and partisan they typically cannot agree on the colour of the sky. Yet, all but 10 were able to agree on one seemingly important issue yesterday. They voted in favor of an apology for the now infamous residential school system.

Our political leaders have already made two previous apologies for the residential schools. A decade ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons to express our collective regret and then nine years later his successor Justin Trudeau repeated the apology, this time while in Newfoundland. For this third time they’ve opted to kick it upstairs to a higher authority, the Pope.

Our MPs were unified in believing that since we’ve already done our bit and apologized, and given that the corrosive legacy of the residential schools continues to persist, obviously it’s now someone else’s turn to sort this thing out. Amen.

It has been theorized that there are 12 different types of Canadian “sorries,” including the “sympathetic,” the “ostentatious,” and even the “libidinous.” There is, in fact, a thirteenth type: the “political.”

Abroad, we have the reputation for being chronic apologizers. Compared to our politicians, though, the average Canadian looks callously unrepentant. An incomplete list of their official apologies includes Acadians for being deported in the 1700s, Japanese-Canadians for interment during World War Two, Chinese-Canadians for imposing a head tax, Sikh-Canadians for turning away migrants, and gay and lesbian Canadians for discrimination.

All these official “sorries” have two things in common, which explains why our politicians are so eagerly remorseful. First, the official apology is the least expensive thing they can do. In many of these cases the legacy of the original sin is so vast and pervasive there would not be enough money in the federal treasury to fully repair the damages done to the victims or their descendants. By comparison, apologies are cheap and in full supply. Here, have another.

Second, these statements of regret are for sins committed almost entirely by white, male, straight Canadians. We, as a group, have done very well over the last few centuries. And while our position of power and wealth is no longer unassailable, we’re still on top and would like to stay there. When public values shift, and we are forced to acknowledge that our previous behavior was utterly criminal, we really don’t want to do anything too dramatic.

In light of this, and the low cost, it is obvious why our political leaders like to apologize so often. But it’s well past time we recognized these rituals for what they are: distractions. The politicians making the apology (or telling the Pope he should), are probably genuinely remorseful for the sins of the past. But sincerity will not right past wrongs. Even worse, it just reduces the pressure to prevent future ones.

Consider the fact that just hours after the House voted on the Pope’s apology, the Prime Minister was across the river in Gatineau speaking at the Assembly of First Nations. There he pledged (again) to fix the water problems plaguing Canadian reserves for decades. There are currently 76 Indigenous communities without clean drinking water. Since coming to office, the Liberal government has managed to remove 61 communities off that list, but another 32 were added.

If the people of Rosedale or Westmount woke up this morning to discover they had to boil their tap water, the problem would be fixed by the end of the day.

Given this indisputable truth, standing in front of a room of Indigenous leaders to promise yet again that we are eventually going to fix this should be so unbearably humiliating that it would render Trudeau speechless from shame. Instead, he walked up to the podium with a smile. He had just voted for another apology (via the Pope). That’s something. It’s a step in the right direction. Sure, you can’t drink an apology, but it’s progress. Right?

Source: You can’t drink an apology

Mohawk community’s law against mixed couples on reserve ruled unconstitutional | National Post

Interesting case that privileges (correctly IMO) individual rights:

A controversial membership law that requires residents of the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake to move out if they marry a non-native violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a court ruled Monday.

The ruling by Quebec Superior Court Justice Thomas Davis declares that a 37-year-old rule invoked to preserve Mohawk culture discriminates against Kahnawake members on the basis of family status and civil status.

The judge acknowledged that Kahnawake, just south of Montreal, has been disadvantaged by the actions of the federal government. “An important part of their land was expropriated for the (St. Lawrence) Seaway. The reserved lands have shrunk in size. For many years, the Mohawks were actively discouraged from practicing their culture,” Davis wrote.

But that does not justify an internal law that has sown division and sparked vandalism and online abuse as residents turned against each other.

The judge said the “Marry Out, Get Out” provision of the Kahnawake Membership Law is “largely (if not solely) grounded in a stereotypical belief that non-native spouses will use the resources and land of the Band in a way that is detrimental to it and that will have a negative impact on the ability of the Band to protect its culture and its land.”

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, the defendant, said it needs time to study the decision.

“Obviously, we maintain the position that matters that are so integral to our identity have no business in outside courts,” Grand Chief Joseph Norton said in a statement. “However, a decision on the case has been rendered. We are now taking the time to analyze the decision and will inform the community further in the coming days.”

Julius Grey, who represented the 16 plaintiffs, said he is optimistic the ruling can lead to reconciliation. The judge concluded there was “a clear violation” of Charter rights, but he left room for discussion, Grey said.

The lead plaintiff was Waneek Horn Miller, who represented Canada in the 2000 Summer Olympics, where she met her future husband, Keith Morgan. They have been a couple since 2002 and have three children.

When they were building a new home in Kahnawake in 2010, a petition began circulating demanding that the construction stop. In 2014, she learned her name was on an eviction list, and when she went to a band meeting to defend herself, she was verbally attacked and later received online abuse.

“Despite all of this, Ms. Miller would like to return to Kahnawake and would like her children to have access to the culture,” the ruling said. “She believes that she can contribute to the Kahnawake community. However, she is fearful of the consequences of moving back to Kahnawake for her family.”

The decision documents the verbal abuse suffered by the children of mixed marriages, who have been called “half-breeds” or “white bastard.” Tensions got particularly high in 2014 when a “grassroots” campaign began to persuade mixed couples to leave.

Marie Stacey, who lives on the reserve with her non-native partner, testified she received a notice telling her to leave. She attended a public meeting where one participant suggested a return to the 1970s, when “we burned their (non-natives’) houses,” she told the court.

“Ms. Stacey is scared of what is happening on the Reserve, scared that people might come to her home,” the decision reads. “Being a plaintiff in the present lawsuit has given her little comfort, as at least one Facebook post referred to the plaintiffs as having targets on the back of their heads.”

The plaintiffs had been seeking $50,000 damages each, but the judge said the sum was excessive. He awarded a total of $35,000 to be divided among seven plaintiffs who he said were harmed.

The judge disputed the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake’s contention that “Marry Out, Get Out” is theoretical because the council has not forcibly evicted anyone. “People’s lives have been affected,” he wrote.

via Mohawk community’s law against mixed couples on reserve ruled unconstitutional | National Post

‘White judge, white lawyer’: Quebec inquiry into discrimination lacks Indigenous voices, critics say

It does appear that the inquiry did make serious efforts to include Indigenous voices:

The Quebec inquiry tasked with investigating discrimination is being criticized for its own lack of representation, as it examines how Indigenous people are treated by provincial services.

The Viens commission — named after its chair, Jacques Viens — was created by the Quebec government in 2016  in response to public pressure after prosecutors decided not to lay charges against six provincial police officers accused of sexually abusing Indigenous women in Val-d’Or, a city about 525 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

When Premier Philippe Couillard announced the inquiry, he said there was a “need to act rapidly to restore the relationship of trust broken since the events in Val-d’Or.”

The inquiry, which is wrapping up its 16th week of hearings, has been mandated to look into treatment of Indigenous people by six specific government institutions: police services, corrections, legal services, the health system, social services and youth protection.

One Indigenous advocate who testified before the commission last month said she was struck by the absence of Indigenous people heading up the inquiry.

“You’re walking into this sterile environment that is not welcoming,” said Nakuset, director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal who goes by just the one name. “You have this white judge and then you have a white lawyer on your side who’s proceeding.”

“There are some people [with the commission] that are Indigenous. [But] I don’t remember seeing them there. They’re not sitting in front.”

There are 18 Indigenous staffers — roughly 21 per cent of the commission’s members — who serve on various teams, including Aboriginal relations, research, pscyhosocial support, wellness and communications.

None of them are part of the legal department.

Indigenous lawyers were sought

Inquiry head Viens is also not Indigenous, though the retired Quebec Superior Court judge spent 25 years of his career in the judiciary district of Abitibi, which encompasses Val-d’Or, and also practised law in Cree and Inuit communities.

Commission chief counsel Christian Leblanc said attempts were made to recruit Indigenous lawyers, but many were not willing to relocate to Val-d’Or, the base of operations for the commission.

Nakuset, a vocal Indigenous advocate in Quebec and the director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, testified before the commission in February. (Commission on relations between Indigenous peoples and specific public services in Quebec)

He said it was difficult to find experienced lawyers — Indigenous or non-Indigenous — who were willing to interrupt their lives and careers for the duration of the inquiry.

“You have to understand, to know that we did offer jobs and opportunities to Indigenous lawyers to come work with us,” he said.

Leblanc said he had serious conversations with at least four Indigenous lawyers about joining the inquiry, but they all declined.

He said his team was careful to only hire legal counsel with experience working in Indigenous communities or on Indigenous issues.

Leblanc also underscored the role that Indigenous commission staff play in decision-making.

“In the best world, if we could have had 50 per cent, it would have been a good statistic. But what’s important is not the quantity, it’s the quality. It’s the role those people play in the work we do.”

He said the inquiry also makes every effort to ensure the hearings are held in a welcoming and culturally sensitive atmosphere.

“We try to have an audience room that is as different as it can be from a court hearing room,” he said. “We set the table in a circle. Everybody sits.

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“We have the decor. We try to make it Aboriginal.”

That’s not good enough for Nakuset. She said she can’t understand why the Quebec government wouldn’t name an Indigenous judge to head the commission.

“They have a connection and an understanding of our realities,” she said. “It’s always easier to see someone in power who has lived a similar experience.”

via ‘White judge, white lawyer’: Quebec inquiry into discrimination lacks Indigenous voices, critics say – Montreal – CBC News

Les « Métis » du Québec misent sur le G7

The complexities of Métis identity:

Des Québécois qui réclament le statut de Métis et revendiquent des droits ancestraux sur un territoire qui inclut La Malbaie veulent profiter du passage du G7 dans Charlevoix pour faire valoir leur cause devant les caméras du monde entier.

« Ce n’est pas impossible qu’on aille porter notre message d’une façon ou d’une autre. Quelle forme ça prendra, on ne sait pas encore. Mais le G7 est un gros forum, il y aura beaucoup de caméras », explique leur porte-parole, René Tremblay, en entrevue avec La Presse.

La cause de ces Québécois qui réclament le statut de Métis est actuellement devant les tribunaux. Elle est à la fois complexe et importante, car elle pourrait avoir des répercussions majeures.

L’organisation de M. Tremblay, la Communauté métisse du Domaine du Roy et de la Seigneurie de Mingan (CMDRSM), compte 5000 membres. Mais ce sont jusqu’à 20 000 personnes qui, selon lui, pourraient aspirer au statut de Métis dans la région du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean seulement.

M. Tremblay et les siens cherchent à obtenir une reconnaissance, comme les Métis de l’Ouest canadien. Ils clament être les descendants d’unions mixtes entre Blancs et autochtones, et revendiquent un territoire ancestral qui va de la Baie-James à la Côte-Nord. La Malbaie, où les leaders du G7 vont se rencontrer les 7 et 8 juin, fait partie de ce territoire.

Mais La Malbaie est reconnue comme un territoire ancestral des Hurons-Wendats ; des Innus affirment également que Charlevoix fait partie du leur. Les prétentions des « Métis » du Québec sont d’ailleurs accueillies froidement par plusieurs autochtones, tout comme de nombreux experts en droit.

« Depuis 40 ans, pas mal toutes les Nations ont dû aller devant les tribunaux et, avec le temps, on a réussi à se bâtir une jurisprudence acceptable. C’est naïf de leur part de croire que du jour au lendemain, en claquant des doigts, ils deviennent les bénéficiaires de tous les droits des Indiens », laisse entendre Konrad Sioui, grand chef de la Nation huronne-wendat.

« Le Ralliement national des Métis, c’est les enfants de Louis Riel, c’est la rivière Rouge dans l’Ouest. En Ontario, il y a eu un jugement en faveur des Métis, mais très étroit. Les critères établis par la Cour suprême pour se faire reconnaître Métis sont très étroits et difficiles à remplir au Québec », ajoute le grand chef.


La cause des Métis du Québec devant les tribunaux commence avec une histoire de chasse. Stéphane Corneau, un Saguenéen, occupait un camp illégal sur les terres publiques. Contestant la décision du gouvernement de le détruire, il affirme être Métis et bénéficier de droits ancestraux sur la forêt, dont celui de pratiquer des activités traditionnelles, comme la chasse.

M. Corneau affirme être descendant de Christine Kichera, une Innue qui s’était mariée à un Canadien français en 1805.

Dans un jugement de février 2015, la Cour supérieure a débouté M. Corneau. Le juge Roger Banford a écrit : « La conception de l’identité métisse, selon le défendeur, se limite à son lien de sang et son intérêt développé pour les activités de chasse et de pêche, ce qui ne le distingue guère d’une grande partie de la population saguenéenne. »

La cause a été portée en appel et a été entendue en mai 2017. Les Métis du Québec attendent le jugement avec impatience. Mais selon l’expert en droit autochtone et professeur titulaire à la faculté de droit de l’Université de Montréal, Jean Leclair, la jurisprudence joue en leur défaveur.

« La Constitution reconnaît des droits collectifs à des communautés métisses historiques qui ont perduré dans le temps. Il ne suffit pas d’avoir du sang blanc et autochtone. C’est plus compliqué que ça. »

Alors que les communautés métisses de l’Ouest, descendantes de Louis Riel, ont démontré leur présence historique, la réalité est tout autre au Québec, rappelle M. Leclair. En 2003, avec l’arrêt Powley, la Cour suprême a défini clairement les conditions pour être considéré comme Métis.

« Ils doivent démontrer qu’il y avait historiquement une communauté avec un mode de vie particulier, une spécificité culturelle donnée. C’est là que les revendicateurs d’un statut métis ont tous échoué en cour. Il n’y a pas juste l’affaire Corneau : je pourrais vous envoyer 10 décisions similaires. »

« Ça ne prend pas un juriste pour comprendre que si la Cour suprême avait dit : “Est un Métis toute personne avec une descendance indienne”, il y aurait eu des milliers de Canadiens qui auraient pu revendiquer des droits ancestraux, ajoute Jean Leclair. C’est sûr que la Cour suprême allait donner une interprétation restrictive au mot “métis” figurant dans la Constitution de 1982. »

Les Métis du Québec font quant à eux valoir qu’il existait des communautés métisses au Québec au moment de la colonisation vers 1850, même si elles étaient petites. « Le juge de première instance a cherché un village métis quasiment avec un panneau à l’entrée, qui dit “Métis”. Comme il ne l’a pas trouvé, il a déclaré qu’il n’y avait pas de communauté métisse ici », affirme René Tremblay.

L’affaire est loin d’être terminée : M. Tremblay pense que peu importe la décision de la Cour d’appel, il y aura appel de son groupe ou du gouvernement. « Le jugement que les trois juges préparent, ils l’écrivent pour la Cour suprême. Parce que peu importe la décision, ça risque de se rendre là. »

via Les « Métis » du Québec misent sur le G7 | Gabriel Béland | National

To vilify Sir John A. Macdonald is to wrongly seek a single scapegoat for Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people: Bob Plamondon

A more nuanced understanding of history:

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario wants to take his name off their schools. Because of vandalism, his birthday is no longer celebrated in Kingston. Members of the Canadian Historical Association will soon vote on dropping his name from its annual literary prize. Is it only a matter of time before we knock down Sir John A. Macdonald’s statue on Parliament Hill?

How could the man so extensively studied and widely admired for the past century – the man without whom this improbable country may never have come into being – now be so vilified?

It likely began with the 2013 award-winning book by historian James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains. While the book includes only two brief quotes from Macdonald, one strikes at the heart: “We cannot allow them to die for want of food. [We] are doing all we can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.”

Mr. Daschuk’s case against Macdonald’s government is disturbing. But it is also incomplete. When Macdonald made his infamous remark in the House of Commons in 1872, during a debate on government spending, it was in response to a question by Liberal MP David Mills (who later served as Justice minister in the Laurier government and then on the Supreme Court of Canada). While protesting the cost of food rations, Mills warned, “… a barbarous population like the Indians may very easily be made wholly dependent upon the government … to the extent … that it will be very difficult to induce the Indians to devote themselves to industrial pursuits.”

What Mr. Daschuk omitted in his book was Macdonald’s admonition of Mills: “In the case of apprehended famine the matter is to be dealt with on the spot … When the Indians have been starving they have been helped.”

While Macdonald can certainly be criticized, he was nonetheless enlightened by the standards of his time. He was in rare company in expressing sympathy for the Indigenous people: “We must remember that they are the original owners of the soil, of which they have been dispossessed by the covetousness or ambition of our ancestors … the Indians have been the great sufferers by the discovery of America and the transfer to it of a large white population.”

While an overt policy of assimilation is offensive, Macdonald looks saintly compared with U.S. leadership. Indeed, many Indigenous peoples migrated north, referring to the Canada-U.S. border as “The Medicine Line.”

South of the border, the commander of the U.S. army in the West once remarked, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Theodore Roosevelt moderated that statement, but only slightly: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are.” Macdonald wanted to avoid an “Indian war” that had ravaged the United States, arguing it was better to feed them than to fight them.

At a time when Canada was overwhelmingly and overtly racist against Indigenous peoples, Macdonald offered to extend the vote to Indians. One Liberal MP said it would be like bringing a scalping party to the poll; another that it was an insult to place white brethren “on a level with pagan and barbarian Indians.” Liberals also feared that Macdonald would get most of the “Indian vote.” Full voting rights were not given until 1960.

While Macdonald’s government failed to provide adequate food rations as was stipulated in the treaties in the case of famine, Mr. Daschuk points out there was rampant bureaucratic mismanagement, fraud, local prejudice and overt cruelty of the local agents involved. Macdonald, who wanted Indigenous people to replace hunting with farming, was bewildered by news of famine and death and set up a council to study the issue. It was perhaps the first in a long line of futile commissions to study Indigenous issues.

Macdonald’s reputation has also taken a dive after the attention given more recently to the residential-schools catastrophe. While Macdonald was acting on the recommendations of the experts in his day, he was succeeded by 18 prime ministers before the last residential school was closed. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission records, residential schools were in place before Macdonald became prime minister and did not reach their peak until about 40 years after his death.

Macdonald’s priority was a railway that would enable Canada to achieve sufficient strength to withstand the continental pressures of the United States. This required land and immigration. A tragic consequence of implementing this vision was the eradication of a long-practised Indigenous way of life. Macdonald’s failure is Canada’s failure.

Today, many Indigenous Canadians live in disgraceful conditions without access to clean water and facing epidemic levels of suicide among the youth. How will we be judged by the generations that follow? So, before historians cast their vote on Macdonald, they might want to reflect more broadly than to look for a single scapegoat.

via To vilify Sir John A. Macdonald is to wrongly seek a single scapegoat for Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people – The Globe and Mail

Hidden Cost of Federal Recognition of Native American Tribes | Time

Similar to some of the recent discussions regarding Métis identity and the implications of the recent increases in those self-identifying as Métis (see “White settler revisionism” threatens Métis-Crown reconciliation), Arica L. Coleman, author of That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia, looks at the US situation and the interplay with Black identities:

For a Native American tribe, federal recognition comes with a host of benefits, including housing, health and education funding. But the process of achieving that recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) can be difficult — particularly because the BIA requires tribes to demonstrate continuous existence as an Indian entity from colonial times to the present. That’s a standard that, as recent news shows, doesn’t match up with the reality of American history.

On Jan. 30, President Trump signed H.R. 984, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017, which granted federal recognition to six Virginia state-recognized Native American tribes via a special act of Congress rather than through the usual BIA process. The recognition means that members of the six tribes have achieved sovereign (albeit limited) status. Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner hailed the bill as having “righted a historical wrong.”

Yet the story of federal recognition for those six tribes—the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond—also shows that at least one particular “historical wrong” remains unaddressed. In fact, their story illuminates a central problem with the way Indian recognition is managed on the state and federal level, as it is based on a problematic idea of racial purity.

The history behind that idea — that racial purity specifically requires the demonstrable absence of African-American ancestry — goes back to none other than Thomas Jefferson. His blood politics became the cornerstone of Virginia (and later federal) Indian policy, which poisoned Black-Indian relations and divided the families of those who struggled to maintain an Indian identity by seeking formal recognition.

As I demonstrate in my book That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginiainterracial intimacy between people of African descent and American Indians dates back to the early colonial era in Virginia. The Virginia General Assembly enacted its first proscriptions against interracial marriage in 1691, but this law only applied to intimacies between whites and non-whites. And, as noted by Jack D. Forbes in his book Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples, by the end of the colonial period, enslaved Indians were classified as Negro along with their black enslaved counterparts.

By the late 18th century, in adherence with the idea that “one drop” of African blood defined a person as black, white settlers advocated for the state to stop recognizing Indian identity (and tribal land ownership) on the idea that the Native American identity had been lost due to intimacy with black Virginians. To wit, free Native Americans were classified on the census not as Indian but as free people of color or mulattoes.

By the end of the 19th century, the remnants of the state’s Powhatan people began to push back against the state-sanctioned reclassification of their identity with a dogged resolve. In order to do so, they embraced an identity not based on who they were, but rather on who they were not: black.

While complicated definitions of racial categories were not unique to Virginia, the state’s residents had another factor to deal with. Among the state’s most elite families were many that claimed descent from John Rolfe and Pocahontas. They were proud of their Native American heritage, but they were also adamant that they were white, and had to reconcile that idea with the widespread desire among the Virginia elitefor the Commonwealth to be the nation’s leading example of racial purity. So when the state enacted its Racial Integrity Act in 1924, it defined whiteness using the “Pocahontas Exception,” which spared those families from being forced to identify as colored, and thus subjected to Jim Crow.

But this raised the specter for the act’s backers that the Virginia Indian community would subvert the law to marry white people and “contaminate” the white gene pool. So, in the aftermath of the law’s passage, Walter Plecker, Virginia’s Vital Statistics Registrar, declared war on the Virginia Indian community. Plecker, who called Indians “Negroes in feathers,” sought to obliterate the Virginia Indians using what many have called “pencil genocide,” disallowing the use of the term Indian as a racial designation on government documents.

In the same period, the Virginia Indians found a steadfast ally in anthropologist Frank Speck of the University of Pennsylvania. Speck spent three decades among the Powhatan Tribes and became a fierce advocate for their formal recognition. In his monographs about the Powhatan Tribes, he significantly downplayed the historical kinship ties between blacks and Indians. In this view, these tribes were distinct from other Indian tribes and the state’s black population, because they had only intermarried with whites for nearly two centuries. Hence, Speck certified that the Powhatan Indians were racially pure.

During the 1930s and ‘40s, Speck lobbied the Federal Census Bureau to classify members of the Powhatan Tribes as Indian, despite Plecker’s strong opposition. The 1940 battle was a draw, as the bureau decided that the designation would be permitted, but with an asterisk to indicate racial uncertainly. Also at this time, prominent citizens began lobbying state and federal officials with petitions that certified that the Powhatan Tribes were of white-Indian only ancestry.

The resistance continued during World War II as three Caroline County residents were jailed for refusing to enlist in the Military as colored. One draftee of the Rappahannock Tribe expressed that he would rather go to jail than “go down in history as a negro.” Resistance to the “colored” classification also affected Powhatan Indian education; Indian schools only went to eighth grade. Because Virginia Indian children could not attend white schools and Powhatan parents refused to send them to colored schools, many Powhatan children did not attend high school. (Others, after Speck’s lobbying, completed high school at Federal Indian residential schools in North Carolina, Kansas and Oklahoma).

Even after Virginia’s schools were “integrated” after the Brown Supreme Court decision, the fallout from Speck’s campaign continued.

First, during the 1980s the Virginia Council on Indians (VCI) was established and eight tribes, seven of which were descendants of the former Powhatan Confederacy, received state recognition by a special act of the Virginia General Assembly. Second, tribal leaders and their anthropologist advocate Helen Rountree were appointed to the council to oversee Indian Affairs throughout the Commonwealth and to make recommendations to the VGA for tribes seeking state recognition. Third, in 1998, six of the eight state-recognized tribes began their efforts toward seeking federal recognition.

Yet, by 1990, the VCI established state recognition criteria based on the same BIA criteria for which tribal leaders sought and have now received exemption: the idea of continuous existence as a purely Indian entity. Hence, once the standard was adopted, the VCI did not grant a single Virginia Tribe a favorable recommendation for state recognition.

Even after last week’s historic signing, Plecker’s and Speck’s legacies are alive and well, in the idea that intimacy with blacks invalidates Indian identity. Broken friendships, disrupted kinship relations, and deep-seated animosities testify to the damage wrought by these men. Yet, as Lynette Allston, Chief of the Nottoway Tribe, told me just prior to submitting the tribe’s petition for state recognition, ”We are Indian people of white and black ancestry, and we won’t deny any part of who we are.”

So What Exactly Is ‘Blood Quantum’? NPR

As Lawrence Hill recounts in his Massey Lectures Blood, there was similar classification among African Americans, including terms such as “octoroon” for those with one-eighth African American blood and thus not considered white. Bloodline is a narrow way of defining one’s identity:

If you’re Native American, there’s a good chance that you’ve thought a lot about blood quantum — a highly controversial measurement of the amount of “Indian blood” you have. It can affect your identity, your relationships and whether or not you — or your children — may become a citizen of your tribe.

Blood quantum was initially a system that the federal government placed onto tribes in an effort to limit their citizenship. Many Native nations, including the Navajo Nation and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, still use it as part of their citizenship requirements.

And how tribes use blood quantum varies from tribe to tribe. The Navajo Nation requires a minimum of 25 percent “Navajo blood,” and Turtle Mountain requires a minimum of 25 percent of any Indian blood, as long as its in combination with some Turtle Mountain.

Blood quantum minimums really restrict who can be a citizen of a tribe. If you’ve got 25 percent of Navajo blood — according to that tribe’s blood quantum standards — and you have children with someone who has a lower blood quantum, those kids won’t be able to enroll.

So why keep a system that’s decreasing your tribe’s rolls and could lead to its demise?

“I use the term ‘Colonial Catch 22’ to say that there is no clear answer, and that one way or another, people are hurt,” says Elizabeth Rule. She’s a doctoral candidate at Brown University who specializes in Native American studies, and also a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation.

“The systems are so complicated,” she explains, “but it’s all part of tribes deciding on their own terms, in their own ways, utilizing their own sovereignty [to decide] what approach is best for them.”

As we explored blood quantum in this week’s episode, we thought a primer of what, exactly, this system is and how it works — or doesn’t — might be useful. Here’s my interview with Elizabeth Rule, edited and condensed for clarity.

First of all, what’s blood quantum?

Blood quantum simply is the amount of “Indian blood” that an individual possesses. The federal government, and specifically the Department of the Interior, issues what is called a “Certified Degree of Indian Blood,” and that is a card similar to an ID card. So the way that blood quantum is calculated is by using tribal documents, and usually it’s a tribal official or a government official that calculates it.

But really it’s a mathematical equation. So the quantum is a fraction of blood that is derived going back to the original enrollees of a tribe who were counted on Census rolls, and then their blood quantum was documented, and usually those original enrollees had a full blood quantum. Typically.

How did people know that those original enrollees had “full blood quantum”?

Well, they didn’t. And that’s that’s one of the major problems with blood quantum today is that a lot of times, the people taking the rolls were federal government officials who were unfamiliar with Native ways of establishing and defining their own communities.

And so, for example, these officials would mark someone potentially as “full blood” when potentially that person was not. And that assumption was based on their appearance, on their level of cultural involvement with their community.

But a great example for how to understand this problem in real life is that there is a history of freedmen who are black individuals who were living as fully incorporated members of Indian tribes. And when these original roles were taken, oftentimes these freedmen were not included, even though those individuals may be of mixed heritage: black and Indian. Because of their black appearance, they were listed on a separate roll. And today, the ramification is that they do not have that original enrollee [in their past]. They do not have enough blood quantum, and therefore oftentimes cannot be extended tribal membership.

Can you talk to me about how the concept of blood quantum came to be used for Native tribes?

Certainly, American Indians have been racialized. But our primary identity continues to be a political one. Blood quantum really emerges as a way to trace race between generations of Native people starting at the turn of the 20th century. And again, I think it’s helpful to understand the way that blood quantum works through another example that people may be more familiar with — and that’s the “one drop rule.”

The one drop rule measured the amount of “black blood” that black people had in society. And that ensured that every person who had at least one drop would be considered black and would be covered under these discriminatory laws and, even in the earlier days, enslaved.

Blood quantum emerged as a way to measure “Indian-ness” through a construct of race. So that over time, Indians would literally breed themselves out and rid the federal government of their legal duties to uphold treaty obligations.

One of the questions that kept coming up is: OK, so why don’t tribes just ditch these blood quantum requirements and switch to an enrollment requirement that uses lineal descent? (Lineal descent basically means that, if your ancestors were enrolled in a tribe, you can be, too.)

That is the question of the century. And first, I want to be clear that I don’t intend to speak on behalf of any specific tribes or even on behalf of my own, but I’m happy to walk you through some of those arguments that exist in support of maintaining blood quantum requirements for tribal membership. …

The thing that I’ve found to be most interesting about both arguments — in support and against blood quantum requirements — is the language of survival. So, lineal descendant supporters think about high memberships through the lens of existence as a resistance right. And so there’s a desire to build up tribes’ numbers and capacity in order to survive and perpetuate the tribe.

On the other side, those who defend blood quantum requirements also evoke this language of survival, and they look upon those blood quantum minimums as a way to preserve an already existing closed community that’s very close and … usually very culturally connected.

Even though they’re using what a lot of people say is a “Colonialist construct”?

Yes. And I don’t think that anyone would argue that it isn’t that. That history is very clear. But, tribes today of course have to adapt, and blood quantum for some tribes in their view has been a way to preserve their community.

I also want to emphasize that it is the tribe’s sovereign right to determine their own membership and whether that involves a blood quantum minimum or lineal descent system.

Ultimately their decision has to be respected in order to uphold tribal sovereignty.

You’ve used the phrase “personal gains” before to refer to some people who might’ve claimed Indian heritage. Can you walk me through what specifically those personal gains look like?

You hear every time a tribe changes over to lineal descent, or that there is a newly recognized tribe, for example, that usually there’s a mass group that’s interested in joining. And potentially, some of those incentives would be financial gain if the tribe, for example, has gaming revenue or other industries. Of course, there is a desire on some individuals’ part to claim an identity for affirmative-action purposes. But again, I would say that is certainly the minority of this side of the cases. But it does happen and I just want to point it out again to show that there are difficulties on both sides and that there’s not a clear-cut answer yet.

If each tribe is able to determine their own their own enrollment requirements, are there any tribes out there that you’ve heard of that are deciding to forego lineal descent and blood quantum — and deciding to use another completely different method?

I have heard of one example in Canada, where a First Nation has decided to open enrollment to people who have no Indian ancestry at all. Meaning that those individuals don’t meet the federal Canadian requirements of being a “status Indian,” and they also don’t have that blood quantum or descendancy from an original enrollee. It’s an extremely progressive and interesting move, and they’re really changing the game.

via So What Exactly Is ‘Blood Quantum’? : Code Switch : NPR

“White settler revisionism” threatens Métis-Crown reconciliation

The complexities of identity, “peoplehood” and rights:

The 2016 census revealed explosive growth in the self-identified Métis population in Canada. The 51.2 percent growth of self-identified Métis from 2006 to 2016 easily surpassed the growth of First Nations and Inuit populations.

The growth is spread unevenly across Canada. Notably, the Métis population skyrocketed in areas where no historic Métis communities were located. Recently published research by scholars Adam Gaudry and Darryl Leroux reveals that the self-identified Métis populations in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick surged by 900 and 450 percent, respectively.

Clearly, demography alone cannot explain the trend. According to Gaudry and Leroux, people in eastern Canada are claiming Métis identity based on Indigenous ancestry revealed through genealogy. They call the practice of reimagining racial identity based on the existence of long-ago Indigenous ancestors as “white settler revisionism.” Many of those claiming to be Métis base their revisionist identity on the mistaken assumption that a mix of European and Indigenous ancestors is a sufficient basis to claim a Métis identity.

Far from being a harmless phenomenon, white settler revisionism systematically devalues Métis peoplehood by disregarding the process that led to the ethnogenesis of the Métis Nation.

The Métis Nation arose in the specific period after European contact and prior to European control of the specific geographical area referred to as the Métis homeland. The Métis homeland is a vast area now covered by the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and stretches into portions of Ontario, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, as well as the northernmost plains of the United States.

The mass usurpation of Métis identity also has the potential to derail efforts at reconciliation between Indigenous people and the federal government.

Indeed, widespread assertion of Métis identity has the potential to stymie future policy frameworks. The Daniels decision, which held that Métis people are to be considered “Indians” for the purposes of section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, raises the possibility that the federal government will be required to provide more programs and services to Métis people.

Policy-makers must have a clear idea of the scope and distribution of a population requiring government support and engagement. The proliferation of dubious claims of Métis identity in disparate geographic areas poses serious obstacles to policy objectives.

The unscrupulous practices of organizations claiming to represent Métis people cannot be ignored. The Métis Federation of Canada, for example, does not require their members to prove Métis ancestry. Neither does the Bras d’Or Lake Métis Nation. To join these organizations, prospective members must simply demonstrate that they have an Indigenous ancestor. This ancestor can be Métis, Inuit or First Nations.

But the Métis Nation is not a simple conglomeration of ancestors with mixed ancestry. These organizations are creating chaos by convincing millions of Canadians that they are Métis, regardless of a lack of ancestral connection to the Métis Nation.

The Métis National Council and its provincial organizations, on the other hand, have meticulously crafted citizenship criteria that require concrete proof of Métis ancestry. In short, applicants must self-identify as Métis and demonstrate that they have an ancestral connection to the Métis Nation that arose in the historic Métis homeland.

Canada must intervene to ensure that the Métis National Council is not lost among an avalanche of illegitimate organizations. The federal government has begun this process by providing funding in its 2017 budget to the Métis National Council and its affiliated organizations. The money is going toward governance capacity and to support the council’s membership registry.

But more action is needed. Ottawa must affirm the Métis National Council’s resolution declaring that “there is only one Métis Nation, and that the geographic homeland of the Métis Nation is the historic Northwest which entered into Confederation in 1870 through the negotiations of the Métis Provisional Government led by President Louis Riel.” Only a clear and unequivocal statement will have the intended effect of silencing specious claims to Métis identity.

Additionally, policy-makers in Ottawa must understand that enabling the federal incorporation of dubious organizations like the Métis Federation of Canada could be harmful to reconciliation efforts with the Métis people.

Finally, Canada should provide funding to the Métis National Council so it can judicially intervene in response to illegitimate legal claims to Métis rights. A number of these claims have arisen in recent decades. Most recently, unsuccessful Métis rights claimants in New Brunswick sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada a decision by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal that upheld the lower-court ruling that no historic Métis community existed in the province.

The Métis Nation and the federal government are on the cusp of achieving lasting agreements that will facilitate reconciliation and a just resolution to generations of conflict. But the proliferation of white settler revisionism and the mass usurpation of Métis identity threaten those prospects. The federal government must take seriously the threat posed to the Métis Nation by white settler revisionism, and continue to enact policy reforms to support the Métis National Council.

via “White settler revisionism” threatens Métis-Crown reconciliation

The rise of Indigenous members of the Baha’i faith

Interesting (the 2011 NHS shows that over three-quarters of Indigenous peoples are Christian, with most of the balance responding “no religious affiliation” – Aboriginal spirituality being under five percent):

As Canadian members of the Baha’i faith continue to bask in the glow of the 200th anniversary of the birth of their Persian founder, Baha’u’llah, they take particular pride in the many Indigenous people among their faith, which emphasizes the divine origins of all religions.

To that end one of Canada’s most prominent Baha’i, Bob Watts, former chief of staff to the Assembly of First Nations, will be taking part in festivities and discussions on Thursday, Feb. 2, at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in East Vancouver.

Hailing from the Mohawk and Ojibway Nations, and residing at Ontario’s Six Nations Reserve, Watts recently completed his duties with the AFN. Before that he was the interim executive director of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which makes recommendations regarding the Indian Residential School era and its legacy.

The invitational event with Watts in Vancouver will include remarks from Chief Robert Joseph, one of the most truly reconciling voices in Canada’s truth and reconciliation process, which sometimes descends into politics and division.

Baha’i followers emphasize the ethnic diversity of their membership. When Metro Vancouver’s Baha’is marked their founder’s birthday last October, there was significant participation by large numbers of Baha’i who are Indigenous. (See drumming photo above.)

via The rise of Indigenous members of the Baha’i faith | Vancouver Sun

Let’s Talk about culturally sensitive treatments for depression

One of the more interesting articles I have recently read and of particular importance given mental health issues is a diverse population:

Each week Dr. Yusra Ahmad, a psychiatrist and clinical lecturer at University of Toronto, meets six to eight women with a range of mental health disorders at a mosque in the city’s west end. She leads them through a program that combines mindful meditation with concrete skills to manage negative thoughts and regulate emotions.

However, this is not your typical mindfulness therapy. Each session began with prayers from the Qur’an and incorporates teachings from Islamic scholars.

She also uses imagery familiar to the women. For example, when leading a session on mindful eating, instead of using the example of a raisin, as she does with other audiences, she focuses on a date. The reason: Dates have an important role in Muslim traditions, enabling the women to relate to meditation techniques on a more personal level.

Dr. Ahmad is among a growing group of mental health experts who advocate a more culturally sensitive approach to treatment for disorders such as anxiety and depression than the conventional “one-size-fits-all” methods that currently apply.

An approach that recognizes Canada’s diversity, these experts argue, should become an integral part of the conversation on mental health, including during events like Bell Canada’s annual Let’s Talk campaign, which takes place on Jan. 31.

Immigrant mental illness

The argument for more culturally nuanced treatments rests, at least partly, on the idea that many Canadians come from a background where mental disorders are stigmatized and associated with hospital treatment for severe disease such as psychosis.

This stigma not only harms the patient, but often the entire family is ostracized.

Take Saira (not her real name), a 31-year old Muslim African-Canadian human resource manager, who was diagnosed last year with an anxiety disorder. Saira recalls being brushed off by friends and family with words like: “What do you have to be worried about, there’s nothing wrong with you.” Or, “you need to pray more.”

Such advice ended up worsening her feelings of isolation and her anxiety, to the point where she had to take health leave from her job.

Saira found Dr. Ahmad’s Mindfully Muslim program by chance on a Facebook group, after exhausting her options with conventional psychiatric treatment and medications. Dr. Ahmad’s six-week mindfulness program, with elements rooted in Muslim and African culture, gave her renewed hope, she says.

The latest data from Statistics Canada shows that in 2012, 16 per cent of Canadians met the criteria for a mental illness diagnosis.

But the Centre for Research on Inner City Health has found that although immigrants have similar rates of mental illness as people born in Canada, they make far less use of mental health services.

Managing difficult memories

Dr. Ahmad is not alone in her campaign to infuse cultural elements into mental health treatment of specific communities. Leysa Cerswell Kielburger, community program leader at The Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto, has collaborated with Sistering, an organization for “at-risk” women in Toronto, to develop a drop-in mindfulness program for Syrian refugee women.

The program brings about 10 women together every week and facilitates a mindfulness program that centres on the trauma of being a refugee. A mindfulness-based cognitive therapy combines meditation with concrete skills to manage your thoughts, such as learning how to observe your thoughts and not to judge them.

The emphasis during the workshops is on managing difficult memories, taking care of the body and easing the stress of being a newcomer to Canada.

The women benefit from the program, Ms. Kielburger says, because they are in the company of others with the same refugee experience.

What’s more, they are able to talk about their experiences in their mother tongue and can access mental health services where they live, rather than in the more conventional but also more intimidating hospital setting.

Dr. Melinda Fowler, a Métis and Mi’Kmaq primary care physician in Winnipeg, approaches mental health treatment with an emphasis on spirituality — which most Indigenous peoples regard as a core tenet for effective treatment of mental illness.

Thus, Dr. Fowler begins each session with a traditional smudging ceremony aimed at developing a connection with her patients, and at helping them connect to their spirituality.

“There is a legacy of trauma, and mistrust of institutions such as health care in the Indigenous community,” says Dr. Fowler. She takes the view that by incorporating Indigenous customs in the management of mental disorders, patients are able to slowly regain a measure of trust in a system that has eradicated many traditional practices that used to be cornerstones of medical treatment in their communities.

Dr. Fowler is also taking her approach to indigenous mental health into the federal prison system. She has started a pilot program among inmates in the Prairie provinces that incorporates traditional ceremonies as well as Indigenous medicines such as weekay root, or wiikenh, a popular antidote for anxiety.

Spirituality in health

Arji Elmi, a social worker and PhD candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, enrolled in Dr. Ahmad’s Mindfully Muslim program as a learning opportunity to improve her skills as a crisis social worker. She says the experience has been transformative in her work.

She often found in the past that religion and spirituality were discouraged in the structured therapy programs offered in crisis centres — due to concerns that patients might feel they were having religion forced on them. Yet for for those Canadians whose spirituality embraces all aspects of their lives it must play an important part in their treatment.

Ignoring the key role of spirituality or religion in a person’s health can deepen the isolation that often leads to mental breakdowns, Elmi says.

Diversity means that therapy must take different forms for different groups, whether it is women discussing their stresses as they farm the land, or of Indigenous ceremonies designed to achieve emotional balance, or Catholic churchgoers filing into the confessional box each week to share their struggles with a priest.

When mental health providers incorporate cultural nuances and engage in community based treatment, they can go a long way towards improving the mental health of the most vulnerable Canadians.

via Let’s Talk about culturally sensitive treatments for depression