The harmful, ‘cynical and self-serving’ nature of Indigenous identity fraud

‘There are suddenly many more grants and benefits to identifying as Indigenous’ because institutions want to contribute to reconciliation but end up causing harm, says prof on N2N.

Greed and ambition are probably the simplest reasons why people commit Indigenous identity fraud. But those aren’t the only reasons says Kim TallBear on Nation to Nation.

The bizarre compulsion to “play Indian” is rooted in a cunning form of colonial nationalism, “which is about needing to belong to this place and needing to feel that one has a moral authority to belong to and possess this land,” she explains.

TallBear, professor of Native studies at the University of Alberta, says the phenomenon known as “race-shifting” may seem new but actually has roots that reach back several hundred years.

It begins with dressing up and putting on costumes. It morphs into cultural appropriation and the new-age movement in the 20th century. Then it becomes modern identity fraud.

“There is the special place for ‘the Indian’ in the North American national imagination,” she says. “The Indian takes on this important role historically.”

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She speculates race-shifting may have proliferated over the last few decades. But people are also increasingly ready to call it out. Academia and the arts seem to be havens for it. Their desire to contribute to reconciliation can backfire due to a lack of policies, protocols and relationships with communities.

“There are suddenly many more grants and benefits to identifying as Indigenous,” TallBear says. “It’s a problem because non-Indigenous people are simply unqualified, for the most part, to figure out who is Indigenous and how they belong to a community or not.”

And it’s far from harmless. Identity fraud traffics in narratives of violence and dispossession that create insecurity and confusion among those who’ve been scooped, stolen or disconnected by assimilationist federal government policies.

Fraudsters “will actually conflate their situation with the situation of the scooped and disconnected,” TallBear says. “It’s actually quite cynical and self-serving.”

Senator calls out former prime minister

While on the subject of federal policy, N2N spoke with Sen. Brian Francis about the proposed papal visit, recent comments by former prime minister Jean Chrétien, and the Liberal government’s progress on reconciliation.

Last week, Chrétien told a popular Radio-Canada talk show that abuse at residential schools was never mentioned when he was minister of Indian Affairs between 1969 and 1974.

Which Francis doesn’t buy. He says residential school denialism needs to be countered, no matter who espouses it.

“To me those comments are ignorant and they’re offensive. Mr. Chrétien is in a position of privilege. And he would’ve known fully well what happened,” says Francis.

“It leads to a broader issue of genocide denialism where some people, whether they be in positions of power or not, deny or understate what really happened in the residential school era.”

Francis, who is Mi’kmaw from Abegweit First Nation in Prince Edward Island, sponsored the bill that created the new federal reconciliation holiday when it landed in the Senate in June.

He says he’s looking forward to applying an Indigenous lens to new legislation when Parliament resumes sitting on Nov. 22.

And finally, it’s been almost two years since Mounties raided Wet’suwet’en territory sparking nationwide protests in solidarity with hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The project would carry fracked gas through the nation’s unceded land to a processing facility on the British Columbia coast where it would be liquified and exported east.

And the chiefs still oppose it. They mounted new blockades last month, which the Mounties responded to with more arrests.

As resistance rises up again could another raid be in the works? Hereditary Chief Na’Moks, also known as John Ridsdale, says yes.

“We know that they’re setting up to come in again. They’ve done it twice now: 2019, 2020. Armed forces invading our territory,” he says. “I thought we lived in a democratic country.”

But the chiefs have no plans to back down any time soon, Na’Moks adds.

“We will never give up. We will never stop protecting our territories and our culture.”

And he had a lot more to say. Watch all three interviews above.

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