For years, a Two-Spirit member of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation (MMFN) in New Brunswick has been trying to get band membership for his eight-year-old son Jaxon.
When APTN News last spoke with Wayne Wallace in 2020, he had filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In October 2021, he decided to withdraw his complaint and embark on a mediation process with his community.
“I’m hoping that through dialogue we can come to an understanding as Maliseet people of who we were and what we did with regards to kinship,” said Wallace.
His twin boys were created by in vitro fertilization, with one egg fertilized by Wallace, the other by his Australian husband. Both his sons are registered under the Indian Act, but the MMFN’s membership code is separate from the Act.
In 2014, there was a referendum regarding the MMFN membership code that added a DNA test requirement for paternal offspring to become members. Jaxon shares DNA with Wallace’s husband, so he’s not considered a member.
“In the first, very first sentence, it says that our code was done in keeping with Maliseet customs and traditions. And it isn’t,” said Wallace.
Wallace lives in Vancouver with his husband and children, but regularly visits Madawaska, where his father lives. Wallace still considers the nation home.
“For me it’s really important that Jaxon is accepted as a member of our community because he is for all intents and purposes a member of our community. He is my descendent, he is my son,” he said.
Wallace spoke with Maliseet Elder Andrea Bear Nicholas of Tobique First Nation, who confirmed that using DNA lineage to determine membership went against historic Maliseet values. She has also spent a large portion of her academic career on the Native Studies board of St Thomas University.
“It was well-known back in history that if an unwanted child was delivered or brought in to a Maliseet community, that child was brought in and raised as their own,” said Wallace.
“I feel like we’ve lost our way, in certain respects, when it comes to custom and tradition. No fault of our own, because essentially that’s what happened through assimilation.”
Wallace wrote a letter to MMFN’s council, and was told to reach out to the community directly. They allowed him to use the council’s social media accounts in preparation for a future referendum. He posted a video to the private MMFN Facebook page reaching out to the community and reading his letter.
“I am their father, with every part of my soul and being. In light of the current membership code, only one of my sons is allowed to be part of my community,” said Wallace the Facebook post, “It’s not me you’re rejecting it’s a First Nations child.”
Chief Patricia Bernard confirmed with APTN that the chief and council are remaining neutral on the situation and will act in accordance with what the members of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation decide.
Failing a mediation process, Wallace is prepared to take this to federal court – but only as a last resort.
“This would leave our fate in the hands of strangers. This is not the road I wish to take, because I know that together, we can find a way to resolve this matter within our community, rather than having the courts impose a solution,” said Wallace in his social media post.
Wallace hopes that when he returns to Madawaska with his family, Jaxon will feel accepted.
“It’s not about money, it’s about this sense of community, and this sense of belonging that I feel, and that I want my children to feel.”