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For me, identity isn’t about Joseph Boyden, it’s about us. I feel fortunate that my first home was on the reserve at Hiawatha First Nation. But I cannot always say I come from there, not to everyone, not comfortably.
My family history- like many of ours in Canada– is complicated. This is true even more so amongst Indigenous persons in Canada; and it is this that I wish to speak to.
When headlines broke about Joseph Boyden’s identity, I found myself glued to my computer and phone, reading every article and tweet on the subject.
I have read Joseph Boyden’s books, and met him once while studying at Trent University. I confess that it is not him that I find particularly interesting, but a veritable litany of other things about the controversy- my keen interest and learning about Indigenous literature as an Indigenous Studies major at Trent being just one of them. Something else was gripping my core. It was the expectation, of having my own identity interrogated, not mostly by others, but by myself.
“Who the *&!# are you, Allana?”
It seems appropriate, even borderline customary, that my return to op-ed should begin here.
My name is Allana McDougall. I come from Hiawatha First Nation. Presently I live on traditionally Six Nations Territory in Brantford, Ontario. My parents (split when I was four years old) are Deborah Jones and Doug McDougall. I am estranged from my father, who was himself adopted at birth. At the age of 11, I lived with my grandparents, Murray and Joyce Jones in Hiawatha. At the age of 12, I lived with my mother and siblings, but made a difficult choice to move back in with my grandparents for my grade eight and high school years.
Like many kids who come from split homes, my grandparents’ house became a stable place of refuge for me. After a few years, I also came to think of Hiawatha as my home.
My grandmother often referred to my grandfather as ‘your father’. In this, I relate to gold-medal US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, in response to NBC’s Al Trautwig’s suggestion that her grandparents were not her parents when she said, “My parents are my parents, and that’s it.” While my grandparents never officially adopted me, it is true that these two wonderful, caring people parented me, and so did my mother.
My mother has always been an important and loving support in my life, and this reality might have kept me from feeling comfortable calling my grandparents ‘Mom and Dad’. My grandfather is the only father I have ever known.
Which brings me back to the reserve. My grandfather is what people call a ‘C-31 Indian’. This means that although he was entitled to Status all his life, he was denied it for many years because the blood quantum rules in the Indian Act were gender discriminatory until 1985. His mother Laura Cowie married a non-Indigenous man, and so lost her Status; if my grandfather had an Indian father who married and had children with a non-Indigenous woman, both my grandfather and his children would have been born with Status (Chelsea Vowel breaks this down better than anyone else on her blog âpihtawikosisân, here: http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fapihtawikosisan.com%2F2011%2F12%2Fgot-status-indian-status-in-canada-sort-of-explained%2F&h=IAQE-XJV2 Which brings me back to the reserve.
My great-grandmother’s loss of Status and subsequent removal from the Hiawatha Band has had devastating effects on my entire family. It’s important to note here that on November 16, 1923 my great-great grandfather Henry Cowie signed the Williams Treaty, which ceded over twelve MILLION acres of land as a representative of the Mississaugas of Rice Lake. My great-grandmother, daughter of a dignitary (Henry Cowie also three times a former chief), was told while her father was still living that she could not return to the reserve .
Allow me to tell you in one sentence what it is like, growing up under these gendered, legislative circumstances: When you are in your parents’ home, you are welcomed home, but when you become a woman, you are disavowed from your community (if not personally, then legislatively at least).
I have relatives in the community, but I cannot live or be buried there, though that is where I was raised. I cannot put it in terms more simple than this: The Indian Act determines where I live and where I die.
It is these truths that make me burn when I consider the possibility that someone with what seems to be no verifiable Indigenous ancestry has been accepted as, and in turn profited from, being ‘one of us’.
I do not care about Joseph Boyden’s money or his success. I care about legitimacy, truth, and generational legacy. In spite of being separated as an adult, I care deeply for my childhood home. I have no reservations with, or lack of respect for my community. I only wonder- daily– how much longer we will suffer before Indigenous Peoples will become truly self-determining First Nations. If anyone asks me who I am, I refuse to say I have ‘Native roots’. I am Allana McDougall, daughter of Deborah Jones and Doug McDougall, raised by Murray and Joyce Jones in Hiawatha. The Indian Act tells me and many like me, that I am ‘not enough’ quantum to be Status, or to be allowed to come home.
I have this nagging thought that… in so much as we have allowed others to tell our communities who belongs to us and who doesn’t, those others will soon belong to us, too.
Where-ever there is no room to be found for self-determining distinction, there will be room for arbitrary extinction of our Treaty Rights. Who tells you who you are? Who the *&!# am I??? For the Silo, Allana McDougall.