The Indian Act Tells Me I Am Not Enough

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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.

The treehouse my grandfather built for me, behind the Hiawatha welcome sign.

The treehouse my grandfather built for me, behind the Hiawatha welcome sign.

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.

the indian act of canada 2nd edition richard h bartlettWhich 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: 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’.

enoughI 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.

hiawatha-line-31I ask you, Joseph Boyden, what is “enough”? Enough for what? To pass, or to come home, or to be accepted by our communities? Who decides?

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.

allana mcdougall writer profilepicWhere-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.

2 Comments to The Indian Act Tells Me I Am Not Enough

  1. Did you know? Ontario is supporting adults with developmental disabilities in Brant as part of a province wide program that will help promote community-based employment and improve employment services and supports.

    Community Living Six Nations is receiving funding for its Pre-Employment Training & Placement, which will help adults with developmental disabilities in Six Nations. The agency will enhance its existing employment program through staff training and developing a pre-employment program. They will collaborate with a local employment support agency and community employers for training and job opportunities.

    This is one of 38 projects that is receiving support through the second phase of Ontario’s Employment and Modernization Fund (EMF), which promotes greater inclusion and independence for people with developmental disabilities in their communities.

    Supporting agencies and helping adults with developmental disabilities live as independently as possible is part of Ontario’s plan to create jobs, grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.

    “As I visit agencies across the province, I see the continued expansion of strong partnerships that are driving more inclusivity for people with developmental disabilities in our communities. We have already begun to see the progress that the Employment and Modernization funding has had on agencies being able to deliver programs that are giving individuals with developmental disabilities greater opportunities for employment.
    — Dr. Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services

    “The Employment and Modernization Fund is bringing meaningful change for people with developmental disabilities at Six Nations. We’ve seen firsthand the difference that these creative projects have made. Today’s announcement for a second phase of this funding means that we can continue to make strides in supporting this population in need.”
    — Dave Levac, MPP for Brant

    As part of Phase II of the Employment and Modernization Fund, the government is investing over $7 million for 38 creative projects across the province.
    Community Living Six Nationsis receiving $85,798 in 2017 for their Pre-Employment Training & Placement program.
    The EMF is part of the Ontario government’s $810 million multi-year investment strategy in community and developmental services.
    Ontario currently invests over $2 billion a year in developmental services.

    Read about our Employment and Modernization Fund
    Learn more about developmental services in Ontario
    Visit Community Living York South’s website.

    For more information, please contact me, Esther Gibbs at 416-325-7435. Please mention the Silo when contacting.

  2. UPDATE BOYDEN’S latest statement TORONTO, Jan. 11, 2017 /CNW/ – A few weeks ago, I found out that my 85-year-old mom had been contacted by a journalist who prodded her with pointed and personal questions about her heritage. Specifically, he asked her to prove how Indigenous she is.

    My family’s heritage is rooted in our stories. I’ve listened to them, both the European and the Indigenous ones, all my life. My older sisters told me since childhood about my white-looking father helping his Indian-looking brother hide their blood in order to survive in the early 1900’s. My mother’s family history is certainly not laid out neatly in the official records, or on either. From the age of nine or ten, the woman I knew as my grandmother told me stories about my mother that, until recently, my mother preferred not to share with anyone. The details are private and painful, yet my mother has been forced to revisit aspects of her past she believed were closed away forever.

    Children don’t go about consciously presenting identities; they just are who they are. And that’s how I was: a white kid from Willowdale with native roots. The Ojibwe family I grew-up with in summers on Christian Island still call me cousin or uncle. The bad poetry I first scribbled as a troubled teen was about searching for my mother’s clan. For the last 22 years I’ve been a member of a Moose Cree First Nation family, active in their community and doing everything we can to get youth out onto the land at Camp Onakawana on the Abitibi River. This is my life. And I’ve always said pretty much the same thing: “a small part of me is Indigenous, but it’s a big part of who I am.”

    It’s clear to me now that I’ve made mistakes. While my intentions were good, I recognize that I’ve been too vocal on many Indigenous issues in this country. I let myself become a go-to person in the media when issues arose. I was wrong to do that and will never again provide anything but my piece. That role should go to those with deeper roots in their communities – wiser and more experienced spokespeople and elders – who have that right and responsibility, and who can better represent their community’s perspective.

    The most painful mistake I have made is in regard to our Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and, specifically, my bringing them into an unrelated public debate. I am so sorry I did this. I ask forgiveness of families who have been traumatized by the loss of their loved ones. I have learned one of the most important lessons of my life with regard to speaking out publicly or privately without putting enough thought or care into it.

    To those, especially friends, who may be feeling I’ve been avoiding them, I’ve spent the last weeks up north, offline, choosing to be with my mom and family where we spoke proudly and sometimes very painfully about our heritage and many other things. If you are concerned about the mistakes I’ve made, I ask forgiveness of you too. If it is about blood quantum, then I fear I will never be good enough. Please know that I didn’t go silent out of a sense of shame but out of the desperate need to listen. My family and others in these last weeks told me this: I can try and talk and defend and explain all I want, but perhaps it’s time to close my mouth and ask for guidance and truly listen.

    So this is what I’m trying to do. Some amazing people including numerous elders have begun to reach out to me and invite me into their circles, to let me know that it is my heart they believe in – that I have done some good things for people but that I still have lessons to learn if I wish to go further. I do wish to go further. It’s time to listen again, and so I’m travelling with some blood family to go spend time with our traditional family. I’ve got so much more to learn.

    Joseph Boyden

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