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Indigenous politics: a student perspective

Political Studies 222

Course blog for POLS 222

Personal reflections on political issues from the students of POLS 222.

Questions or concerns can be forwarded to Dr. Nicole Wegner (nicole.wegner@usask.ca)

Featured post

Reflection #1: Indigenous identity

Three students respond to  Trevor Jang’s (2016) “Josiah Wilson, the Indian Act, hereditary governance, and blood quantum” (CBC News) http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/josiah-wilson-indian-act-hereditary-governance-1.3668636

Blood is Thicker Than Identity

“The first rule for players who are looking to participate in any divisions of the ANBT (All Native Basketball Tournament) is that all players must be of North American Indigenous Ancestry: i.e. 1/8 First Nations Ancestry” https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2709417-Josiah-Wilson-Apology-Letter-Jan-26-2016.html. The letter to Josiah Wilson from Willis Parnell, Chair, ANBT Rules Committee, goes on to state that the rules indicate a player must have aboriginal ancestry/bloodlines in order to participate in the annual basketball tournament.

There is no indication that Josiah – or any other player – was asked to provide a blood sample to prove what is often referred to as “blood quantum.” There are four groups in the ABO blood group system plus a positive or negative Rh factor, none of which would distinguish Josiah’s blood from the players deemed eligible to play in the ANBT. In fact, there is nothing biologically to separate Josiah from the other players who doubtless have a range of skin colours, facial characteristics, etc. The only rationale for barring him from play is that his biological parents were not of North American Indigenous Ancestry. The ANBT Rules Committee has judged that Josiah’s identity is based on biology even though science has determined that there are no genetic differences between human beings and any “racial” differences are social constructions http://physanth.org/about/position-statements/biological-aspects-race.

Josiah’s father, Dr. Don Wilson, identifies Josiah as his son. In the eyes of the Heiltsuk Hemas (hereditary chiefs), Josiah is a member of the Heiltsuk Nation http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/josiah-wilson-indian-act-hereditary-governance-1.3668636. The Canadian federal government considers Josiah to be a Canadian citizen and a status Indian. Josiah spent two years with the Heiltsuk Wolfpack intermediate team and proudly competed in two junior All-Native tournaments http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/human-rights-case-launched-against-basketball-tournament-1.3666846. As with many adopted children, Josiah’s parents “do not make a distinction between our children … They’re all ours.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/black-status-indian-barred-from-event-over-bloodlines-1.3442490

So if Josiah considers himself a part of the Wilson family and the Heiltsuk Nation, and the Wilsons consider him a part of the their family and the Heiltsuk Nation considers him Heiltsuk, and there is no biological difference in his blood or DNA, why has the ANBT barred him from playing? The ANBT declined to comment, but presumably the rule is to promote fair competition. A letter from the President dated January 28, 2013, states that “(t)his Tournament is not about bringing player(s) from all over North America. It’s about Village versus Village. … The All Native Basketball Tournament is also a huge Social and Cultural Event. It is our job as a Board to keep this Village interest strong.” http://anbt.ca/letter-from-president/ Doubtless the rules committee wants to prevent a team from bringing in a “ringer” to give them a competitive edge when that player is not truly a member of their community.

But the application of this rule in Josiah’s case, if it was meant to promote Village pride, has the opposite effect. Josiah was proud to represent his family, his Nation, his Village: “I love the All Native tournament. It’s probably the best feeling in the world to be up there with my cousins, my family, to play basketball with a lot of the different tribes and members.” His father saw being barred from the tournament as “extremely insulting. It’s upholding that abhorrent notion that blood quantum or DNA or birth is what defines us as indigenous people, and it absolutely is not.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/black-status-indian-barred-from-event-over-bloodlines-1.3442490 Barring Josiah from playing is barring him from proudly representing his Village and experiencing a huge social and cultural event of his family and his Nation, the stated essence behind the ANBT.

Individual identity is a complex, overlapping, and ever-changing construction. It is how we identify with those around us and how we differentiate ourselves from those around us. Canada has a long history of presuming to define who is “Indian” (a history that predates Confederation) with devastating consequences that we are only now coming to terms with. Identity is intensely personal and it is disheartening, even crushing, to be told by a group we identify with that they do not consider us to be “one of them.” Josiah’s rejection by the ANBT based on his bloodline – a factor that does not truly differentiate him – is in effect a judgement that he does not belong despite his acceptance by his adoptive family and Nation. “It hurt, being told by somebody else that I’m not what I am,” Josiah said http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/black-status-indian-barred-from-event-over-bloodlines-1.3442490.

In our rational society, we make rules and apply them “equally” to everyone even when such a rule makes no sense in its current application. Rules and laws cannot define identity; it is not determined by biology but by the groups we identify with which accept us as one of them. It is a source of personal pride and rejection is deeply hurtful. While I applaud the ANBT for organizing this annual tournament and making it a cultural and social event as well as an athletic competition, I question their use of an arbitrary rule to define eligibility. There must be a better way to keep the competition fair while respecting a more inclusive definition of indigenous identity.

#JosiahWilson, #bloodquantum, #ANBT, #allnative, #AboriginalIdentity

Community Acceptance Needs to be the New Blood Quantum

Upon reading the CBC article “Josiah Wilson, The Indian Act, hereditary governance and blood quantum” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/josiah-wilson-indian-act-hereditary-governance-1.3668636) my initial thoughts went to my uncles wedding this past summer. During the nuptials my uncle and his wife performed a blending of the sands ceremony to signify not only the two of them joining but they included my uncle’s two children to signify that they too would be joined together. This part of the nuptials was not legal, it did not have to be done to make the marriage any more valid but it was perhaps the most significant part of the ceremony. Pouring sand together doesn’t change the fact that the woman my uncle married is not of the same blood as him and more importantly that of his children…

But does that make her any less their mother?

And does it make those children any less as part of her family now?

And is she any less a part of ours?

When two people marry there is no legal obligation for the families to join but they more often than not take part in the ceremony alongside the couples and include those new members into their families even after the celebrations take place.

This isn’t really different from adoption; in fact I would say that adoption is more about accepting that child into a family and its community than marriage is. So why after that acceptance takes place should there be a precedence for others to decide that it is not so in certain cases?

This CBC article is about a man called Josiah Wilson who, after being adopted by his father Don Wilson a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, also became a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation. This includes recognition of this membership from the Canadian federal government in the form Indian Status. On top of this recognition of his membership in his community he was also accepted into the community in the manor of the traditional hereditary system through a #potlatch ceremony. According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples #UNDRIP this is more than sufficient for Josiah Wilson to be fully perceived as #indigenous.

Enter the legacy of colonialism in Canada.

The Indian Act is legislation that has a history of putting the fate of first nation’s people identities in the hands of the Canadian Federal government through concepts like blood quantum, a race based evaluation of one`s identity. Blood quantum is a concept that would likely not have even been considered pre-contact as traditionally cultural acceptance into a community was more than enough for one to identify with that community; however this concept has clearly made its way into the thought processes of some, changing the way some people in Canada are willing to accept others into their communities or in Josiah Wilsons case, a basketball tournament. #ANBT2016

Although Josiah Wilson is a fully accepted member of the Heiltsuk First Nation and a Status Indian the committee for the All-Native Basketball Tournament has banned Josiah from playing because he does not satisfy the 1\8th First Nations blood quantum that the committee requires for participation in the tournament. This is something that has upset many including Josiah himself as well as his father and has inspired the hashtag #LetJosiahPlay in hopes that he will be allowed to play in next year’s tournament.

Personally, I think using blood quantum to define someone is not only hurtful, but ignorant. If someone bleeds can you look at that blood and know what race they are? No. Just like when my uncle and his children poured their sand together with my new aunt, you cannot pour that sand out and know definitively which sand was whose, the blood cannot be separated.

Blood is irrelevant to one`s cultural identity.

Blood is not necessary to belong to a family.

Blood quantum is a symptom of colonial values that have aimed, throughout the history of Canada, to tear apart the communities indigenous to this land. This story is proof that these colonial values are still working.

When newcomers come to this country they are informed of Canadian values of Peace, Equality and Freedom, these are values that Josiah Wilson would have learnt about from his father and community. Blood quantum infringes on all of this. Community acceptance needs to be the new blood quantum. Canadian values need to lose their colonial roots.

Blood Quantum in Canada: Indigenous Identity in a Colonial System

In early 2016 the complexity of identifying as an Indigenous person in Canada was brought into the national news when a young man was not allowed to participate in an athletic event due to blood quantum laws. While the focus of this event in the media was ‘Why can’t this young man play?’ a more important question could be ‘Why were blood quantum laws being used?’

After reading the CBC News article on this topic, “Josiah Wilson, the Indian Act, hereditary government and blood quantum” I became confused in regards to the idea of identity. After all, isn’t identity a personal thing? I always thought that identity was something for the individual to define and for the world to receive. But how could that be for an Indigenous person when Aboriginal identity in Canada is derived from the Indian Act, a 140-year-old document created with the intention of assimilation. No other groups of people in Canada have to identify with the federal government in order to be a part of their culture from a legal standpoint. Why then is such a racist, colonial document still being used to identify Aboriginal people?

The Low Down

In February of 2016, Josiah Wilson was denied to play in the All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) in Northern British Columbia. Wilson is part of the Heiltsuk Nation through adoption and does not have any Indigenous ancestors native to the areas inside Canadian territory. Wilson self-identifies as Heiltsuk. The Heiltsuk Nation considers Wilson to be Heiltsuk through adoption and acceptance by the community. The Canadian federal government considers Wilson to be Heiltsuk as a Status Indian under the Indian Act. Despite Wilson being considered Heiltsuk individually, communally, and legally, the ANBT committee does not consider Wilson to be Indigenous because he does not meet the tournament’s blood quantum laws. These laws require a person to be at least 1/8th Indigenous through an ancestral bloodline in order to compete in the tournament.

What are blood quantum laws and why aren’t they more common in Canada?

Blood quantum laws are widely unused in Canada. While they are still used in the United States as a way to determine Indigeneity in the American legal system, the Canadian government does not use blood quantum laws to determine who qualifies as a Status Indian. Perhaps this is because blood quantum laws were created during the colonization of North America and are generally thought to be a racist practice today. Instead, the Canadian federal government uses the Indian Act to determine Aboriginal status. “The [Canadian] legislation does not specifically refer to any sort of blood quantum…Nonetheless ancestry continues to be a determining factor in who is a Status Indian.” (âpihtawikowsisân, 2012) Even though Canada does not use a system that follows specific bloodlines, it is still operating on a system similar to that of blood quantum. The Indian Act is a legal document that was created in 1876 to govern Indigenous people in Canada and to facilitate the assimilation of Indigenous people into settler societies. So even though blood quantum laws are not used legally, Indigenous people are still subject to identification through a colonial process.

So why did the ANBT use blood quantum laws?

So why did the ANBT committee feel that a screening system based in colonial practices was necessary for the tournament? In this case the use of blood quantum could have been a form of protection for Indigenous identity. As mentioned above, Indigenous people are subject to scrutiny under the Indian Act in a rigid and calculating system in order to have identity as an Aboriginal person in the Canadian legal system. So would it not make perfect sense for the ANBT committee to insist on a system that is as rigid and calculating in order to ensure counter-assimilation of their event? By using a blood quantum, the ANBT committee ensures that only Indigenous people are participating. This then helps ensure that a cultural event does not become assimilated into Canadian societies by allowing non-Indigenous people to play. In this way, the use of blood quantum is much more of a counter-move to the Indian Act and is essentially following the rules of a 140-year-old colonial game. In that way, the use of blood quantum actually seems like a reasonable action to have in place for a cultural event.

So how does Josiah Wilson fit into all of this?

Josiah Wilson has been caught in the middle of the struggle between Indigenous people and the Indian Act. It is only due to the uniqueness of Wilson’s case that it has received the attention that it has. Josiah Wilson is not being discriminated against as an adoptee into the Heiltsuk Nation but rather is a person affected by the reaction to the discrimination of the Indian Act. Wilson’s case is caught between the offensive play of the Indian Act and the ANBT committee’s reactionary defensive play of blood quantum. Critics of the situation might wonder why the ANBT committee is being so defensive. Why not just let Wilson play? Well perhaps the ANBT committee is so defensive because the Indian Act has been playing an effective offense for 140 years. Hard defense in response requires hard rules, which with blood quantum does not allow Wilson to participate. In the game of Indigenous identity in the Canadian legal system, it’s time to start calling the fouls for the Indian Act. Or better yet, let’s play a different game.

#LetJosiahPlay #anbt2016 #bloodquantum #HeiltsukStrong #APTN

References

Adler, H. (2014, August 23). Indian Status: 5 things you need to know. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/indian-status-5-things-you-need-to-know-1.2744870

âpihtawikosisân. (2012, December 4). Got Status? Indian Status explained in Canada, Sort of explained. Retrieved from http://apihtawikosisan.com/2011/12/got-status-indian-status-in-canada-sort-of-explained/

Jang, T. (2016, July 7). Human rights complaint launched against All-Native basketball tournament committee. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/human-rights-case-launched-against-basketball-tournament-1.3666846

Jang T. (2016, July 9). Josiah Wilson, the Indian Act, hereditary governance and blood quantum. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/josiah-wilson-indian-act-hereditary-governance-1.3668636

 

 

Indigenous Politics in Canada: the political and the personal

This is the course blog for Political Studies 222 at St. Thomas More College. Each week will feature student contributions on a chosen media article that relates to indigenous politics and governance in Canada.

Feminists have long understood the political to be personal. Perhaps not all students in this course identify as feminist, however this project is to tie students’ personal reflections to the theoretical and academic materials we cover. Indigenous politics and governance in Canada is a subject that is both personal and political.

To begin, we recognize that we work and study on Treaty Six territory, the traditional territory of the Saulteaux, Cree, Nakota, Dene and Metis peoples. Acknowledging our treaty relationship affirms ongoing commitment and reverence to the Treaties signed. We acknowledge the importance of the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous persons and the land we share.

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