Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn: The Challenge with Self-Identification and Recent Court Decisions
August 24, 2018
Europeans and western governments have worked for centuries to oppress and eliminate the Indigenous peoples of Canada. This has included tactics such as the creation of the Indian Act, residential schools, and the Sixties Scoop, The continuous attempts of ethnocide throughout history are never-ending. One of the most damaging impacts to our nations, our family units and to us as individuals was the creation of the “Indian”. An Indian is more than a category of people – it’s a formula. It does not recognize ethnicity, culture or the ways in which our nations define who our people are.
We have worked aggressively for changes.
We have worked adamantly for recognition of our nationhood.
Society and government appears to finally be making a turn. Work is being done to publicly educate on Indigenous issues and fight against negative stereotypes. Terminology is changing, but with this change of terminology, is the mindset actually changing?
Let’s be honest. Even twenty years ago, people tried to make us feel shame for being Mi’kmaq. Then a number of court cases occurred and a new concept was introduced. This concept was “self-identification” – a necessity for recognition in the Powley decision. This 2003 court case affirmed Métis rights and outlined a three-step test for determining if a person is Métis under section 35 of the Constitution Act. Self-identification is just one part of the test. An individual still has to be a member of a present day Métis community and have ties to the historic Métis Nation. While this test is specific to Métis rights, individuals have taken this concept of self-identification and have used it incorrectly to claim Indigenousness to any Tribe or Nation.
With self-identification, people seem to think that all they need to do is say they are “Indigenous” and it means that they are. People seem to think that in order to be considered Indigenous, all one needs to do is prove that they had just one ancestor – at one point in time – that was a “Native” or an “Indian” and therefore they are.
Those of us who live, breathe and were born Mi’kmaq, we know that’s not the case.
In recognizing these people and validating them it is furthering racism and continuing our oppression. It devalues our self-determination of nationhood. It continues colonialism and Eurocentric behaviour. The Mi’kmaq say “we know who our people are”, and we will continue to say that. For us, everything links back to our family. Our concepts of belonging, identity and connection are all based and linked to who are families are. Even though we know that we have people who are non-Status under the Indian Act, we still know they are Mi’kmaq. As Mi’kmaq, we accept people who are a part of our many families. There are people out there who legitimately are Mi’kmaq, and they come to us to try to reconnect. And that’s what’s important.
If you talk to anyone who is Mi’kmaq – we are proud to be who we are. We’ve endured racism. We continue to endure racism. But we have never allowed anyone to make us feel shame for who we are, and we have never hidden our identity. We always stand tall. That’s the Mi’kmaq way.
For people to claim they have rights in Nova Scotia and are not Mi’kmaq and/or are not connected to our families and our communities is an attempt to devalue our Rights, our nationhood and our recognition. These people do not respect our ways and our traditions. Respect is a fundamental component of our culture. It is one of our seven sacred teachings, so if you don’t understand the importance of this concept and you devalue our Elders, our leaders and us as a nation, then it only illustrates a non-Mi’kmaq way of thinking. The only way it can be described is colonial or neocolonial.
Now with court cases like the Daniels Decision everyone seems to be saying that they are Indigenous or Métis. The Daniels decision stated that the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility to Non-Status Indians and Métis. What this looks like wasn’t defined in the court case. Unfortunately a lot of people have misinterpreted this court case, and taking the ruling to mean that they have rights if they claim they are Non-Status or Métis.
This court case also said that Métis in direct translation means mixed blood. However, the court case was also clear to say that the Métis are a specific group of people in Canada; they are their own nation, and that this case does not address section 35 rights. This court case opened a can of worms in mainstream culture, because individuals think that if they claim they have someone in their lineage that was “Native”, “Indigenous” or an “Indian” this makes them Métis or Non-Status, but this is false.
Again, the Métis are a specific Indigenous nation within Canada. THEY define who their members are. The same is for the Mi’kmaq here in Nova Scotia and other parts of Mi’kma’ki, and the same for the Inuit, Cree, Mohawk and any other Indigenous nation in this country. Individuals cannot just create groups, associations or organizations and claim Nationhood. It doesn’t work that way.
For us in Nova Scotia, the Made-in-Nova Scotia Process is about the implementation of our Rights. So what does that mean? It is about realizing the proper and shared management of the resources, so that we can ensure the protection and care of this land for today, and for future generations. It means recognition of our nationhood: ensuring that our governance processes, culture, traditions and understandings like Netukulimk are respected and viewed equal to western understandings of management. Our understanding has always been different from western understandings, and the reason being is that as Indigenous people, we think differently from Eurocentric-minded people.
When you create your own group and claim yourself a nation, it doesn’t mean that you are. But the problem is that mainstream culture seems to be giving these individuals a platform which they then take as fuel for their recognition. Recognition MUST come from the Indigenous people. We determine who our people are. This is affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. People think it is trendy to claim to be Indigenous, but they are not doing it to understand our way of the world, to connect with our knowledge-keepers or to learn our culture, traditions and live our way of life. Instead they are using their platform, their self-identification, their lack of knowledge to once again put us down – to try to dilute who we are as people. Unfortunately, it is clear that we are still living in a racist world, but today, it’s just being packaged differently.