Indigenous leaders must be clear and transparent in their political endorsements
In the lead up to election day, Tuesday, April 16th, Grand Chief Arthur Noskey of Treaty 8 publicized his frustrations with the United Conservative stance on Indigenous issues.
In their platform, the United Conservatives state they are “committed to the ultimate goal of treating and recognizing all Albertans as equal under law.”
Remembrance Day has just passed, but the gratitude we bestow our veterans’ continues year round. Tales of their untold bravery are passed down in song and legend, and their sacrifices immortalized in the freedoms we cherish today.
As we reach the end of Métis Week in Alberta, we are conscious of the historical struggles faced by our Métis veterans. The pathway to recognition hasn’t been easy.
Nevertheless, here we are. And today, we stand by those–living and since passed–who fought to defend this land we proudly call home.
The raising of Métis flags in cities, towns and hamlets across the province, starting in Beaumont, pays homage to their patriotism and the lessons of their generation. The need to come together, regardless of creed, nationality, or where you come from holds in pursuant of reconciliation.
Raised on Nov. 14, the move honours the Métis for their part in shaping the region’s heritage. While the flag is set to come down Monday, a representative to Beaumont took to social media, stating, “[the flag] is currently on a temporary flag pole. We will be looking for a permanent home for the flag within City Hall.”
And in honour of that permanence, recognizing the contributions of figures like Bertha Clark-Jones, Theo Fleury, and Louis Riel remind us never to take life for granted. And in the case of the latter, the fleeting sense of unity in the face of western alienation.
Canada’s indigenous communities deserve more recognition
From the Cree code-talkers to the Métis veterans’ activists, strides were made after decades of hardship. Recognition for their sacrifices became a reality.
The unique role indigenous Canadians filled during the war effort proved indispensable. The Alberta Cree code-talkers, for example, improved Allied communications, where orders could be spoken and translated by a network of Cree code-talkers without fear of enemy intrusion.
While Ottawa recently issued an apology for its past treatment of Métis veterans, their $30-million pledge to recognize their contributions was highly regarded as a step in the right direction.
In the spirit of reconciliation, here is a notable example of those contributions.
Activists and Cree-Métis veteran Bertha Clark-Jones advocated for recognizing the pivotal role the Métis had during the Second World War. She dedicated part of her post-service career to guarantee fair treatment to indigenous and Métis veterans.
Bertha also helped open Nistawoyou, an indigenous friendship centre, which allows men and women living in Canada’s north to find work. She had also worked on the centre’s housing committees and also volunteered at NewStart, which provided educational upgrading programs to the northern communities.
The most profound impact she had was in her co-founding of the Voice of Alberta Native Women’s Society, which was one of the first equal rights organizations for both status and non-status native women. Under Bertha’s presidency, the Native Women’s Society also focused on helping indigenous foster children find foster parents within their communities. An issue overlooked before Bertha’s efforts.
Premier Kenney took to social media on Aboriginal Veterans Day to recognize her achievements as a proud Métis Albertan.
Coming together to defend one’s land, in spite of our differences, provides society with the moral fibre to embrace progress and leave no man, woman or child behind.
And that effectuates the spirit of Riel, who has since been rehabilitated and called a “statesman” by Ottawa’s mayor.
Theo Fleury honours Riel‘s memory
Stanley Cup winner and renowned Métis author Theo Fleury spoke to his on-and-off-the-ice struggles at a recent Edmonton event. Fleury, who is also an Olympic gold medalist, touched on having the balance and the ability to be vulnerable.
In an emotional speech, the Métis icon states, “I wanted to end my life. Not because I wanted to die, but because I was completely exhausted from living in emotional pain for the majority of my life.”
“I tried everything to get rid of this pain and suffering. And, I remember having the gun in my mouth. I remember the gun rattling against my teeth, and I remember what it tasted like, as it sat there for quite a long time.”
“At the moment of truth, I had this random thought inside my head: You never quit anything in your life. Why are you quitting now?”
Upon this realization, Fleury threw the gun into the desert, put his New Mexico property up for sale and returned home to Calgary two weeks later.
He attributes spending time with family and fellow Flames’ Alumni to help him get back on his feet.
“I chose to live, but I had no clue how to live life on life’s terms. All I knew was how to cope–happy, mad, sad–and I certainly knew how to make it go away.
Today, he resides in Calgary, as an outspoken advocate of Alberta, calling out the federal Liberals lack of fairness towards the province.
Lest We Forget: the Métis stand tall amidst growing concerns of identity theft
With concerns emerging on indigenous identity theft, attributed mostly to the “Eastern Métis movement,” Canada’s “Aboriginal Identity Population” rose sharply between 2011 and 2016. With the population increasing by 19.5 percent over that span, Indigenous claims to sovereignty and self-determination are under threat by the phenomena of “response mobility.”
In Nova Scotia, experts have indicated that the shift away from one’s “white identity” is commonplace amongst locals. Through “aspirational ascent”, fake claims of indigeneity created over 50 indigenous organizations, provoking genuine concerns from many outside the Métis community.
Being Métis is not something we aspire to be. It is who we are. We embrace our heritage and aspire for greatness. We uplift those around us and seek togetherness over division. But taking another’s identity and assuming it as one’s own appropriates the historical struggles many fought and succumbed too.
Whether intentional or not, author and associate professor of Social Justice and Community Studies at Saint Mary’s University Darryl Leroux made a note of the “raceshifting” trend amongst Nova Scotia’s population.
Groups like the Eastern Woodlands Métis Nation are part of the problem. They’re fraudulent states Leroux says.
Per a CBC article, members of this “new Métis [Nation]” have used status cards to receive tax exemptions on cars and gas, sparking outrage and a subsequent probe into the matter.
Having amassed a membership base north of 30,000, Statistics Canada has indicated the number of self-identifying Métis in Nova Scotia rose 125 per cent in the decade preceding 2016.
Cheryl Maloney, a Mi’kmaw activist and Cape Breton University political science professor, states, “They’re trying to be viewed as Métis under the Constitution, and to have rights and benefits [as Métis people].” Rejecting their identity is not ‘exclusive’ or ‘mean-spirited,’ it is merely the just thing to do, especially for those no longer with us to speak against the whitewashing of Métis culture.
Social media users expressed outrage this past weekend as Instagram posts surfaced showing what appeared to be a young white student celebrating her scholarship intended for Indigenous youth. The girl’s family says they have a legitimate claim to Indigenous ancestry based on genealogical records, but Indigenous leaders are still skeptical.
Ainsley Whynacht, an 18-year-old still in high school, was announced as the winner of the 2019 Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) scholarship. The scholarship required applicants to submit an essay. NSGEU states in a Facebook post that Whynacht’s looked at “how the lack of access to public services has negatively affected the lives of Indigenous people.”
On her private Instagram, Whynacht makes light about the scholarship, calling it a “random essay on treatment of indigenous kids in school” and jokes about how the scholarship selection committee didn’t notice she was the “whitest person ever.”
In another post, Whynacht is seen holding up a bottle of tanning lotion, posting “its time for ya girl to fake tan or else that’s gonna be embarrassing.”
As backlash began to pour in after her private Instagram posts were screenshotted and distributed widely on the wider social media world, Whynacht was confronted with angry responses and demands to NSGEU to rescind the scholarship she had been offered. Whynacht responded by posting that she had “said I’m sorry already” and “all I did was write an essay.”
Later, in a conversation posted to Facebook, Whynacht attempted to demonstrate her Indigenous heritage by presenting a status card from the Woodland Metis nation, a highly controversial Metis nation that has been at the center of a debate about whether their claims to Indigenous identity are legitimate.
The Woodland Metis have been contested by various Indigenous scholars and groups, having no official Government recognition or recognition by the Métis National Council. The Nova Scotia-based Eastern Woodland Metis, of which Whynacht presented status from, no longer has an active website. The Grand Chief, Mary Lou Parker, passed away in summer 2019 and there appears to be no attempt to maintain the group.
After a Supreme Court decision in 2006 expanded the scope of who could claim to be Metis, the number of people self-identifying as Metis surged by over 125 percent by 2016, with new self-described Metis groups springing up in eastern Canada.
Cheryl Maloney, a Mi’kmaq activist and Professor of Political Science at Cape Breton University, notes the Eastern Woodland Metis have no connection to the cultural heritage or history of the recognized Metis of Canada. “The Metis in Nova Scotia are not actually tied to the constitutionally protected Metis. And if they are, they would be people who come to Nova Scotia and bring their status with them.”
Maloney says the creeping “raceshifting” of non-Indigenous people self-identifying as Indigenous is reflective of an “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. Maloney says Wynacht’s story is rooted in racism, fraud, and entitlement.
“Nobody wanted to be Indigenous when there was so much racism, and [the Government] was stealing your kids, and the odds were against you—no one was aspiring to live that reality,” Maloney says.
Maloney said she doesn’t know about whether the scholarship can legally be rescinded from Wynacht, but hopes NSGEU learns from this mistake and consults the local Indigenous community in creating future criteria for the scholarship.
“They need to include Indigenous people in these deliberations,” she says. “If they did, they’re likely to get a young person from the community who everyone is looking up to as a future leader. We know who they are. We see them. We have young people who are destined for great things if given the opportunity.”
The Post Millennial reached out to Ainsley Wynacht, and received comment from her mother who called the outrage a “non-story”.
“Ainsley is Indigenous and has provided proof,” she said. She claims the family has documentation from the Universite de Ste. Anne demonstrating their Indigenous heritage.
Ainsley’s mother says the document, a genealogical family tree, demonstrates Indigenous heritage from the Mi’kmaq nation on her mother’s and grandmother’s side.
“It confirmed that we are indigenous. We had to provide baptismal certificates for the three latest generations. We went through the church, sent the baptismal information to the university and they did the rest of the research.”
When asked to see the documentaion, Ainsley’s mother said they would provide the document to NSGEU and The Post Millennial upon the family’s return to their home from their cottage.
Jarvis Googoo, a non-practising lawyer in Halifax and a Mi’kmaq from We’koqma’q First Nation, says connection to the Mi’kmaq community is more important than simply having an ancestor or two.
“I know I am distantly Irish, but this does not make me Irish.” he says, “I know I am Mi’kmaq because that is all I know, it is all my family has been.” adding that the Whynachts, or anyone else who believed themselves to hold claim to Indigenous ancestry, needed to approach the Indigenous community—not the government.
“Some claimants say they have one ancestor from the 1800s [so that] makes them Mi’kmaq or Metis. For me, what makes me Mi’kmaq is my mother was Mi’kmaq, and my grandmother was Mi’kmaq.”
Googoo says he hopes NSGEU rescinds the scholarship, “That is scholarship money that should and could have went to an actual Mi’kmaq Indigenous person instead. And if it can’t be recinded, then going forward the NSGEU, or any other organization wants to try and ‘help,’ they need to engage with us and we can teach them how to do it right.”
The NSGEU Facebook page issued a response Friday to the online outrage in a now-deleted post.
“We are aware of the social media posts circulating about the recipient of the NUPGE Scholarship for Indigenous Students, this information has been passed on to the National Union, NUPGE, who administers this award, so they may investigate this matter further,” read part of the statement.
“It’s unfortunate that people say offensive things on social media that they end up regretting,” read the rest of the NSGEU statement.
Prior to the interview with The Post Millennial, Ainsley’s mother said she was unaware of the controversies surrounding the Woodland Metis and had enrolled her daughter and herself with them in an effort to participate more actively with what she thought was a legitimate local Indigenous group.
On her daughter’s comments, she says she knows they were “in incredibly poor judgement,” stating that she had been very upset when she saw them. On her daughter’s reasoning, Tanya says that “she was being bullied for looking ‘too white to be Indigenous’ so she posted that she’d use fake tan to not look so white.”
Ainsley wrote an apology to NSGEU late last week.
“I would like to sincerely apologize that these pictures and their captions were so grossly misinterpreted and I assure you that I meant no disrespect towards the union nor Indigenous people,” said Ainsley in her apology letter.
“The colour of my skin does not erase my heritage, or my anger towards their treatment that I wrote very passionately about in the essay that won me this scholarship,” the apology continues. “Even the suggestion that I would fake my ethnic background is truly insulting for me and is just another example of people not taking my ancestry seriously just because I do not exactly ‘look the role’, as I have been told.”
The $1,500 scholarship goes to the winner of an essay competition who is entering their first year of post-secondary education.
Ainsley’s mother also sent The Post Millennial a sample of some of the death threats Ainsley received as a result of her comments, which ranged from wishes her “family dies in a house fire” to Instagram users messaging her to “eat sh*t you useless wh*re.”
Jarvis Googoo says the threats made against the Whynachts are “plain horrible,” adding, “there is a great and peaceful way to discuss this… Our treaties were based upon peaceful friendship and that is how I like to discuss this and educate.”
The Post Millennial reached out to NSGEU and NUGPE but did not receive comment from them by the time of publication.
Canadian model and sex icon Pamela Anderson has come under fire after posting photos of herself with a Native American headdress.
The photo, released on Halloween, has been heavily ratioed, receiving nearly nine times as many replies than retweets, as many claim that Anderson is appropriating Native American culture, and that her actions as a whole are racist.
One of her critics was famed Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, who criticized Anderson not only for her headdress, but for her criticism of the seal hunt, a practice which Inuit leaders, activists, and residents of their native land say is a traditional practice of non-endangered seals, as well as a primary resource of meat for their communities. They also use the seals as a resource for insulation and clothing.
The debate around seal clubbing goes back decades. A 2002 Canadian Veterinary Medical Association report reviewed seal killing techniques (specifically, in the Atlantic Coast, not in Inuit communities) determined an improper seal kill kept the animals alive at an average of 45.2 seconds, before finally being given the final death blow. The paper considered this number humane, but noted “no interval between an animal being shot and losing consciousness will ever be acceptable to some people.”
Inuits themselves also claim that the practice is more humane than the means that other Americans obtain meat. “In places where (anti-seal activists) live, in Southern Canada and America, they torture animals, they eat tortured animals every day,” said one young Inuk in the film Angry Inuk, a 2016 documentary discussing the controversial topic.
Other celebrities have protested the seal hunt, including ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey, who boycotted performing in Canada for years until deciding to drop it last year on his latest tour.
Native headgear and controversy
Earlier this year, Dior’s new Eau du toilette “Sauvage” had its commercial pulled following a similar controversy.
The commercial, which was actually a preview to an extended cut, released a preview of its Native American-inspired fragrance campaign for “Sauvage,” to very little positive public reaction.
Despite the company’s collaboration with Native American consultants and careful attention to tradition, the brand faced heavy backlash from followers stating that the campaign was “racist” and “offensive.”
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Depp said that he wished the full video could have been released, as people would see more of the context surrounding the short.
“A teaser obviously is a very concentrated version of images and there were objections to the teaser of the small film,” Depp explained. “The film has never been seen.”
The commercial, which features Depp on an electric guitar playing Link Wray’s “Rumble” while an Indigenous man fancy dances, was eventually pulled due to its perceived insensitivity.
Anderson made headlines last week for asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to serve prisoners vegan meals to save money.
The RCMP have announced that they believe that this summer’s wildfires in Alberta were the result of arson.
The McMillan fire, which was deliberately set consumed a total of 2,730 square kilometres.
Several communities were affected by the fire and forced to evacuate including Wabasca, Bigstone Cree and Peerless Trout First Nations.
The fire burned for nearly two months from May 18th to July 1st before it was finally brought under control by firefighters.
Investigators and the government are seeking help to identify who the individual responsible for the fire was and are asking potential witnesses to come forward.
“To the families affected by this wildfire who were evacuated, and to the forest industry who suffered losses, we will find the person responsible for the McMillian wildfire,” said Devin Dreeshen, the province’s minister of agriculture and forestry.