My Feelings on Joseph Boyden

Twenty-five summers ago at Lebreton Flats, I stood in circle with 70 good people at 5:15 a.m. to welcome the rising sun with offerings of heartberries and tobacco. At least 35 of the sunrise ceremony’s participants were white folk. This impressed me immensely. I thought, the white people are coming on board, they’re turning on to our spirituality. How nice is that! When I mentioned the ceremony a few days later to an elder I have great respect for, he said, “The white man will never be happy to just take his place in our circle. He won’t be happy until he is running them. Mark my words.” I look around today and I think, yeah, there was something to what the old man said. Pirates, liars and cons are ruthlessly pillaging programs put in place to assist those of us whose lives were knocked off balance by the great wrongs of the past i.e. Residential Schools, 60’s Scoop, destructive propaganda geared to promote hatred against us, etc., etc.

I worked in the Ontario prison system for 3 years (2010-2013), all of them in a maximum-security jail notorious for its many violent outbreaks. After being there for 1 1/2 years, Quebec Corrections contacted me and asked that I check out a low-medium security prison in the Laurentians to see if they might be able to convince me to transfer there from Ontario. The Quebec prison had a Pathways program which often means early parole for any inmates fortunate enough to be selected for one of the ten positions made available to them in the program. The Pathways was put in place for Indigenous offenders. A great initiative to be sure. Such programs exist so that our people serving time will not have to be incarcerated any longer than necessary. What I saw at the Quebec prison, however, was that all the ten Pathways spots were made up of men who had self-identified as “Indian”. All of them appeared to me to be white men. The status (full-bloods) of the prison were on the outside looking in at a program meant for them. The Status Indians were bitter about it and complained to me also about the disrespect the “white guys” had for the drum and the healing songs. “If we express any anger, however slight, at the white guys for mocking the drum the way they do, we can expect a week in the hole for it,” is what they told me. I wrote letters to Quebec Corrections but didn’t receive any response to the demand I made for an explanation. I worked only 8 days in the Laurentians and left extremely frustrated at what I witnessed there. The maximum-security prison, though brutal, at least kept the lines of communication open.

Joseph BoydenAll of us know that jobs specifically posted at worksites for our people are being stolen all the time by applicants who self-ID. They (the job thieves) check off the “Are you Aboriginal” box and rob an individual, family, a community from benefitting. Their selfish, greedy act is often responsible for some of our people being on the welfare rolls. In the arts, our voices, those of the “Status Indians” are often pushed aside so that the voice of a self-ID artist can be heard. It has reached epidemic proportions. Believe it or not, there is a growing number of people (self-ID) who are promoting themselves as our “elders”. When will it all end? How will this nonsense impact the emotional and spiritual health of our young people? I shudder to think about it!

My grandfather was Samson Commonda. He took the name Dumont long before I was born. Samson and my grandmother Therese were Algonquin Anishinabe. Their marriage resulted in my Dad being born. My Mother’s mom was a non-status full-blood Algonquin, her husband a Métis who could have easily passed for a full-blood. The blood of my heart is mostly that of the red people. I do not claim to be better or more important than anyone having less blood quorum than I but I honour and respect the full-bloods far more than I do myself or the other mixed bloods around me. Do they not deserve it? Are they not the ones who suffered more outrages by far than any of the rest of us? Are they not the ones that the hate-mongers zero in on? If I have European blood in my veins, does it mean I can self-ID as a white man? The white man of my time would never have accepted me as one of them. This I know with all certainty.

The people with that sweet and gentle bloodline, still untouched by that which arrived here from afar, are special to me. My eyes delight in the art they produce with beads, hide and porcupine quills. The way they fill a canvas with scenes only the minds, hearts and spirits of they of special blood can possibly produce. What mixed-blood or self-ID Indian could have created what Norval Morrisseau did? Our full-blood Indigenous writers and playwrights are in a league of their own. They are the best of the best so far as I’m concerned! Buffy Sainte-Marie is beautiful, unique and a graceful earth shaker, not because she is a First Nations singer and songwriter, she is what she is because the blood of her heart is 100% of the land. Only a full-blood has any chance of replacing her someday! If ever she can be.

The spiritual DNA of the land is more profound in those of us fortunate enough to carry blood, pure and sweet and here since our creation story began. I for one want to hear them. Their voices are more important to me than those of the people who self-ID. Am I wrong to feel this way? Should we not do all we can to promote the artist with that ancient blood so that the world can hear, see and benefit from an authentic voice coming from the land?

If Joseph Boyden really does have Indigenous blood in his veins, then I stand with him and will protect him from those who would work to destroy him. If Joseph Boyden does NOT have the blood of the land in his heart and only said so to spell success for himself, then I would regard him as being nothing more than a pirate, a liar and a con. A wise woman said recently in regards to those people who self-ID as being Indigenous: “It’s not who you claim to be which is important. It is whether or not a community claims you.”

Keep the Circle Strong,
South Wind

Note: Click here for the APTN article on this subject.

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