Michelle Latimer’s contentious claim of Indigenous ancestry has understandably angered our community

Drew Hayden Taylor is an Anishnawbe playwright and humorist.

I’m not sure what exactly it is about the tail end of December, but it’s definitely not a good season for those claiming Indigenous ancestry but are unable to back it up. It was on Dec. 23, 2016, when it was revealed Joseph Boyden, Indigenous darling of the Canadian literary scene, had difficulty showing the secret Indigenous handshake.

Though there’d been rumours for a while, yesterday actress, producer, director and writer Michelle Latimer was accused of something similar. Coming off an amazingly successful year as producer and director of The Inconvenient Indian, a documentary adapted from Thomas King’s book, and creator of the CBC mini-series Trickster, based on Eden Robinson’s planned trilogy, her efforts were the culmination of several decades of hard work in the arts field.

Claiming a lineage originating in the Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi, Que., Latimer was called to task to prove it. It was the community of Kitigan Zibi itself that questioned her connection, forcing Latimer to issue a mea culpa. “I sincerely apologize for naming the community of Kitigan Zibi publicly before I had done all of the necessary work to understand the connection.” Essentially it was family lore, not necessarily family fact.

‘I made a mistake’: Canadian filmmaker Michelle Latimer addresses Indigenous ancestry questions

Sometimes called race-shifting or being a pretendian, claiming Indigenous ancestry without evidence to prove it is a contentious issue in our community. Many are angered by her claims. Indigenous Twitter is incensed by the news, and understandably. The days of Grey Owl picking up the feather and batting his blue eyes at the Canadian public are long gone. We bat our own eyes.

Part of this anger comes from decades of struggle to no longer be considered second-class citizens. It had taken a long time to overcome the many colonial roadblocks set up by Canada and regain control of our own destiny. Once, not that long ago, we were not considered citizens; now we are a powerful force in governments, business, arts and education.

So after all that struggle, for some, it’s now fashionable to be Indigenous. Looking back, I don’t remember there being a line up of non-Indigenous people waiting to enroll in residential schools, singing The Huron Christmas Carol. It’s in. It’s vogue.

Some time ago, I met an older woman who ran an art shop. She told me she was Indigenous, even showed me her status card. Her business card had her spirit name on it … that alone should have been a warning. After some prodding, she confessed she was white and had married into the Nation before 1986, when non-Indigenous women were granted status upon marriage. Ironically, she had divorced the man but kept the card. I guess that’s what you get the woman who has everything.

Everybody talks about white privilege. But there’s also a lesser-known version called red privilege. Funding organizations, arts groups, award establishments, etc. have specific allotments geared for the development of Indigenous talent and enterprise. It’s felt those claiming an unjustified melanin surplus take those resources away from legitimate practitioners of their craft. In the big musical-chairs game of funding, there are precious few chairs available already.

Supposedly there are three stipulations to being accepted into the gracious and open arms of the Indigenous community. First is self-identifying – I eat bannock therefore I am. Second is being identified by the community – I’ve seen him/her eat bannock, therefore he/she is. Third is being able to trace your roots back to a specific area or people – my aunt, back in so-and-so, makes the best bannock. There is also a fourth possibility, being adopted by a person into their nation – I will give him/her my bannock recipe. Michelle Latimer’s bannock status right now is not very encouraging.

This issue is difficult. Identity is difficult. Saying somebody isn’t who they claim to be can be difficult. Conversely, I’ve seen non-Indigenous people partner up with somebody from our side of the path, and suddenly, they’re sweating glass beads. I am frequently worried about the AAA – the Aboriginal Ancestry Assessors, those who find the authority to say who is Indigenous and who isn’t.

I’ve worked with Michelle. She was in a play of mine in Thunder Bay. I found her to be an intelligent, talented and beautiful person. She said she was Indigenous, and I believed her. She still might be Indigenous. Latimer hired a genealogist to poke through the back drawers of Canadian history and has found some evidence of ancestry dating back to the 1700s. I wish her the best of luck. I do not support the vitriol being spoken about her, but I also acknowledge too many unauthorized people have tried to take our voice. Few things are more important to an individual and a people than their identity.

I myself have dealt with similar issues. Just after the Boyden affair, I received several emailed comments questioning my heritage. For the record, I have it on good authority I am half-white, but I literally cannot prove it. Seriously. There is no documentation verifying it. My mother never put my father’s name on the birth certificate. Short of a DNA test, people just have to take my word for it.


Kyrie plans to burn sage before every game, honors Native American heritage

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving was burning sage on the court before Friday’s preseason affair against the Boston Celtics.

Irving’s actions may have had something to do with his first visit to TD Garden since signing with Brooklyn in free agency last year, but the All-Star guard says he was honoring his Native American heritage and plans on carrying out the same ritual before every game this season.

“It just comes from a lot of native tribes,” Irving said following the Nets’ 113-89 win, according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “Being able to sage, just cleanse the energy, make sure that we’re all balanced. When we come into this job, we come into this place, it’s not anything that I don’t do at home that I did today. I saged last game, and I plan to sage almost every game if the opposing team will allow me to.

“But, literally, it’s more or less for us to stay connected and for us to feel great about going to work and feeling safe and provided for from our ancestors. I’m not going to bring too much of the spirituality into basketball, but yeah, it’s part of my native culture where I’m from.”

Irving’s late mother was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. In 2018, he and his older sister visited the tribe and took part in a naming ceremony.

The former No. 1 overall pick has also incorporated the Standing Rock logo onto previous versions of his signature shoe.


Dr Hannah McGlade to research Sámi Parliament model

Nyungar woman Dr Hannah McGlade has been awarded the prestigious Churchill Fellowship to research the Indigenous Sámi Parliament model.

The Churchill Fellowship is awarded to the changemakers of society, providing opportunities to gain and exchange knowledge with global leaders.

For Dr McGlade, this opportunity will mean meeting with the Sámi Parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland later next year.

The Sámi people are Indigenous Finno-Ugric peoples from the regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Dr McGlade has previously called for Indigenous representation in political affairs, and this pivotal research is expected to do just that.

With regards to Australia adopting a similar mechanism, Dr McGlade said Australia is “looking at a model already” — the much-awaited Voice to Parliament.

Dr McGlade took to LinkedIn to celebrate the announcement of the research fellowship.

“Indigenous representation and political voice is a key human rights issue, as the Productivity Commission report shows, shared decision making is essential to overcoming inequality,” she wrote.

In the meantime, Dr McGlade continues to advocate for justice reform for Aboriginal peoples; recently coordinating a Human Rights Forum on Aboriginal imprisonment at Curtin Law School.

“We wanted to commemorate the significance of Human Rights Day and to focus on the particularly pressing issue of humans rights in our state [Western Australia], and that is the incarceration of Aboriginal people,” Dr McGlade said.

“There are practices happening in prisons that are abusive, inhumane, and breach our international human rights world standards — in particular solitary confinement.”

Dr McGlade said an immediate solution for Western Australia would be to re-establish the Aboriginal Justice Committee and begin work on an Aboriginal Justice Agreement.

She is also pushing for an end to mandatory detention laws, an increase in the age of criminal responsibility from ten to 14-years-old and the abolition of Justices of the Peace in sentencing prisoners for prison offences.

For community members looking to act in solidarity, Dr McGlade strongly encouraged engagement with Reconciliation Australia.

Dr McGlade is set to undertake her research of Sámi Parliaments in 2021, pending COVID-19 travel restrictions.


Native electors help seal Biden win

Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

The Electoral College formally chose Joe Biden on Monday as the nation’s next president, giving him a solid electoral majority of 306 votes and confirming his victory in last month’s election.

At least eight Native people across three states cast electoral votes in favor of Biden.

In Arizona, three of the state’s 11 electors were Native: Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr.

In Washington state, two of the state’s 12 electors were Native. Native American Caucus Chair Julie Johnson, Lummi Nation, and Native American Caucus member Patsy Whitefoot, Yakama Nation, cast votes.

In New Mexico, one of the state’s five electors is affiliated with Laguna and Acoma Pueblos. The name of the elector was being withheld due to security concerns, the state’s Democratic Party confirmed.

Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans Tribal Council, cast an electoral vote in Wisconsin.

The state-by-state voting took on added importance this year because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede he had lost.

Heightened security was in place in some states as electors met on the day established by federal law. Electors cast paper ballots in gatherings with masks, social distancing and other virus precautions the order of the day.

The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside.

The Electoral College was the product of compromise during the drafting of the Constitution between those who favored electing the president by popular vote and those who opposed giving the people the power to directly choose their leader.

(Related: 3 Arizona tribal leaders among electoral voters)

Each state gets a number of electors equal to its total number of seats in Congress: two senators plus however many members the state has in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C., has three votes, under a constitutional amendment that was ratified in 1961. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, states award all of their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state.

The bargain struck by the nation’s founders has produced five elections in which the president did not win the popular vote. Trump was the most recent example in 2016.

Also in the 2016 election, Faith Spotted Eagle, Yankton, made history when she received Electoral College votes for president. Robert Satiacum Jr., Puyallup, cast his vote for Spotted Eagle and a vote for Winona LaDuke to be vice president.

The Supreme Court later found states can require presidential electors to back their states’ popular vote winner in the Electoral College.


UN experts raise concern over charges against US indigenous leader and rights defender

Independent UN human rights experts expressed serious concern on Friday over the arrest and charges brought against an indigenous leader, for peacefully protesting a political rally held last July at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, located on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation. 

Nicholas Tilsen, human rights defender of the Oglala-Lakȟóta Sioux Nation and president of the indigenous-led NDN Collective, is due in court on 18 December, charged with four felonies and three misdemeanours after he and others blocked a road leading to a fireworks celebration event, led by President Donald Trump, which was held on 4 July at the South Dakota site in the Black Hills region.  

“Obviously we cannot pre-judge the outcome of the case against Nicholas Tilsen, but we are seriously concerned about his arrest and the charges brought against him in connection with the exercise of his rights as an indigenous person, particularly the right to assembly”, the five UN Special Rapporteurs said.  

Respect due process 

The independent experts called on the US “to ensure that Mr. Tilsen’s due process rights are respected during the criminal prosecution and recall the obligation to ensure equal protection of the law without discrimination”. 

They also voiced alarm over “allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement agents against indigenous defenders, and recent reports of surveillance and intimidation by local police officers following the arrests”. 

The 38-year-old was one of 15 peaceful protesters arrested in connection with the political rally – organized without the consent of the indigenous peoples concerned – to celebrate US Independence Day.  

Rushmore hosts colossal sculptures of former presidents carved into the side of the mountain. 

“I’ve worked hard to make a better way for our people. These trumped-up charges aren’t just against me, they’re against our people…designed to derail our movements. But we stand on the right side of history and we know our ancestors stand with us”, Mr. Tilsen tweeted in August. 

COVID factor 

Mr. Trump’s rally in South Dakota, one of the states worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, was held without the consent of the Great Sioux Nation. 

It attracted some 7,500 people who did not wear masks or practice social distancing, according to a news release from the UN human rights office (OHCHR).  

“It is absolutely essential that the authorities do more to support and protect indigenous communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic”, the experts stressed.  

“We also call on authorities to initiate dialogue with the Great Sioux Nation for the resolution of treaty violations”. 

The experts who raised their concerns were José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism; and Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. 


UArctic appoints new Vice-Presidents

The UArctic Board has formally approved Diane Hirshberg (University of Alaska Anchorage) as Vice-President Academic and Kirsi Latola (University of Oulu) as Vice-President Networks. Additionally, current UArctic Vice-President Research Arja Rautio (University of Oulu) was named as chair of the new Academic Advisory Board.

In her new role as Vice-President Academic, Diane Hirshberg plans include “highlighting some of the exceptional academic programming being done across UArctic and identify best practices for offering academic opportunities, supporting the efforts of the Læra Institute to expand Circumpolar Studies programs and courses, and increasing the number of academic offerings across multiple modalities such as short in-person intensives and summer schools, online course exchanges, and joint degree programs across institutions.”

Kirsi Latola has served for many years already as Director of Thematic Networks, and will continue that work as Vice-President Networks. Kirsi explains, “The expanding number of UArctic Thematic Networks and UArctic Institutes increases also the possibilities for collaboration and cooperation between the networks and we have already seen during the past few years that more thematic networks are collaborating and conducting joint activities such as projects, publications or events. I see this as an important step forward also in conducting transdisciplinary projects and engaging further with other Arctic organizations and projects. Increasing networking and cooperation both among the Thematic Networks and with other organizations and projects is one of the main aims for me in coming years.”


Eye on the Arctic report How not to promote Arctic tourism among finalists at Canadian Online Publishing Awards

Eye on the Arctic has been named as a finalist at the 2020 Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPA) in the Best Investigative Article or Series category, Media section, for its report How not to promote Arctic tourism, the awards organizers announced on their website. 

In How not to promote Arctic tourism: Why Finland’s Indigenous Sami say marketing their region needs to change, Eye on the Arctic journalist Eilís Quinn explores how destructive Indigenous stereotypes became embedded in Finland’s tourism industry and how the Sami are now working to undo them.

Eye on the Arctic joins four other nominees in the same category : Ha-Shilth-Sa; HuffPost Canada; PressProgress; and Victoria News.

The 2020 COPA winners will be announced online in January on a date yet to be determined. Because of COVID-19, they’ll be no in-person event this year.

Entries are reviewed by a panel of experts from various fields with prizes divided between five sections: academic, business, consumer, media, ethnic.

Established in 2009, the COPAs “bring together all the media brands and companies that are producing content online,” according to their website.

Masthead Magazines, which produces the awards, is based in Ontario, southern Canada. Masthead “is not affiliated with any trade organization or publishing lobby groups,” COPA’s website says.

Eye on the Arctic was previously awarded the silver medal at the 2019 COPA awards in the Best Investigative Article or Series category for Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change, also by Eilís Quinn.


Morgan Freeman Asks Navajo About The Meaning Of Life And The Creator

Freeman, host of a six-part documentary series airing on the National Geographic Channel, visited the Navajo Nation to ask poignant questions about God.

 His series, “The Story of God,” explores religions around the globe in a journey that seeks to “shed light on the questions that have puzzled, terrified and inspired mankind,” Nat Geo said in a statement. In his series, Freeman attempts to uncover the meaning of life, the origin of deities and similarities among the different faiths.

“Over the past few months, I’ve traveled to nearly 20 cities in seven different countries on a personal journey to find answers to the big mysteries of faith,” Freeman said in a statement. The series premiered April 3, and new episodes air every Sunday. Maysun was featured for about eight minutes during the April 17 episode, titled “Who is God?”

The 50-minute segment also included footage from Egypt and Israel, where Freeman explores monotheism, and to India, where Hindus worship millions of gods. And on the Navajo Nation, he observes the Kinaaldá, during which girls communicate with Changing Woman, one of the Navajo Holy People.

The Kinaaldá is a sacred ceremony that includes several rituals designed to ensure a girl grows into a strong and kind woman. Over the course of four days, the girl bathes, ties her hair back, runs toward the east and bakes a corn cake in an earthen pit. A medicine man performs songs that invite Changing Woman to help the girl enter womanhood. When the ceremony is complete, the girl is introduced to the deities as a woman and invited to take her place in the world.

“I think what Morgan Freeman was looking for was the way we as Navajos experience God’s different types of conversation,” said Michele Peterson, Maysun’s mother. “The songs we sing are saying the girl is coming out as a woman. Because of those songs, we are surrounded by our deities.”

Only small portions of the actual ceremony can be filmed, said Tom Chatto, a Navajo medicine man who performed Maysun’s Kinaaldá. Chatto also acted as a consultant for the film crew, determining which details of the ceremony could be shared on television.

In fact, most of the ceremony that aired on National Geographic was a reenactment, Chatto said.

“The real one, you can film parts of it,” he said. “But for the TV show, we just reenacted it. We just showed the parts that are OK for the world to see.” Even in the reenactment, there were places Freeman wasn’t allowed. Near the end of the ceremony, Peterson pulls a blanket over the door of her hogan. Freeman is left outside.

“The most important thing was to do what was appropriate,” Peterson said. “We made sure we were very respectful, and that meant closing the hogan with a blanket or telling the cameras they had to stop filming.” Freeman did witness some of the songs, the morning runs and the ceremonial cutting of the corn cake. In the segment, Freeman takes a big chunk of the cake and holds it up to his mouth.


Through the lens of an Inuk woman

Melting ice threatens Inuit way of life. To heal our world, Canada will need imagination and an Indigenous-aligned economy

As an Inuk woman, my life’s journey and work has been driven by my traditional upbringing, which taught me early on that the land is an extension of ourselves. The Inuit way of life is dependent on the cold, ice and snow. For us, ice is transportation and mobility; it allows us to hunt for the nutritious traditional food that sustains us. As the planet warms, the vanishing ice becomes an issue of safety and security, first and foremost. The ice forms later in the fall and breaks up earlier in the spring. Unpredictable weather makes it difficult to use Indigenous knowledge to read the changing conditions. As a result of melting permafrost and coastal erosion, some homes are buckling and need to be moved, and some homes, in Alaska in particular, are falling into the sea.

I see the parallels between the safeguarding of the Arctic and the survival of Inuit culture in the face of past, present and future environmental degradation. Attempting to awaken the world to this common understanding has guided my work. I have spent the last 15 years speaking to many audiences, offering a human story from the unique vantage point from which I come, my Inuit culture serving as the very anchor of my spirit. Travelling from city to city, province to province, across our large country of Canada, I was busier than I have ever been, as Canadians finally started to understand the Arctic connection – until COVID-19 hit. Now, many months later, I have learned to carry on with these “teaching” moments via Zoom and recorded messages.

When you share the human side of climate change, people relate to it better. The issues become clearer for them, no matter where they come from, when they can see themselves in human stories. In other words, if we can shift climate change out of the language of science, politics and economics and bring it home to the issues of health, food security, culture, families, communities and human rights – not just for Inuit, but for us all – it is more relatable. It helps to mobilize people to take action to address climate change in a tangible way.

After my book The Right to Be Cold came out, I was invited to New Zealand and Australia for book festivals. I was on a panel with Tim Flannery, a well-known Australian climatologist and author. At the end of the panel discussion, an audience member asked Tim a question: “What is lacking in our world, when we now know the science so clearly, that is not allowing us to take urgent action on climate change?” Tim’s answer struck a chord with me: “Imagination.”

Imagine we can do things differently. Imagine we can address climate change differently. Imagine we can innovate sustainable economies differently.

I believe we need to not only imagine a new way of doing things, but we must, as Canadians, re-imagine our unsustainable economic values and realign them with Indigenous values. Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples are not just victims of globalization wreaking havoc on our communities. With our understanding of nature, which we depend on as our food source and as a powerful character-builder for our children, Indigenous Peoples have much to offer in helping to galvanize a largely disconnected urban world. The pandemic has shown us just how interconnected we all are. The knowledge, values and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples hold the answers to the many challenges our world faces today. I strongly believe Indigenous wisdom is the medicine we seek in healing our planet and creating a sustainable world.

Transformation must happen from a very personal place; our attitudes, outdated policies based on colonialism, and unsustainable businesses must be shed and changed to meet a new world order, one that embraces the real meaning of our common humanity.

As author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson says, “Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.”


New Zealand Appoints First Indigenous Female Foreign Minister

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced parliament’s newest ministers Monday, including the appointment of Nanaia Mahuta to the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs; the nation’s first Indigenous woman to hold the position.

Just shy of a quarter-century of political prowess, including her most recent roles as Minister for Māori Development and Local Government, Mahuta will join what is becoming one of the most diverse parliaments in the world. “I am excited by this team,” Ardern said. “They bring experience from the ground, and from within politics. But they also represent renewal and reflect the New Zealand we live in today.”

Mahuta is one of New Zealand’s 5 Māori ministers. Also contributing to the cabinet’s cultural diversity are members of parliament Ibrahim Omer and Vanushi Walters, parliament’s first leaders of African and Sri Lankan origin.

The country of 4.8 million people is represented by 120 elected members of parliament. At the moment, more than half of those representatives are women and about 10% are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

New Zealand’s government is also shifting gears by bringing in younger members of parliament. Ardern, who began her second term in October, became the world’s youngest female head of government when elected as New Zealand’s 40th prime minister in 2017; she was 37 years old at the time.

Professor Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University, believes New Zealand’s parliament is the most diverse in the nation’s history in terms of gender, ethnic and indigenous representation. “What we have seen is a departure of many of the older, male, white MPs including some who have been in parliament for over 30 years,” Spoonley told Reuters in an October interview.