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Motion 96 - to Authorize Committee to Study the Effects of Identity Fraud

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum, pursuant to notice of December 13, 2022, moved:

That the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples be authorized to examine and report on the misrepresentation of Indigenous ancestry, inadequate self-identification standards and the profound effects that such identity fraud has on further marginalizing Indigenous people, in particular Indigenous women; and

That the committee submit its final report no later than December 31, 2023.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Motion No. 96, which states:

That the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples be authorized to examine and report on the misrepresentation of Indigenous ancestry, inadequate self-identification standards and the profound effects that such identity fraud has on further marginalizing Indigenous people, in particular Indigenous women . . . .

I want to acknowledge Senator Brazeau, who introduced Motion No. 371 on September 20, 2018, regarding the issue of selling fraudulent membership cards.

Colleagues, it is important to acknowledge that all the work I do in the Senate is not mine alone but is always a collective effort that arises from the context of struggle, whether the struggle is righting historical wrongs or addressing current gaps in policy and legislation. It is important to bring to light that the fight surrounding these injustices is a burden carried most heavily by Indigenous women, as it harms humans and all our relations. Our work, as Indigenous women, has and will always remain a collective effort because that’s who esquiwak are.

I wish to thank the Indigenous Women’s Collective and acknowledge the work they have done on the issue of Indigenous identity theft and fraud. It is on their behalf that I bring this matter to the Senate floor.

Honourable senators, I wish to speak to the word “identity” at the outset. Kim TallBear, a Native/Indigenous studies and technology scholar, has analyzed race shifting cases in both the U.S. and Canada since the early 2000s, particularly as they relate to genetic research and testing. In the article “Native ‘Identity’ Fraud is not Distraction, but the Final Indian Bounty,” Kim TallBear states that:

Playing Indian is the increasingly common practice of non-Indigenous (most often, not always white) people making especially public claims to Indigenous identity, sometimes for great financial gain and career advancement.

She cautions us about the use of the term “identity.” She states that “it is usually an individualistic word that pertains to our individual bodies and things we consider bodies’ property . . . .” Maybe the correct terms might be “relatives, relations, citizenship, kinship, and who we are or become together as collectives?”

Kim TallBear continues:

We do not want to reinforce the individualism that roots often false claims and help further erase the fact that we are making collective claims and asserting collectively-forged ideas and cultural and political authorities.

In the book Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit, author Lynn Gehl quotes Robert Bocock who states that:

. . . culture is best understood as a set of practices by which meanings are produced, shared, and exchanged within a group. . . . while cultural entities and meanings predate who we are, it is the collective assigning of meanings to them that allows us to appreciate what they are and the purpose they serve.

She goes on to state:

Richard Castillo agrees with this idea of one’s culture as a source of direction and agency when he argues that cultural meaning systems provide humans with representative, constructive, directive, and evocative functions.

Honourable senators, for my generation, it took living within a community to arrive at these meanings, teachings and life skills, which are taught through land-based living. Today, we have to figure out how we pass on the knowledge to future generations — many who are land-, identity- and kinship-dispossessed through no fault of their own.

As stated by the Indigenous Women’s Collective, the most insidious harm caused by “pretendianism” is how it most hurts Indigenous people who are reconnecting to their culture and identity. Displaced Indigenous peoples need to be supported and acknowledged. “Pretendians” perversely claim the vulnerability and violence experienced by Indigenous peoples as their own and then use it to their own callous and self-centred purposes.

In the book entitled Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, author Andrea Smith states:

Rather than adopt the strategy of fighting for sovereignty first and improving Native women’s status second, as many activists argue, we must understand that attacks on Native women’s status are themselves attacks on Native sovereignty.

Colleagues, how can it be that the policy of self-identification continues to be adopted, giving free rein to pretendians, who unjustly continue to hold and wield great power and authority over issues that are intended to be Indigenous-led? Disappointingly, this practice is supported by the very government that claims that there is no more important relationship than that with Indigenous peoples. Such self-identification represents one part of the intellectual violence inherent to Indigenous identity fraud.

Our story as First Nations, Métis, Inuit and non-status esquiwak is about creation and ceremony of life and love; respect; courage; and understanding and celebrating our resilience through complex lessons learned from life, nature, environment and astronomy. Our story should be the one thing in life that is truly ours. It’s what has connected us to our ancestors for centuries, what has been passed down, what has kept us safe, what has motivated us to keep raising our voices for those yet to come and those who have been kept marginalized and voiceless. It is what has kept us moving toward transformational change to regain our power and spirit taken by the Church, government, the patriarchy and even those other women who purposefully give themselves power over the sovereignty of our story, and hence our legacy, and distort it.

Colleagues, I stand with the Indigenous Women’s Collective in denouncing the deceit of Indigenous identity theft. Its tentacles reach every level of academic, political, judicial and policy branches of power. Historically, colonial institutions must cease their silence now and denounce this for what it is: legitimate theft. If such institutions are committed to reconciliation, they will help to end the silence surrounding this matter, renounce its conduct and acknowledge the harm it causes to Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women and children.

Honourable senators, as is the custom in Cree culture, I would like to introduce my kinship and my history. When Cree people meet, they ask who your parents are — a winak ke mama equa ke papa? — and where you come from — tant ke tha ochi? — as it gives them a frame of reference of who you are and what you represent.

My spirit name is Wa Ba Ne Quie: Woman of the Dawn or Woman of the East. I am from the Hawk Clan. I received my spirit name through a shaking tent ceremony when I was taking traditional medicine. My mother, Marie Adele Thomas, was Métis. Her mother’s family fled from the Selkirk area outside Winnipeg to Brochet in the early 1900s because they were afraid for their lives. My great-grandparents’ ancestors came from France and Scotland, and they married ethenewak — human beings — from Canada. Ethenewak is the word we had for ourselves before the Indian Act.

My mother’s father came from Cumberland House, Saskatchewan. My mother passed on in 1957 from thyroid cancer. My remembrance of her comes from stories of family and elders, and she was remembered for being a caring and hardworking mother who had many skills.

I was sent to residential school three weeks after she passed on, and I have not dealt with that trauma to this day, as I have repressed my memories of this time in my life. When my mother married my father, she became treaty and was defined as such by outsiders, the church and the Indian agent, a fantastic woman afforded little to no significance by settlers.

My father, Horace McCallum, was a treaty Indian and arrived in Brochet when he was 16. His mother was from Shoal Lake and his father from Peter Ballantyne, both in Saskatchewan. My father was a hunter, trapper, educator and a single parent. He was determined, innovative, fearless and observant.

In the first years when he started trapping at the age of 16, he walked to his trap line in minus-40-degree weather because he didn’t have a dog team and he pulled the sled behind him. He remains, to this day, my greatest teacher, mentor and role model. He never allowed the colonial system to define him and his life, and I hope I’m staying true to him and following in his footsteps.

Honourable senators, what would you think if I told you that today I have decided that I am going to be a White woman? This country has expended massive amounts of money, time and effort to remove the Indian from me, attempting to remove language, culture, environment and spirituality. They have taught me sin; about the negative aspects of childhood, girlhood and womanhood; derogatory words from your language, such as savage; and the subordinate role that women play. They have developed policies and strategies to keep Indigenous people oppressed while at the same time benefiting because systematically oppressing us provides others with jobs. What do you think? Would you accept me if I were to become White? Would I be treated differently? Isn’t it a ridiculous concept and proposition?

Colleagues, I would like to close with a joint message from the Indigenous Women’s Collective and me.

In Cree, iskotew means fire in a woman’s heart. We have witnessed courage in and with so many Indigenous women standing up publicly to denounce the revelations of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s deceit and identity fraud. Turpel-Lafond and others like her, in their very actions, have the capability to stop and silence the advances of colonial violence on Indigenous women, advances championed by women like the Indigenous Women’s Collective. The power and prestige that these individuals who commit Indigenous identity fraud wanted, garnered and displayed publicly silenced many. It subsequently and unfairly left Indigenous women to do the work required to counteract the consequences of the theft, grief and powerlessness that they helped to create. The Indigenous women are left the challenge of holding colonial institutions accountable for enabling and protecting those who knowingly and premeditatedly practice identity fraud.

Each time an Indigenous woman stands up, she lights a fire and uplifts the forgotten, the abused and the silenced. Eden Fineday, Cindy Blackstock, Vice Chief Aly Bear, Audra Simpson and many others are examples of iskotew. What is often not shared is the pressure placed on Indigenous women privately to be quiet: Ka we the aya me — don’t speak. Even the act of preventing speech is a threat — an act of violence. Whether they are in a violent relationship or combatting systemic violence, Indigenous women have always faced the pressure to be quiet. Ka ke to — do not utter a sound. Yet we persist. This is how healing and transformative change happens in real time. So we humbly ask that you share love and support for Indigenous women who speak out because they have fought silent battles we do not see and mounting pressure kept out of the public eye. When we see courage, we need to honour it. This is consistent with the traditions of many Indigenous nations across Turtle Island, to honour the warrior and to dance the victory dance when courage defeats fear. Because that is what you are witnessing today and in the days yet to come: That courage will defeat fear. Kinanâskomitin. Thank you.

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