When my daughter was getting married, her husband’s father flew in from B.C. We had dinner with him and Mark’s step-mother at King’s Buffet. After the dinner, when they had returned to their hotel, I asked Mark and his brother, “Is your father native?” They both looked ashamed. It turned out that their father is one quarter First Nation. Both blond haired and blue eyed like the German side, Mark and Alan had been taught not to talk about that side of the family.
Eventually my grandchildren were born, both blond haired and blue eyed like the English and German parts of the family. My husband is interested in genealogy so my daughter followed up with Mark’s father about his ancestors who were English and First Nation. His wife sent us the papers that showed the children were one sixteenth Chippewa of the Thames, Ontario.
The children’s great-great grandmother married a white man. From 1876 to 1985, a First Nations woman who married a white man lost her status and so did her children, but a First Nations man who married a white woman kept his status as did his children. First Nations status continues to follow the patriarchal line that only men can transmit status. This led to a large group of non-status First Nations, Metis and Inuit. There are also First Nations and Metis that are not recognized as official bands or part of an official band.
We have been told that we shouldn’t say that my grandchildren have First Nation heritage as they are white and they are only one sixteenth. My husband can trace our family back to the gentry that inspired the book Tess of the D’Urbervilles around the same time but we can’t speak about the children’s First Nation heritage.
We carried on, my younger daughter taking a few courses on First Nation history out of interest but being careful not to publicly talk about this part of their heritage. I did slip once before we knew about this and mentioned the sadness I felt at my son-in-law’s shame in a speech.
Recently my daughter’s marriage ended. Through the children’s organization involved with the break up, a woman phoned her. The woman was First Nation. She had discovered that Bronwyn had put down First Nations as well as English, German and Swiss for the grandchildren on an intake form. She informed Bronwyn that hiding this heritage is part of the First Nations genocide. Robert and Mary, but especially their father, are part of the reconciliation process.
I bring this up because my older daughter sent me an article by Michelle Latimer, the producer who left the CBC program Trickster for not being First Nation. CBC shut down production of the second season of this excellent show. Shame on the CBC.
In the following article, Michelle describes how she lost everything when people thought she was pretending to be Metis or First Nation. With much research and the help of genealogists and relatives, she has proven she is First Nation from a small village flooded for a lake. Her family is non-status.
My husband and I watch the program, “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” on PBS. Many times only verbal knowledge is passed down in a family, or no knowledge at all. I know a woman who was part of the 60s scoop who had to work to regain her status. Another woman is Metis and has detailed her family history on her twitter feed. Her family are not regulation Metis.
I believe that this absorption into the colonial culture through marriage and children is another way of destroying a people. It is not lost on me that both shame and discounting of heritage are working to make this part of my son-in-law and my grandchildren’s heritage disappear.
We got the long form census. I filled it out. On the question that asked “What is your cultural background”, I wrote about my grandchildren, “English, Welsh, German, Swiss, First Nation.” I then had to answer if this was status or non-status, (non-status) or Metis (yes), official Metis (no). First Nations is now part of my family tree. We won’t be looking for status cards, or special grants, or pretending to be First Nations or really anything. We want the acknowledgement that First Nations is part of my grandchildren’s heritage and must not be lost.