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The Histories We Carry

This post has been substantially revised on 10 March 2021. As part of the questioning and learning that I am engaging in here, the original post can be downloaded here.

On 19 April 2021, I wrote further about my responsibilities to the information shared here. That post can be read here.

Social and political discourses are always evolving, and in Canada these discussions need to have Indigenous self-determination and the dismantling of settler colonialism at their core. Rising up from a long history of Indigenous identity being adjudicated by the settler state, recent conversations around indigeneity have called for greater accountability on how Indigenous people fit into Indigenous communities, recognizing also that Indigenous identity is impacted by historical and ongoing processes of colonization.

In my bio, I previously identified as having mixed settler and Indigenous ancestry, which reflected an understanding of myself that I grew up with. The earlier version of this post shared my thinking around choosing that language. However, when recently reviewing historical census data, I have not been able to find corroborating documentation for my family’s claims to Indigenous ancestry. This is a space of confusion for me as it pits family histories against government records, and I am unsure how to hold these different sources in relation to each other. So, although census data is not a full understanding of who a person is or who a family are, this information does challenge who I have understood myself to be. This specific research, which is ongoing, followed the publishing of the original blog post shared here, and I am now trying to parse how inherited family histories are challenged by historical records.

The personal work of trying to repair family relationships, which I have been preoccupied with, is different in kind from the work of being part of a collective social body, and I should have also been working to establish ties to specific Indigenous communities to whom my family might have been connected before claiming a mixed settler and Indigenous identity. (And yet, I recognize that rebuilding these relations is not possible for every person who has been disconnected from their families of origin and their communities, and I want to hold a space for these people and the legitimacy of their experiences.) I apologize for relying solely on what has been presented as family knowledge in building my identity; this alone is not a fulsome marker of indigeneity because it neglects the kinship structures of Indigenous communities and it elides their agency in deciding membership on their own terms.

Conversations about Indigenous identity being tied to being claimed by Indigenous communities are important because they emphasize the self-determination of Indigenous nations, acting as a corrective to the many ways that settler-colonial governments have tried to adjudicate Indigenous identity out of existence. Having had only my mother to claim me does not make a community. In response to these concerns and as I work to better understand the information I have found in historical records, I am no longer identifying as having mixed Indigenous ancestry and I’ve removed the associated line in my bio.

Through my work, I have tried to understand the structural forces that have come to make the settler colonial nation state called Canada, which is my home, and how those same forces have come to shape my family too. This is ever more important for me given the new knowledges I have about what historical records suggests about my family. In the work that I have done that has been explicitly aligned with my indigeneity, such as residencies supported by the Canada Council for Aboriginal curators or with the Wood Land School, I have been committed to working with artists to challenge structures of supremacist power and to critically interrogate the systems that allow settler colonialism to continue to unfold. However, I apologize for pursuing these professional opportunities without the attendant care that they deserved; I should have had a more fulsome understanding of who I am before participating in programs that were identity related. I recognize that this is a symptom of those same systems I am wanting to dismantle and I am invested in figuring out what kinds of repair are possible from here.

I remain committed to pushing the work of dismantling supremacies within an ongoing settler colonial project further and making this work more precise. In part, this means figuring out how to work in a way that doesn’t detract from the urgent labour of Indigenous self-determination, and to figure out how I might use the privileges I am afforded in service of these decolonized futures.

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My revised bio can be found here.


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