Who Are We?

Commentary, Culture Wars, Gerry Bowler

Society has become obsessed with identity. I am old enough to remember when there was only one channel on the television and just two sexes. Humans came packaged as either male or female and vive la différence! Now I am told that there are many, many “genders”: agender, genderqueer, neutrois, pangender, transgender, androgyne, bigender, transmaculine, and two-spirit to name but a few. And here is the important thing – we ourselves get to pick the gender we identify with and to tell others what pronouns we are to be addressed by. It is considered bad manners – nay, even a “hate crime” – to “misgender” someone. 

Self-identification is the key. Or so one might think, until the question of race comes up.

Canada has been blessed in recent years with many public figures who have chosen to come out as “aboriginal”. In my city of Winnipeg, for example, we have a Member of Parliament, a mayor, and a newspaper columnist who find it to their advantage to publicize their indigenous identity. 

But now a dissenting voice has emerged from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax where a professor of Social Justice and Communities Studies has examined the claim to indigeneity of four candidates running in the federal election.(Readers, beware of the objectivity of any discipline with “Studies” in the title.) According to the professor, Darryl Leroux, who coincidentally has a new book out on the subject, the claims of a Liberal, a Conservative, and two Green Party candidates to native status are too shaky to be believed. Merely having an aboriginal ancestor is not sufficient grounds, says he.

Leroux’s objections to appropriated identity find an echo in a spokesman for Manitoba Métis who dumps on any notion of there being a Métis people outside of western Canada. Take that, members of the Eastern Woodlands Métis Nation and members of the Métis Nation of the Rising Sun – you are not the genuine article. You should call yourselves Acadian or Mi’kmaq, says Will Goodon, “housing minister” for the Manitoba Métis Federation. 

Naturally, this offends those aspirant politicians who made claims of native ancestry. Green Party candidate running in the Quebec riding of Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, Jocelyn Rioux, bills himself as the “Aboriginal Chief for the Environment” for the Rising Sun band council. Monsieur Rioux objects in a way that demonstrates that he is a true master of the politically correct buzzword: “I remember when I was young being tormented by other children for being Indigenous, and now it’s adults who deny our identity. I imagine that the genocide continues to work in silence and true reconciliation is not here.”

Quite what makes Leroux or Woodson the guardians of racial identity is unclear. Nor are they any more helpful on just how much genetic material must reside in our bodies before we have an unshakeable right to assert membership in any tribe, clan or nation. This is why self-indication has been chosen as the arbiter in sexual matters – never find what the chromosomes say, it’s what our feelings tell us that determine our true selves.

I don’t give a toot what ethnic group my mayor, MLA, or MP springs from. I’m delighted that the seats in our legislative chambers are filled with people whose ancestors were Sikhs, Cree, Scots, Inuit, Afro-Caribbeans, Anglos, Bretons, and Bavarians. The only culture I want them to identify with, however, is Canadian and I want them to be brave enough to come out as honest, industrious, and patriotic.