Monday, October 01, 2012

Testing his DNA-dar; or how I became forever linked to Scott Brown, the US senator from Massachusetts

If you know me, then you know that I have a great deal to say about my cultural roots.  I don't shy away from my identity as a Status Indian, and I've certainly been open to talking about it when it's brought up.

Through my mother, I am fully caucasian.  Her lineage comes from the British Isles, and indeed, I am a direct descendent of the Clan Gunn through her father.  With some time and ingenuity, I could probably do her family tree extending quite a ways back.  When you look at us together, it's fairly easy to see we are family.  From her, I inherited my fair skin and (naturally) blonde hair. 

My dad's side of my genealogy is not as clear cut, which is somewhat understandable, as record-keeping about the Aboriginals is only a recent addition to the historic record-keeping annals.  It would be hard, for instance, for me to trace my great-grandmother's lineage, as her records were destroyed in a fire at a church parish.  So I have to go on family lore, and on what evidence there is that supported my claim to Status.  But I know two key facts:

1. My paternal grandfather was a Status Indian.  He was born a Cree Indian, but I recall once my grandmother telling me that my grandfather's grandfather had white blood--this is not recalled by my father, so I'm not sure if I misheard or am mixing memories from my childhood; and,

2. My paternal grandmother was a Métis.  If you're unfamiliar with that term, it's the designated term for an Aboriginal group of people who trace their bloodline to mixed First Nations and European heritage.  The mothers were most often First Nations women, and the fathers were most often French voyageurs, or English, Scottish, or Irish traders.  In my grandmother's case, I don't know for certain if it was her parents or her grandparents who were in a mixed-race relationship, but I know that her maternal grandparents partially raised her, and as a result, she grew up in the First Nations community, speaking Cree, some Chipewyan, and even a bit of Michif, the Métis language.

So at the very least, I am 3/8 First Nations, give or take the degree and timing of mixing in my both my paternal grandparents' ancestry.

As a kid, I was told that I was a Métis Indian, which I took for granted as being simple.  I always knew that I was Cree, and that I was Métis, but how it all worked didn't make any sense to me until late 1991, when my dad told to go get my Status card, and I asked what he was talking about.  He explained briefly that he and I had regained our Indian Status through Bill C-31 (1985), and that it was Gramma who was the Métis. 

Twenty years later, I have a much better grasp of the implications of my Aboriginal heritage, and I've had to grow accustomed to dealing with the unique challenges of growing up mixed-race.  I'm well aware that my brown eyes aren't enough to make identifying me as Aboriginal an easy task (though in recent years, I've been dyeing my hair dark brown, which I guess has made it easier).  But nonetheless, I am proud of my mixed heritage, and I'll defend it to my dying day.

...Which is the impotus for the actions that led to my 5 seconds of fame on The Rachel Maddow Show on September 28th.

Earlier in the week, Rachel featured the fallout from both Scott Brown's senate race debate against Elizabeth Warren, and demands by the chief of the Cherokee Nation that Scott Brown apologize for his senate staffers' subsequent childish, inflamatory, and racist taunting of American Indians.

During the debate, Scott Brown made a special point of accusing Elizabeth Warren of falsely claiming Native American ancestry to get ahead in her career; his proof her claim is false?  His words: "Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, a person of colour, and as you can see, she is not.  That being said, she checked the box."  And he went back to this point again during the debate: "She checked the box claiming she was Native American, and, umm, clearly she's not."

That's it?  That's your proof, Mr. Brown?

It made me angry the first time I heard Mr. Brown go after Ms. Warren's claims several weeks ago, but this time, at the debate, the stakes were higher.  This time, his staffers gift-wrapped Mr. Brown's ugly words and put a big bow on it by acting like complete idiots, going out on the streets, mocking Native Americans by war-whooping and tomohawk chopping like a tragicly racist scene out of a 1940's Western movie.  This prompted the chief of the Cherokee Nation to send a letter to Scott Brown demanding an apology for the actions of the staffers (who were monumentally stupid enough to get caught on tape doing this), which was initially rebuffed.  Mr. Brown eventually made a hollow apology, but it rang false.

I had had enough.  "As you can see..." was the last straw. 

I jumped on Twitter, and in 140 characters and one picture, I did my best to get my point across:

". @MaddowBlog That's me. Do you think @USSenScottBrown can tell I'm almost 1/2 Cree Indian just by looking at me?"

The picture, I admit, is from 1997, but was specifically chosen for this tweet because of two things:

1. Finding pictures of me is hard enough - for years I refused to have my picture taken.  In fact, I'm usually the one taking pictures.
2. I needed one that showed me with my natural hair colour and fair skin colour in all it's pale glory, because as I've already noted, I've been dyeing my hair dark brown for several years now.

I just needed to vent.  I wanted it known that it's not just a possibility -- it's actually a fact that there are those among the population who are legally recognized as First Nations/Native American, but whose biracial roots mean they appear white.  It's been more than 400 years since Europeans settled in North America...could it be that in all that time...there might be some mixing between the inhabitants?

Well, Mr. Brown?  Can you tell?


At 8:09 PM, Blogger Christopher McKenzie said...

Congrats on being featured on the show! It was so great to see Rachel Maddow getting out the message against Scott Brown's ignorant comments.

I linked your post to a blog that features stories like ours -- if you're not comfortable with the link, please let me know!

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