Editorial: Caught Between Two Cultures

The Federal Court of Canada recently ruled that Métis and non-status Indians are officially “Indians” under the Constitution Act and that they are entitled to the same rights as full-status Indians. As a Métis woman, this is a subject that is dear to my heart.

For several years, members of my family have been trying to obtain full-status as Indians of the Wyandotte Nation. The process to obtain full-status is very lengthy and costly. Due to destroyed and missing records, illegitimate births, and unofficial marriages, the most we have been able to prove so far is that we have enough Indian blood to qualify as Métis.

However, over the years, I’ve grown to like being defined as Métis. My family also has strong Acadian roots, and being Métis allows me to acknowledge and celebrate both parts of my heritage. Even my last name, Cabanaw, is a combination of French and Wandat.

The Métis have always had struggles that are unique to Métis people. For a very long time, Métis were ostracized from both their Native and European cultures. Métis were referred to as “halfbreeds,” which encapsulated the idea that aboriginals were akin to animals rather than people. This term affects people of Métis descent so negatively that it would be the same as referring to black people as “niggers.”

Yet Métis experienced the same problems as other Aboriginals: high rates of smallpox and tuberculosis, the horrors of residential schools, stolen land, and a loss of their Native way of life. In addition, Métis have experienced racism from both Indians and non-Indians. The “halfbreeds” were considered the ultimate misfits and were accepted by no one except other Métis.

Over the decades, things changed, and the racist and exclusionary attitudes towards the Métis began to ebb. Or so I thought.

In the last issue of Arthur, which was 100% satire, we published an article that mocked people who were against the Idle No More Movement. In response, someone wrote a very angry letter to us, not realizing that the article had been fake. She told us to, “EDUCATE yourself on what this protest stands for and means BEFORE you go around spouting bullshit into an article.”

Of course, we nicely informed her that the article had been satire and that Arthur has been a strong ally of Idle No More Peterborough (see our feature in this issue). We also told her that one of our editors was of Métis descent and that she has been working closely with the Idle No More cause. And then we received her response, in which she called me a “watered down halfbreed” and remarked that “the court of law will only recognize aboriginals who practice the ways and language of their tribes.” Also, that only aboriginals who have pure blood should be allowed to speak about issues concerning First Nations.

I had never expected to be relegated to the same kind of character as the mudbloods in Harry Potter. Maybe someone should inform this person that typically, people in history who have preached about “purebloods” tended to be the bad guys.

Now, I thought that the Idle No More movement was supposed to be inclusive. I thought that the cause even went so far as to represent the rights of non-aboriginals. But maybe I was wrong and need to educate myself before I spout bullshit into this editorial.

I’d like to say that I have tough enough skin to not be offended by someone who couldn’t tell the difference between a clearly satirical article and a truthful one, but racial slurs hurt, regardless of who says them. My family has horror stories of the atrocities they’ve suffered because of their Native heritage. Being told by a fellow aboriginal that I have no rights to my Native ancestry is a whole lot of salt in that wound.

We at Arthur will continue to support the Idle No More movement, and I will continue to recognize both my Native and Acadian roots. I hope that Idle No More will continue to be inclusive, but I’m afraid that will only be achieved if aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike can refrain from behaving in a divisive manner. I thought that unity was possible in this day and age. I’d hate to see Idle No More crumble due to racist attitudes from within.

About Jasmine Cabanaw 32 Articles
When Jasmine was a child, she could almost always been found with a notebook and pen in hand, writing away. As an adult, she has written for a variety of magazines and websites, including the art magazine Juxtapoz. She was the 2010 winner of a blogging contest put on by the publishing house JournalStone. JournalStone also published two of her short fiction stories in their horror anthologies in 2010 and 2011. When she's not writing, Jasmine spends a good chunk of her time completing her history degree and working as a professional dance performer and instructor.