Identity and belonging

(Crystal Schick/Times-Herald)

Let’s talk about it

Lori Deets

How do you identify? This question really gets me thinking. Who am I? Where do I belong? I think a large part of why I struggled and was confused for so long was because I didn’t understand these questions, nor did I understand how important they were. Without belonging, one cannot identify themselves properly. In my search for self, finding out where I belong has been an integral step in my journey.

One of the most respectful questions I have ever been asked is, “How do you identify?” This statement tells me that you are aware enough of my diverse culture and you care enough to ask how I prefer to be referred to with regards to my culture.

Technically, according to the government of Canada, I am a non-status Indian. I also qualify as Métis. I was born to a non-status Cree First Nations mother and a Métis father. This has always left me with much confusion. I have never been sure where I belong. I identify with both First Nations and Métis cultures. In the end, I decided to raise my son in the traditional Cree First Nations Culture and so I consider myself Cree First Nations. Even though I am also part Métis, I do not take part in the rich Métis culture.

If you follow the media, you’ll notice a lot has been written about a fellow by the name of Joseph Boyden. Boyden is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. He was actually one of the first Indigenous writers I read. His book, Three Day Road, was a monumental piece of writing for me. It filled me with hope, for I read it at a time in my life when things weren’t going very well for me. I’ve always had a desire and a passion for writing. This book made me think just maybe I could be a writer too. Fast forward abou nine years and a few books and prestigious awards later, and Joseph Boyden has become the voice of Indigenous peoples across Canada.

But, that all came to a smashing halt late in 2016 when Boyden’s Indigenous identity was called into question and his ties to the Indigenous community have been put under the microscope. Boyden says being Indigenous is not about DNA; it’s about who you claim and who claims you. Well, I was adopted into a Norwegian/Scottish family, I really love lefse, the traditional soft Norwegian flatbread, but does that make me Norwegian?

This very interesting debate begs the question: who belongs and who decides? Well, I can only answer this for myself. I could make wild claims and tell you I am an Indian princess from a small Northern Tribe. Some of you may believe that, I have many princess like qualities, but all jokes aside, I was born in a Northern Saskatchewan community called Ile-la-Crosse. I have family in the Beauval, Pinehouse and La Ronge areas. When I talk to other Indigenous people and tell them where I am from and who my family is, they say, “Oh yes, I know them,” or sometimes it’s even, “Really that’s my mom’s cousin!” In Saskatchewan, that’s how you know where you come from and to whom you belong. It’s quite simple.

Boyden is right that it’s not about DNA, it’s about community and having a community that wants to claim you. It is not clear, though, if there is a community that wants to claim Boyden. His claim to Indigeneity is weak and it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I can understand how this issue can be confusing to a non-Indigenous person, but to an Indigenous person it’s about being connected to a particular community and to a particular place and that is part of who we are. Belonging is necessary in order for us to feel whole, to feel connected, to have our circle complete.

I was taken from my biological family in the late 1970’s as part of the Sixties Scoop. It took me years to understand this part of my history and know who I am and where I belong. Once I got active in the Indigenous community, it didn’t take long for me to see where I fit in. I now sit as the vice-chair of the Wakamow Aboriginal Community Association. Our mission is to foster awareness of existing Aboriginal cultures in the city of Moose Jaw and surrounding area.

Having been someone who was denied her First Nations culture and having had to search to find where I fit in, this is a position that is very dear to me. If I can help anyone find out who they are and where they come from I will gladly walk with them on their journey.