The past few days I have been sitting in on the Daniels Symposium and reading Susan Faludi's book "In the darkroom". The intertwining of these experiences got me thinking again about identity and its past and future. Before I go any further though, I want to stress that I respect the different histories and lived experiences of the indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. I write this with respect. This issue of identity is not a simple one and I have no solutions, just some thoughts.
The Daniel's Symposium discussions were rooted in two areas. Firstly, how should membership/ citizenship in the indigenous community be determined and what rights/services should these people have. It was a contentious discussion given the history of membership criteria and specific issues related to extensions in the definition. I did not know anything about Qualipu, the metis reserve in Alberta or any of the related membership issues. People shared some difficult stories.
Over the same days I was reading the new book by Susan Faludi who is the author of "Backlash". As a young women this Backlash was electrifying. Faludi set out the state of the world for woman and painted a very clear picture about this issues and challenges for women. She later wrote a similar book about men in the 1990s. "In the Darkroom" is a sort of dialogue between these two earlier books and extends these themes to explore how they intertwine with other elements of identity. The project began with an email from her estranged and enigmatic father announcing a new gender. The book is her meditation as she tries to understand her father, their family history and unlock what motivated her parent. Through this time she is drawn into the identity politics of gender, national identity and religious connection.
This book involves a scary excursion into the history of the Jewish population in Hungary and events of the second world war. Things that seems so far now, but even as I was thinking this, I found myself sitting at the table with a veteran of this war. Not so far away as we like to pretend. A war where identity mattered and the wrong one could lead to death. Unlike our current situation, identify was not just a question of consumer purchase into a community of like minded persons, but something you couldn't escape. You could not really convert from Judaism. It was in your blood. What you did didn't matter. Blood would show. This echoed in the symposium as people talked about their experiences of not being Indian enough to be Indian but not white enough to be white. Half-breed. Blood would show.
So while we were talking about how the government should act regarding the definition of indigenaity, and really the happiness of people who might be allowed into the tepee, I also thought about the potential darker side of identifying ourselves. Jews in the late 1800s Hungary were happy to be in an inclusive and safe place where integration was accepted. This was a time when you could be Jewish and Hungarian, until these very traits became a reason for fear. These Jews became reviled for the very fact that they could "pass" and thus tainted the vision for a pure Hungary. While this time feels far away, it is not and we see the continuation of this kinds of thought with the rise of fascist parties in many countries, the rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims.
I am not saying that Daniels is not good for our people. But it strikes me, that as we work through these issues, we should also think about two things:
1. That the linear idea of history moving towards something "better" is not ours. It is tempting to see Daniels as a step towards something better. I hope that it is. But circle time is our time and bad times may come again for our people.
2. I recently did a course on forecasting, helping organizations to understand their possible futures and build their muscles and minds to respond to these possible challenges. As a people, we need to move forward in hope, but also remaining vigilant that we maintain the strengths and tools we need to respond if times get bad. We need to pay attention to the larger dialogue about identity and belonging in Canada and watch for those paths that may lead us to the darker days again. To do this, it is my opinion that we need to stand in the intersectional spaces with other groups that suffer these same vulnerabilities; women, the GLBTQ, visible minorities, differently abled peoples and other minorities.
I guess, while we are working through Daniels and who gets in the tepee, we may also want to think deeply about where we are setting up that tepee and try to set that space up in a good neighborhood with a larger community that can support us and whom we cans support. These were the ways of our people, we don't want to lose our focus on these ways as we are figuring out the specifics on this issue.