By Ken Coates, January 19, 2022
Since the early years of European settlement, newcomers found aspects of Indigenous life to be mysterious, exotic, and captivating. A handful abandoned the colonial mainstream and aligned themselves with Indigenous identity. Some sought fame, like the infamous Grey Owl. Others wanted access to career advancement, government or private sector contracts, and even Indigenous fishing and hunting rights.
Whatever the motive, a small but significant number of fraudsters have put themselves forward as being Indigenous, perhaps recognizing the loose oversight of Indigenous identity, as few employers seek to verify their self-identification claims.
While Canada has a limited grasp of the extent of the “pretendian” phenomena, Indigenous peoples are troubled by the pattern of deceit — and by the inaction of non-Indigenous authorities.
Like most aspects of Indigenous policy and legal matters, the identity issue is tangled in the quagmire of colonialism and federal paternalism. For over a century, Ottawa has interfered with Indigenous identity issues. Whenever treaties were signed, the government determined who was a Status Indian, even if they were of mixed Indigenous/newcomer ancestry. Exclusion from these early lists removed individuals, their families and subsequent generations.