Beware of Being a Box Checker
By Sheryl Newton
Having the option to tick a box to declare Indigenous ancestry can be a good thing. Sometimes, parents or caregivers will tick a box because they heard stories that they might be Indigenous. For those individuals who do not have documented genealogy, to tick a box can create a plethora of complications.
I know through my own experiences and from conversations with ISWs, many students have no idea where they come from or how they are Indigenous. Whose responsibility is it to help the students figure out how they are Indigenous?
Here is why not having documentation is complicated. What if a self-identified, First Nations student could use the help of Jordan’s principle? "Jordan’s Principle (JP) can be sought for academic support in terms of:
specialized school transportation,
psycho-educational assessments, and
assistive technologies and electronics” (quoted from HERE).
Furthermore, “A child under the age of majority in their province or territory of residence can access Jordan's Principle, if they permanently reside in Canada and if the child meets one of the following criteria: is registered or eligible to be registered under the Indian Act, has one parent or guardian who is registered or eligible to be registered under the Indian Act, is recognized by their nation for the purposes of JP, is ordinarily resident on reserve" (quote from HERE). Read more about support and qualifications HERE.
It’s not just JP adjusters who need some type of verification, once Indigenous identified students moves on to college or university, in order for them to qualify for any help with books and supplies, or help with tuition, then they may also require documentation. It is it in the best interest of secondary students who aren’t sure, to find out where their roots are.
A few years back, I met a person who claimed to be two-spirited. I asked where their ancestry is from. He said he was Métis. I asked what territory either grandparent belonged to, and he said he didn't know. Then I asked how he knows he is Métis. He said, "My cousins have Métis cards. My great grandmother's last name was Wolfe and we have pictures of her. She looks native, probably Cree because she is from around Prince Albert, SK." I nodded, but felt a little skeptical because this person didn't have any type definitive knowledge. Two years later, he did an Ancestry DNA test to see if we were related because my ancestors are from PA and from the nearby Ahtahkakoop Nation. It turns out he is 100% of European and Dutch descent. I'm not going to lie, this really messed him up. Now, I'm not saying that a person should take a DNA test...that is not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is to know where your information comes from. Do your own research and if you are able, encourage others to do the same. Find out how you are connected to a particular band or nation and have some type of documentation that is not just a picture and unverified theories.
I’ve mentioned before about my genealogy research -it is both harrowing and riveting work. It’s harrowing because it is time consuming searching for names, dates, birth records and marriage records. It is riveting because as I’m researching, I am learning more and more about the movement of my maternal ancestors. It’s neat to tell a story of how I am the ggg-grand niece of Chief Ahtahkakoop (Starblanket) who believed that the only way to keep his people from experiencing further hardships was to sign Treaty 6. It’s also neat to tell people that another ggg-grand uncle was a medicine man and that this gift has been passed down, but only those who become apprentices can practice (I was told this by my uncle, but found documents to back up his story.) It’s also interesting to know that a ggg-grand aunt fled to the United States during the North-West Resistance. It is through these stories that I have become grounded. This is what I want for all Indigenous students. I want them to become sure in who they are and where they come from. I want them to become grounded.
Learning one’s ancestry can be done through searching census records before 1929 HERE. Find Métis scrip records, church records, and more HERE. If a student knows of a grandparent who lived on reserve at one point, then they can fill out paperwork at Indigenous Services Canada HERE. Moreover, genealogy research fulfills so many learning outcomes for Social Studies and English! If you have any questions about genealogy research, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a parent who heard stories of someone being Indigenous down the line, do some fact checking first. Don’t just tick a box that could cause problems later on.