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  • Kim Senklip Harvey

"Real" Indians and Others

In Bonita Lawrence’s Real Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood, she examines how the canadian state historically and presently implores tactics of genocide via state legislation, to displace Indigenous peoples from our land, culture and ultimately selves. Lawrence uses her own stories, academic research and the lived experiences of 30 Tkaronto urban Indigenous residents, to explore the varied and complex impacts canadian state methods of genocide, have had on Indigenous peoples and our ability to self locate.

Lawrence speaks to the imperial administrative enfranchisement tactic, to “eradicate the indian” which has resulted in an Indigenous modernity complex, that positions traditionalists to be in friction with urban traditionalists. Lawrence speaks to the divide and conquer tactic the state implores with specific attention to mixed-blood Indigenous peoples, impacted by colonist policies.

For centuries agents of the state have attempted to primordialize Indigenous peoples and Lawrence analysis this imperial assertion, to try and control Indigenous identity and manage it as an inflexible historicised existence. This has further complicated Indigenous peoples ability to self-determine our identities, sovereign from state influence and administration. Centuries of colonial state oppression against Indigenous ontologies has forced many of our Indigenous Nations to evolve or adopt imperial patriarchal capitalism.

Lawrence offers that we cannot look at state regulation of Native identity without looking at how gendered the attacks have been. She gives attention to the states gross attempt to control and dominate Indigenous womxn, with their ultimate desire to ”bleed off” Indigenous peoples. Lawrence addresses the unjust persecution of Indigenous womxn under canada’s identity legislation which includes the Indian Act and Bill C31. These legislative prescriptions support the states desire to surevil and control the status of Indigenous womxn in particular. The canadian state functions under patriarchal binary divisions that feed their acquisitiveness to be the authoritarians on Indigenous identity.

We know Indigenous identity is an alive and ever shifting process and our multi-perspective pedagogy has been persecuted by colonialists, to indoctrinate Indigenous peoples into a colonial mindset. The canadian state desires to be the managers and judges of Indigenous peoples under duplicitous divisions: loyal or disloyal, status and non-status, urban or rural, male or female, moral or immoral, indian or white and is an attack on our holistic encircling Indigenous world views. The colonial dualistic worldview prohibits our emancipation and self-determination of identity because of its bipartite nature.

The divide and conquer tactic impacts Indigenous peoples ability to nourish one another in communion because when we extract or remove imperial oppressive paradigms - decolonize and then retraditionalize - Indigenous citizens, particularly urban Native peoples, often find themselves isolated and questioning their transformations. I myself have experienced this and a number of Lawrence’s participants speak to the lateral violence that can occur in indian country regarding displacement, charges of assimilation, being a “real indian”, and a reticence to evolve Indigenous culture and thus identity.

The immersion of Indigenous peoples into a white supremacist society makes the states warfare approach of division more manageable. This engulfment warfare tactic is applied to Nations and communities to remove Indigenous leadership from our land stewardship roles, which makes the states multilayered land embezzlement transgressions feasible. We see the states appetite to divide and manage Indigenous peoples in their perpetual attempts to carve, isolate, categorize and disunite Indigeneity, which includes the metricisation of identity by blood quantum.

If we situate the classification of Indigenous identity in direct relationship to the land, we see and Lawrence connects, the whites desire to “own” all Nations territories and blood quantum supports this pillaging. In combination with the “bleeding off” tactic by the attempted control of Indigenous womxn, blood quantum becomes the finishing mechanism to support the states jurisdiction on being the decision makers around groups “no longer being indians.” Thus any Indigenous right to live on a land as stewards becomes “ineligible” and thus blood quantum as an isolated metric has been weaponized by the state to own land to which Indigenous peoples have been stewards of from time immemorial.

What the state did not predict with blood quantum, was that it positioned Indigenous peoples to be afforded the space to continue our inter-generational investigations and applications, into one of our most powerful characteristics: blood memory. Lawrence writes, “in a country where a powerful body of white politicians and scholars have for years maintained a monopoly on defining indianness, and where Native peoples do not control the discourse that controls our lives, the concept of blood memory cuts through the pronouncements of “indian experts”, insisting that we are Indigenous because our bodies link us to our Indigenous past.”

This is powerfully understood when Lawrence shares parts of an interview of a participant speaking about a time when they were chopping meat, “suddenly my body felt like this was something that we’ve been doing for years and years and years. There was this flash where I thought...I was somebody from two hundred years ago and, you know, I knew that this person was here.” This embodied knowing speaks to our connections with the land and our understanding that the land is our greatest teacher and supporter of life.

Lawrence goes on to say, “In a country where “authenticity” is always demanded of Indigenous subjects, we do not have to justify our mixed-bloodedness or lack of indian status, or to wait for courts and legislation to decide who is Indian, who is entitled or unentitled, and to internalize that logic - our bodies tells us who we are.” Lawrence illuminates that there is a powerful story here of Indigenous survival and continuance and correlates that these experiential embodied connections might just be the inter-Nationhood bond that bands Indigenous communities together.

This investigation into state control over who I am and who my people are, at points, made my heart and spirit ache. Indigenous liberation can be an overwhelming movement to think about, especially when it’s done in an imperial paradigm. The list of crimes canada has committed against the humanity of Indigenous peoples is terrorful. “Kill the indian” has been canada’s most uniting and enduring legislative agendas and I, an Indigenous womxn, have been enemy #1.

I believe that my biggest responsibility as displaced Indigenous person is to explore the ascendant nature of my placement. So how do I take on a state who relentlessly attacks my identity - I stop thinking like them. I unshackle myself from the chains of colonialism, I dive deep into my blood and remember my body tells me who I am. I refuse to be managed, convenient, categorical - I shift.

I use my stories to shift the paradigm from a white imperial patriarchal one, to an Indigenous worldview that root us into our environment and honours, respects and centers Indigenous peoples. For I know that in this Indigenous environment, engaging the world from this place works, champions, stewards and sustains a peaceful existence for all organisms. It for thousands of years has been our evolutionary way of life.

Now I can’t decolonize the world or my Nations, all I can do is focus on the continued cultural evolution and ignition of Matriarchal power that has been gifted to me by my Ancestors. It becomes my role and responsibility to take care of myself and share any knowledge I unlock from my blood memory, with my community to continue the knowledge sharing practice that has brought Indigenous peoples to this moment.

Lawrence compassionately communicates the deep and righteous struggles Indigenous peoples have faced against resisting colonization and white Nationalism. The tactics of genocide against us has been immense: residential schools, the chemical warfare of using alcohol against Indigenous peoples, biological warefare of smallpox obliterating many communities which have all been recently authenticated in the 2019 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women summary stating:

“This violence amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, which especially targets women, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.”

So even if agents of the state refuse to deal with this truth and try to bulldoze into reconciliation which is more white supremest behaviourisms, I can centre my health and wellbeing to bear witness to the clearly indestructible power that is Indigenous existence, identity and cultural continuance.

Lawrence speaks to the confrontations we can receive on these transformative journey’s from non-Indigenous peoples “who disparage the modernity of contemporary Native existence.” Now, non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples can hold and sustain a primordial notion of our identities and some Indigenous peoples have adopted an anti-evolutionist position and I believe this stasis mindset needs to be expunged for our peoples to live peacefully. For if we don’t all engage in a level of modernity we make ourselves vulnerable to the unknowing participation of colonial primordialism.

From that, It is my obligation and service to build creative environments wherever I am, that build Indigenous peoples certainty that we are the authorities on who we are, what our culture is and how we evolve it. I will not let the state sanctioned warfare tactics of dividing Indigenous peoples perpetuate my relations and or my identity. Knowing I will fail at this often, I will be generous with myself in the fight.

I will refuse the need to be recognized by the federal government/canadian state, which is why I have not renewed my status card since 2008. I will invest my efforts into building Indigenous Nations that are founded in beliefs of Indigenous power, identity to embody this Indigenous centered futurism, that I believe supports the Indigenous emancipation from colonial imperialism.

“Real” Indians and Others by Bonita Lawrence was a privilege to read and a powerful example of the strength and resilience of Indigenous Matriarchy. It reminds me of our infinite ability and responsibilities to contribute to our cultural evolution so we strengthen our understandings and authorities of Indigenous identity and self-determining Indigenous Nationhood.

Wáy, with Indigenous love,


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