Risks of self identification in Canada
December 30, 2017 10:53 PM   Subscribe

Are there are risks to self identifying as Aboriginal/Indigenous in Canada?

My family background includes indigenous ancestry. I have been reconnecting with this part of my family and learning more and more. Because of racism, some of it was covered up and I'm still learning more and more...and figuring out which of our cultural practices are actually connected to it. I've self-identified for about 20 years, but I do so somewhat privately...Mostly, because I look white, nobody even thinks to ask me and the federal definition of indigenous/aboriginal changed in the past couple of years. I have also been talking to other people with my family background who have explained that I can have a complex family background and still self identify, which was something I always worried might be not okay before. I have recently connected with indigenous groups in my community who have encouraged me to get involved and to seek support in connecting with this part of my cultural makeup. But are there any risks to self identifying to government, when they ask, in terms of upsetting my existing government services and supports? Would it be bad for my kids? Their other parent is a little freaked out that I will ruin their lives, but that makes me very sad about the state of racism in this country, not just for society but for their other parent.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When you say self identify, do you mean saying you are of x blood, or do you mean becoming a status Indian because my understanding (limited to contemporary culture and having read Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian) is that these two things aren’t necessarily the same.
posted by furtive at 1:36 AM on December 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Most of the valuable information you're gonna get is if you ask members of your particular tribe/band. There's not going to be any change if you mark yourself as indigenous on some government documents instead of white, but for some tax reasons and for university applications you would have to have indian status to identify as aboriginal or to receive benefits/scholarship opportunities. I mean, are we talking census/medical forms or tax documents and social benefit applications? Because it's totally situational.

If you're wanting to identify as aboriginal without applying for any of the indian registry benefits, then depending on the document you're free to, but it is a different story if you want to register for full status.
posted by InkDrinker at 4:39 AM on December 31, 2017

It may differ depending where you are in Canada. For example, I understand that in Manitoba, qualifying as Métis by blood has some benefits, but there is no such status in Quebec.

In your situation, I might get in touch with the band council of the group you feel you may be affiliated to, and ask them for advice. I doubt there are risks, but they would be best placed to inform you, I think.
posted by zadcat at 7:30 AM on December 31, 2017

I think the short answer is that yes, there are risks. Is this the sort of systemic discrimination that has your partner thinking about possible consequences?:

CAS study reveals stark racial disparities for blacks, aboriginals:
Aboriginal kids 168 per cent more likely than whites to be taken from homes and placed into care.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:27 AM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm not talking about status under the Indian Act, which doesn't cover all indigenous peoples. Various government services and agencies accept self identification as Innu, Metis, indigenous. The group I talked to here hadn't run into anyone having to realistically worry about having complex medical and social services upset before...usually people have already self identified or, probably more often, they aren't having to get a lot of government services.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:07 AM on December 31, 2017

Response by poster: I'm not sure what you mean by of x blood, which sounds like it's from colonial blood quantum laws. But, yeah, not all indigenous people were able to retain status, especially if women were involved.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:08 AM on December 31, 2017

I guess... What do you hope to gain from this? If you want access to services for indigenous people but you don't really need the assistance I would suggest just keeping the internal knowledge of your background and letting your children know about your ancestry. I'm having trouble parsing what "identifying" as a protected group will do for you?
posted by masquesoporfavor at 11:22 AM on December 31, 2017

I'm not Canadian so I can't speak to that aspect of things, but if this has been a part of your identity for a while and it's important to you, then don't deny that.

Before he died, my great-grandfather was obsessive about getting all of his kids and grandkids and great-grandkids (and now his great-great-grandkids!) registered on our tribal rolls and I'm so glad he did. It's provided a solid link to our community, tribe, family history, and traditions that's been so invaluable.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:02 PM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

So I'm very late to all of this, hopefully you see this. I work in Employment Equity and deal with self-identification all the time. Again, this is different from status/non-status. For the purposes of Employment Equity and statistics at various Canadian government departments, there is no real "risk" in self-identifying. It is a personal, confidential and voluntary action.

The only thing I would say is that if you were to apply on a government staffing process and self-identify as aboriginal on the application, you may be asked to sign an Affirmation of Aboriginal Affiliation form. This is really just a "sober second thought" step to prevent abuse of the Employment Equity Act.

Memail me if you have any further questions.
posted by aclevername at 11:16 AM on January 3, 2018

I'm also super late here, but I wanted to add that my mom self-identified on some form at some point last year (it was probably the census) after having a DNA ancestry thing done, and a few months later she was selected for a Statistics Canada survey for indigenous/aboriginal Canadians.
posted by kitcat at 12:24 PM on January 3, 2018

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