Joseph Boyden

This morning I read the following new article by Joseph Boyden in MacLeans. It gave me a lot to think about.

Here is the article.

This article really brings into question for me about what being Indigenous really means, and what elements create your own identity. On one hand, it has really struck me that so many ‘others’ are questioning what his identity should or shouldn’t be. However, I have come to know that identity is not all about DNA or blood quantum. It is also about the ‘intimate’ conversations and language you share with the people who shape who you are. It is the language that moves through them and with them that make you who you are – perhaps more than Blood Quantum. I fear that Boyden is benefiting from claiming Indigenous identity, without belonging to an Indigenous community in this way. He states that he identifies most of his life as an anglo-white male, growing up in a mainly anglo-christian household. I am curious about which community or culture is he giving back to? Working to make better?

This is more than just about Joseph Boyden and the fact that he has some Indigenous DNA. What does his story mean for others who define their identity as Indigenous? All of the others who also do not ‘look’ Indigenous’, but are, yet continually asked about what percentage of Indigenous they are – as if there is a magic number that decides.

I am curious as well, did he ever have to live with what it feels like to ‘Live in the hyphen’? Did he experience racism by both white and Indigenous cultures? Was he questioned and rejected by both anglo and his Indigenous cultures – I would infer no, as it appears that he has not been part of such a community his whole life. It feels like he has just decided to ‘live in the hyphen’ now, but only to reap the benefits of both worlds. Not to help heal the traumas, or contribute personally – as one would do with those in our lives who helped to shape us.

After much careful thought, and more reading, I have come to the conclusion that identity is very much about belonging. Whose community do you belong to, and who belongs to you? Blood quantum cannot be looked at in isolation. If you have no community that you can truly claim, and who claims you in return, then how can you truly identify with it? How can you give it a voice? And finally, if you do have a community, how are you using your gift and fame to make your community better, and not just yourself?

This brings up a lot of questions about identity, what community is, and about whose identities deserve privileges, and whose do not. Why do we decide this? We do it without even realising as well.

If you haven’t already heard it, this is a great Podcast to listen to as well: Ep. 73: White Settler Revisionism and Making Métis Everywhere 

I will continue to think about my aporia, and my personal discomfort surrounding this situation with Joseph Boyden.


Deborah McCallum







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