Indigenous Identity Act Introduced to Stop Ethnic Fraud

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The Indigenous Identity Act (IIA) will protect Indigenous identity across all sectors of Canadian society, including the film and television industries. 

Tamara Bell

Tamara Bell (Haida) is introducing the Indigenous Identity Act in Canada.

The case of Canadian actor and filmmaker Michelle Latimer, who claimed—falsely—that she was of Indigenous descent, has highlighted the unscrupulous practice of “Indigenous identity theft,” which many non-Native people use to benefit themselves at the expense of Indigenous Canadians.

Tamara Bell, a veteran of Canadian film and television and a member of the Haida Nation, Raven Clan, is one of many Indigenous Canadians who seek to end this unfortunate and destructive practice. Bell is proposing a bill that protects Indigenous identity across all sectors of the Canadian economy – the film and television industry included. Inspired by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (1935, revised 1990) in the United States, the IIA will mete out stiff punishment to those who assume Indigenous identity without merit and who secure benefits for themselves that they do not deserve.

“There has been a substantial rise in opportunistic crime of Indigenous identity,” says Bell. “Without consequences, the continual habitual theft of our identity destroys reconciliation and erodes the relationship between Indigenous communities and those who strive to mend the genocidal history of our country.”

The Indigenous Identity Act (IIA) is intended to restore trust in the wake of the Michelle Latimer scandal. Latimer, director of a television series, Trickster, resigned from that show after a CBC investigation revealed that her claims of being “Algonquin, Métis and French heritage, from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (Maniwaki), Que” were refuted by members of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, an Algonquin nation based in Quebec.

The IIA, properly implemented and enforced, will deter non-Indigenous Canadians from attempting to co-opt Indigenous identity as a “fast track” to personal, professional, and financial gain. Left unchecked, Indigenous identity theft will continue to erode the sovereignty of Indigenous people and any progress that has been made toward reconciliation. The IIA is supported by Indigenous elders across Canada who recognize the long-term value of validating Indigenous identity as a bulwark against blatant appropriation and exploitation of Indigenous identity, culture, and intellectual property.

In order to ensure that opportunities and benefits intended for Indigenous people actually reach Indigenous people, the support of media entities like the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO), the Canada Media Fund (CMF), Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board (NFB), and the CBC is essential. Though the Michelle Latimer case continues to draw significant media attention, the truth is that most cases of Indigenous identity theft go undetected and unpunished. Any individual who claims Indigenous identity must be able to prove a connection to the broader Indigenous community through his or her Nation.

“We are asking our elders to stand with us. Many have already expressed their support and are standing with us here today. We offer our sincerest thanks. We also hope to secure even more support as the IIA moves forward,” says Bell.

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11 Comments

  1. Margaret Sutherland on

    This is an unfortunate situation that may repeat itself if it is not addressed appropriately. It would be highly detrimental in the continued misrepresentation of the oral histories and oral land-based teachings of the language and culture.

    Our individual background work makes reference of practical knowledge and skills in the field of work and services including networking. After all it is in the interpretation of the work involved and proper credits to the community at the local, regional and national levels. The work involved also gives proper international recognition.

  2. Iris V Mitchell on

    Yes,we as Indigeous people need to stand together, in Solidaritary.We are a One Nation if we do this! So sad this happened.

  3. Suzanne Keeptwo on

    I wonder how such an act will determine the differences between veritable individuals of Indigenous identity whose family lines have been blurred by inaccurate, manipulated, and inconsistent genealogical records – especially within the body politic of Québec that was vying for cultural and linguistic rights in the face of British takeover since 1760. Many Quebec record-keepers arbitrarily assigned “Indian” to halfbreeds one day and “French Canadian” the next. Halfbreed children were expected to become French Canadian and assigned such identities on paper but were raised within the cultures of their maternal ancestors. There are also those who were scooped in the 60s, right off their reserves, and had their identities erased by governmental imposed policies of assimilation. There are also genealogically pure white people who carry full Indian status cards in Canada – due to clandestine historic assimilation maneuvers. Yes, there are those who romanticize an Indigenous identity – or multiple shifting identities – like Joseph Boyden; but, they need to be provided an opportunity to stand up and state who they are within Indigenous circles as per customary practice and be excused, accepted or forgiven for their claims. Must we destroy people’s lives, people we have never even met, by leading them to the public slaughter house? Are we really going to trust the Whiteman’s systems of Indigenous identity keeping? Finding people guilty of false identity before knowing their story, is dangerous terrain with potentially legal implications.

  4. If they want people to play a part of an Indigenous woman or a man etcc… They should hire and pay the Native people to play the part!

  5. As a colonist, with a thin thread of old history bloodline, I was gifted a few teachings by a kind Haudenosaunee woman. She explained to me that belonging to The People means being accepted by Them as much as being born to Them. A Nation must recognise you.

    So, Canadian legal recognition is a very different thing than being recognised as a member of a First Nation.

    How about we trust First Nations People to put forward their needs and just try to support them?

  6. It irks and thwarts the collective move towards truth and reconciliation… be proud of who you were born to be, don’t jump on a wagon that wasn’t meant for you. Indigenous peoples have worked hard to get to this place in history, don’t mess it up for them! Oh yes I understand capitalism, you all want to claim it all for yourselves, do so on your own terms. Think about it, 50 years ago you would never dare claim indigenous ancestry!

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