Being White Coded Metis and Proving My Indigeneity to Duncan McCue

Sharing my insights about reconciliation.

The Writing Stick Conference June 9, 2017. Duncan McCue presenting Reporting on Indigenous Stories

It’s 8 am. I’m in the Lister Hall Cafeteria at the University of Alberta filling up on breakfast buffet for a full day of listening to speakers at the Writing Stick Conference. I spot Duncan McCue sitting alone at a table and I decide to sit with him. I admire his work as a journalist on CBC the National and CBC Radio, Cross Country Checkup. We make small talk and another lady joins us. She asks what I do, and I tell her about Women Warriors, my passion for helping Indigenous women get active and my new project, the Women Warriors podcast where I interview only Indigenous women. Duncan McCue cuts in, and with a pensive journalist stare he asks, “What are you?”

It’s human nature to classify. We want to know how to relate to each other. I look white –or as Chelsey Vowels named it on twitter – I’m white coded. I relate to what she writes on her twitter feed, “I am Métis, but I am also White looking…When ppl see me, they assume I’m White, and treat me that way. Being white coded just means, like it or not, that structure benefits you in some ways because you look white.”

What Duncan wants to know is: do I think from the perspective of the colonizer or the colonized? What qualifies me to be a champion of Indigenous women? How much do I know about racism since I hold white privilege based on my skin colour? How do I relate to Indigenous women’s experiences?

I have a unique perspective as an Indigenous adoptee. I was adopted by German and French settlers, and raised on a rural farm in Alberta. When I met my Métis birth father in 2006 I was given the gift of learning what it meant to be Métis. His position as a Metis political leader and champion of Metis rights has given me a thorough education.

Please let me clarify my Indigenous status because I feel there is a general misunderstanding of what constitutes Metis. I am not a settler throwing around the term “Metis,” identifying as mixed blood but uncertain of my ancestry or where I originated. I am a historically identified, pass the Powley test, hardcore, capital M Metis. If you would like further education please listen to this Media Indigena podcast “White Settler Revisionism & Making Metis Everywhere.”

I had to go on a personal journey of reconciliation, which you can listen to on the Women Warriors podcast. Then I had to act on Maya Angelou’s words of wisdom, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I should have told Duncan I’m acting out my “do better.” That I’m a champion of Indigenous women’s rights because my birth family is various shades of brown and my Grandmother is a residential school survivor. That I personally have not experienced daily racism, except for the time I was given up for adoption based on my race. Or, that I think from two sides in all my interactions – a kind of superpower translation and communication skill that I use all the time to navigate both spaces.

When an acquaintance messaged me last week stating she had read “An Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King and wanted to know how she could be a better ally to Indigenous peoples, I said yes to a coffee play date.

Here’s the truth about White people. They are scarred to make mistakes and offend Indigenous people with their ignorance. They want to “know better, do better” but it seems like a daunting task that makes them uncomfortable. They don’t know where to start. They also don’t like too much conflict.

Here’s the truth about Indigenous people. They are tired of educating you. They have to know all about White people because of the power structures in this society stacked against them. Their survival is dependant on how well they know their oppressors. They are angry that you can’t invest some time and energy into learning, on your own, the history of Canada and colonization, their colonial struggle, the fact that societal structures keeps them in a loop of poverty, and that their daily struggles are for their lives.

Here are two articles written by Indigenous authors that express their frustration:
It’s Not My Job to Teach You about Indigenous People by Melanie Lefebvre
White Guilt, David Bowie & the Colonial Labyrinth by Helen Knott

Back to my coffee date, mid-afternoon on my deck watching our four year olds play. I recognize this scenario as the ultimate experience of privilege – being at home with our children, having time to express our ideas, and debate books we’ve read. Being able to recognize and acknowledge your privilege is an important part of being an ally.

Her question and the ultimate question of non-Indigenous peoples in reconciliation: How can I be an Indigenous ally?

Back to Duncan McCue and his talk at the Writing Stick conference about positioning yourself as an Indigenous ally. He states that non-Indigenous people need to build relationships with Indigenous communities and practice reciprocity. I would like to add that you need to create space for Indigenous peoples to let their voices be heard, support them in anyway you can, and stay behind the scenes.

What I told my guest is a combination of Duncan’s advice and my own experience in an action plan. I’m an action kind-of-girl. I cannot tolerate sitting in meetings or talking about something for hours on end and not having one action item come out of it. I need something to do because in order to learn, we must do.

  1. Go to your local non-profit organization that works with Indigenous people and ask the Executive Director what they need. Tell them your unique skill set and ask how you may serve.
  2. Listen. Let Indigenous peoples in your community tell you their needs. Recognize that there’s a diversity of Indigenous culture and needs across this country. There is not a one-size fits all plan.
  3. Build relationships. It takes time to build trust. Recognize that you must be patient and know that you will make mistakes. Prepare for discomfort.
  4. Create space that is safe, welcoming and non-judgemental. Is there a place in your community where Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can meet and talk? If not, create it. I did with Women Warriors.
  5. Give Indigenous people opportunities to use their voices. Invite them to events, and ask them to speak. I created a conference, Rise Up Mighty Warrior so my participants had a platform to speak their truths.
  6. Support, encourage, and mentor Indigenous people in your community.
  7. Stay behind the scenes. You, as in White people in general, have been given all the opportunities and received all of the accolades. Step back, sit down, and shut up. Give Indigenous peoples the same bandwidth you’ve received your entire life.
  8. Don’t take shit personally. This is a principal from the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – one of my all time favourite books and my go to when I’m upset with other people’s actions. Always remember this point – You would be angry too if you were subject to 150 years of oppression and feelings of helplessness as your loved ones were destroyed by the colonial system in the form of poverty, incarceration, violence, suicide, and hate crimes.
  9. Above all – Respect. I want you to watch this video of “Indigenous women call reporter ‘white lady,’ demand she leave press conference.” Every Indigenous person that watched this video gave that Indigenous activist a silent salute. It’s your delivery, and tone of how you ask questions that count. Be respectful.

I’ve created a resource that you can download on the Women Warriors website – 10 Practical Steps to Implement Reconciliation. It’s the entry point to start your journey. As you can tell by my 9-step action plan that this work is not easy or a quick fix and requires real effort. If you’re here for a Readers Digest condensed version of reconciliation then I’m not your woman. I live and breath this work because it’s my calling – I was gifted this perspective, and I will not waste it.
Here’s my truth about my experience in reconciliation. I take heat from both sides for being a white coded Metis. I’m proving my Indigeneity to the likes of Duncan McCue, meanwhile educating my non-Indigenous family. I have been discriminated against by Indigenous academics and peers for not being “Indigenous” enough, and I’ve heard all types of racist comments with the last phrase being, “but you’re not like those Natives.” I straddle a world of knowing judgements and biases from both sides. It requires me to have a thick skin, to know who I am, and what I stand for, so I can communicate with love that we can all do better.

To Duncan McCue, if you’re reading this newsletter thanks for asking me the all time important question that we all must ask ourselves at some point – who am I? Also, please listen to my podcast. LOL!

Writing Stick Conference, June 2017. I met wonderful authors, and academics at this event.

 

The Writing Stick conference artist in residence, Dawn Marie Marchand created this piece of art to commemorate our experience.

Season 2 of the Women Warriors Podcast 

I’ve sent out letters of invite this past weekend to nine amazing Indigenous women that I admire. This season I’ve planned for 8, thirty minute interviews. I’m hoping they all accept, and I have to add one interview. Also, I will interview my co-founder and lead Principal Investigator on the Women Warriors team, Dr. Sonja Wicklum. We’ll be telling the story about how we started, our results and next steps for the 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Program.

Here are some interesting stats from last season. The most downloaded episode  – 519 individual downloads was EP01 Stephanie Harpe on Intergenerational Trauma, Healing & Advocating for MMIW. The total downloads for season 1 are 2,500. In the first 30 days of the podcast release you are in the top 10 percent if you reach 3400 individual downloads (dL). The top 1 percent of podcast have an average of 50,000 dL’s within one month. The interviews I received the most emails and feedback on were the ones with political content including EP07 Helen Knott on Accidental Activism, Politics & Healing Addiction  & EP10 Caroline Cochrane on Women in Politics, Transparency in Leadership & Affordable Housing.

My goal this coming season is to strengthen my interview skills, provide useful insights and tips surrounding healing, reach a larger audience both Indigenous and non-Indigenous as I feel this podcast is a form of reconciliation, and have some laughs!

Release date of Season 2 set for October 4th.