The Waiting Room
August 9, 2018 9:16 AM   Subscribe

First Nations people don’t believe in crossing the border, but the imaginary boundaries we’re forced to move between can create very real divides.

“What is this?” he asks, holding up my status card.

“My status card,” I say.

“I’ve never seen one of these before. You could have made this yourself.”
posted by poffin boffin (31 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
This is great, thank you for sharing it.
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:34 AM on August 9, 2018

What an "Indian Status" card looks like. In practice, most look much like any other piece of government-issued ID.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 AM on August 9, 2018

Borders are immoral.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:43 AM on August 9, 2018 [13 favorites]

nb my posts this past week are generally in recognition of today's international indigenous people's day
posted by poffin boffin at 9:52 AM on August 9, 2018 [28 favorites]

poffin boffin, thank you for these posts. I am sorry it took me moving to another country to discover, learn, and champion First Nations issues, but I am here now and ready to listen and give help when asked.
posted by Kitteh at 9:56 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The whole “you look too pale to be First Nations” works the other way; when I go to Pow Wows the default assumption is that everyone you talk to identifies as First Nations, so there is no being rude to someone for looking white. (Behaviour is another thing, being disrespectful to anyone, regardless of how you identify is addressed through restorative justice. And two-spirited or trans are accepted into dancing in the gender circles of their choice.). Thanks for the post poffin!
posted by saucysault at 10:41 AM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have been loving these posts, poffin boffin. Thank you!

This was a terrific piece. I had not read it before, but now that I have, I'll be including it as a companion piece to Thomas King's short story "Borders" in my indigenous literature courses this year. If you get a chance to read that story, do--it's about a Blackfoot mother and son trying to cross from Alberta to Montana who are stuck in border purgatory when the mom declares her citizenship as Blackfoot and refuses to say "Canadian." It's funny, poignant, and beautifully written.

When I teach it, I show the students a map of the Canada/US border, then superimpose a map of Blackfoot territory over it. The colonizers' border bisects the traditional territory. It's a stark visual.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:44 AM on August 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

thanks again for goodposts. i have heard people say "the border crossed us" which i understood intellectually but i keep getting my mind blown about the many dumbass indignities colonizer government visits on indigenous people.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 10:54 AM on August 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

There is another recent excellent ndn lit post on the same site but I can't find it at the moment as searching is making my phone alarmingly hot.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:57 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is another recent excellent ndn lit post on the same site but I can't find it at the moment as searching is making my phone alarmingly hot.

This one by Billy-Ray Belcourt?
posted by ITheCosmos at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2018

Great article, but author misuses TSA identifier. Should be customs/ ICE throughout the article. TSA are rent-a-cops checking the luggage, customs officials have power to allow/ deny entry.
posted by zeikka at 11:25 AM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a wonderful article, thank you.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:31 AM on August 9, 2018

"Borders are immoral."

If there were no borders, there would be no places of refuge, either.
posted by Lunaloon at 11:59 AM on August 9, 2018

I'm just now reading David Treuer's "Rez Life." He's also "pale skinned" and also Ojibwe. It's a fascinating, frustrating, and pretty uplifting read, if you're looking for more on what modern Indian life looks like, especially on reservations.
posted by heyitsgogi at 12:05 PM on August 9, 2018

> If there were no borders, there would be no places of refuge, either.

So the culture that this post is about, which did not have borders, had no places of refuge?
posted by Space Coyote at 12:10 PM on August 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also: in terms of being Latino/Mex/anything else white people don't recognize, I'd like to bring up that telling me "wow, you don't look Mexican/Hispanic!" is NOT the compliment you seem to think it is.

Sorry for the derail but as I don't have a very ethnic name, I do have cousins who are light-skinned who do have ethnic names and the shit they get is infuriating. ("Wow, you're really Mexican?? I mean, you look white!") I just get it when people find out my mom is 2nd gen Mexican who had to learn ESL as a kid, got beaten up for being poor, and was generally considered my nanny when I was a baby.

First Nations folks are the same in that they can be as diverse. Stop fucking policing them.
posted by Kitteh at 12:21 PM on August 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

This one by Billy-Ray Belcourt?

YES that one, so good
posted by poffin boffin at 1:07 PM on August 9, 2018

"You said you’re Ojibwe?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say.

“Interesting,” he pauses. “I thought your people were all dead.”

Jesus fucking christ, how are people who would ever think it okay to say that to someone formed? The whole article was maddening but that was he back-breaker for me. I want an opportunity to just mouth off at this goon, or goons, what pieces of shit people.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:14 PM on August 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

If there were no borders, there would be no places of refuge, either.

There are, in fact, no places of refuge. There are just people who choose to provide refuge to other people, and people who choose not to.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:51 PM on August 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

A lot of people don't take the "nations" part of first nations seriously enough. Maybe in part because they're nations without official borders.

"How come they don't pay (Canadian) taxes?"

"Why don't they have to follow Canadian (hunting/fishing/whatever) laws?"

"They've got this status just because of who their parents were?"

They wouldn't be asking these about nations with proper lines on a map.
posted by RobotHero at 4:32 PM on August 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

I find it hilarious that people within Canada struggle with “Nations” (both Quebec and First) when they have ZERO problem understanding how Wales is a Nation, but also a member of the UK. Or that Cockney don’t have a defined geography (there are areas they tended to settle, but it wasn’t their’s exclusively, and they also lived elsewhere), but have a defined identity regardless, or that Geordies cross the Scottish/English border and keep their identity on both sides of the imaginary lines. And don’t even get me started on how you can be “Irish” from relatives who last saw the Emerald Isle in the 1800’s but “First Nations” requires a blood quantum, documentation, and proved lineage. It seems like half of Canada lives in Toronto when you ask them, but dive deeper and you find they are really from north of Bloor, or Parkdale, or Scarborough, or Maple, or Barrie ...

Borders and identity are really funny things; the cognitive dissonance is remarkable.
posted by saucysault at 5:54 PM on August 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wait, north of Bloor doesn’t count as Toronto? Or Parkdale? Why on earth not? (Apologies for the derail, I loved this article)
posted by Valancy Rachel at 7:01 PM on August 9, 2018

Just to be clear, First Nations are one of three aboriginal peoples in Canada, the other two being Inuit and Métis. This is commonly misunderstood.

Also great link, and thank you for this series.
posted by jeather at 7:55 PM on August 9, 2018

I recently visited the Nisga'a Nation, in Northwestern British Columbia. It was very cool--we were able to get a personal tour of the legislative building in Gitlax'tamiks (New Aiyansh) and learn about the nation's history. It is an amazing and hopeful place, literally one of a kind. From the Nisga'a Nation website:
The Nisga’a Final Agreement is British Columbia’s first modern treaty. A landmark in the relationship between Canada and its Aboriginal peoples, the Treaty came into effect on May 11, 2000, marking the end of a 113-year journey — and the first steps in a new direction. On that date, the Indian Act ceased to apply to Nisga’a people.

The Nisga’a Final Agreement is the first treaty in British Columbia to provide constitutional certainty in respect of an Aboriginal people’s Section 35 right to self-government.
Last year I had a Nisga'a student who gave the class a presentation on his nation and the landmark treaty. He explained he didn't have a status card, which kind of blew the minds of my other First Nations students, and showed them all his citizenship card. He was (rightly) very, very proud of his nation, and I saw this pride in the people I met when I was there visiting. When you begin removing the shackles of colonization, healing and growth can start, and people flourish.

(They are currently developing plans to encourage more tourism, and I am thrilled that more of my fellow Canadians might visit there and learn more about the place. If you ever get the opportunity, go! It's gorgeous, the people are welcoming and friendly, and they are more than happy to share their culture.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:45 AM on August 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Wait, north of Bloor doesn’t count as Toronto? Or Parkdale? Why on earth not?

Because some people insist on the definition of "Toronto" as being from the 1800's before they annexed the suburbs like the Annex or Yorkville. It is about creating in-groups and out-groups, based on imaginary borders and the perceived ownership of who is a "real" Torontian.
posted by saucysault at 3:26 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

“So you’re Native American, but from Canada?” he asks, taking a seat behind his desk, which sits on a raised platform like a pedestal.

“I’m First Nations, which is like Native-Canadian,” I say.

“If you’re Canadian, how do you live in America without a work visa?”

“I work in New York with my Native status card, through the Jay Treaty. I also have a Social Security number, and a letter from my company confirming I’m a legal resident.”

He tells me that I will need secondary security clearance before I can enter the U.S. This isn’t the first time. I quickly realize I’m not being barred entry for suspicious activity. I’m no terrorism threat. I’m being detained because—along with a recurring unfamiliarity with First Nations rights—the border patrol doesn’t believe I “look Native” enough to fit the profile, and they will need to further confirm my identity before I’m released.

I begin handing over the usual list of additional documents—a birth certificate, my social security card, proof of employment—while the TSA officer continues to stare at me. I pause and catch his gaze.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’ve never seen an Indian so pale.”

Among a lot of other things, this brought to mind Tom King's discussion of "Dead Indians, Live Indians, and Legal Indians" in his book The Inconvenient Indian. Part of that chapter is conveniently excerpted on Hazlitt as Dead Indians: Too Heavy to Lift:

Indians come in all sorts of social and historical configurations. North American popular culture is littered with savage, noble, and dying Indians, while in real life we have Dead Indians, Live Indians, and Legal Indians.

Dead Indians are, sometimes, just that. Dead Indians. But the Dead Indians I’m talking about are not the deceased sort. Nor are they all that inconvenient. They are the stereotypes and clichés that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears. North America has had a long association with Native people, but despite the history that the two groups have shared, North America no longer
sees Indians.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:08 AM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

How does the blood quantum thing work? Would the author's kids be unable to enter the US under the treaty if their other parent weren't 100% quantum? If it turned out that their g-g-g-grandparent were actually French, making the author around 47% quantum, would they suddenly lose their own right to enter?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:28 PM on August 11, 2018

Blood quantum's a hugely problematic thing, yeah. The US has been using it to try to disenroll tribal members.

The Difficult Math Of Being Native American
Here's how it works: Track down a tribal census document from the 1800s. Assume every person listed was a certified, "full-blooded" Indian and do the math from there. Choose an arbitrary fraction to serve as your citizenship cut-off. And if anyone's personal fraction happens to fall below that standard, they're out of luck. Traditional or not, blood quantum is the law of the land. You either buy in or you die out. Just another colonial reality we have little choice but to participate in...

It's odd to think about high school-aged me, on the lookout for an Indian baby daddy. Especially because, even now, I'm not sure if motherhood is something I want for myself. But at 14 and 15, I was meeting Native boys on the powwow circuit and running equations in my head. How much Indian "blood" did he have? What kind? Did his fraction plus mine equal legitimate tribal citizenship for our offspring? Would his brown skin and high cheekbones survive the wild labyrinth of our genes so that my babies might not have to fight to be seen as Indigenous?

On the phone, my friend tells me that her current beau checks most of these boxes. They've only been together for two months, but she's done the math. (1/4 + 5/8) ÷ 2 = 7/16 and just like that, their babies will be Indian enough. The hard part is over. All that's left to do is fall in love and stay there.

Here's the thing about blood quantum: it's not real. It has no basis in biology or genetics or any Indigenous tradition I'm aware of. It's a colonial invention designed to breed us out of existence. But it's got all these smart people—traditionalists, university students, Indigenous language revitalists—running around doing mental math, convinced it's our best shot at keeping our cultures alive.
posted by lazuli at 8:33 PM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's a colonial invention designed to breed us out of existence.

Indeed; and my brief review of the treaty doesn't seem to justify it. Here's what seems to be the US State Department position: documentation from a tribe saying that the applicant is "at least 50% American Indian blood." These are inconsistent demands; and the US government's use of expression "Indian blood" is chillingly eugenic and colonialist.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:55 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I understand that in relatively recent times Australia moved to a definition for Australian Aboriginals that is descent (without specifying percentage) plus recognition by an Aboriginal community. That seems like a much better system.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Australian Law Reform Commission has a very good roundup of approaches to defining Australian indigeneity for legal purposes: Legal definitions of Aboriginality. I'm pleased to see that the concern seems to mostly be "how shall we do what is right?" rather than "how can we avoid blame for doing wrong?"

That being said, this discussion is at a pretty rarified level: I understand that local police have little difficulty in identifying Aboriginality for the purposes of, e.g., arresting kids and abandoning them in the bush to walk home.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:34 PM on August 18, 2018

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