This story has been circulating around now for a couple days. Especially within the Algonquin community. Being Algonquin and Muslim I have been asked a few times as to what I think about this. Well, here it goes.
To start, this is simply bad journalism. From the larger outlets like the National Post to the smaller gems who I was surprised to see push this story as well “cough APTN cough”. What exactly does their claim to be Algonquin have to do with their terrorism related charges? Absolutely nothing. Luckily most people who I have spoken to about this agree. Its an obvious attempt to create even more hysteria and fear among the Canadian populace. If most people I have spoken to know this then whats the issue here?
Well the issue is the ridiculous responses from Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks regarding these boys claims to their supposed Algonquin identity. The amount of crappy things I have heard over the past few days with regards to this story has honestly been disheartening and needs to stop.
First, for all the haters out there. Physical appearance is not a determinant of whether or not you are Indigenous. So lets just get that clear. Yes these boys have beards. No that does not mean they can’t possibly be Indigenous. Side note, the court artist made these boys look way more middle eastern then they actually do.
Second, being muslim does not mean someone cannot be Indigenous. Refusing to smudge as these boys have done, does not mean someone cannot be Indigenous (another side note, most Muslims would not have an issue with smudging). With that logic it could be argued that the die hard catholics in our Indigenous communities are not Indigenous. We all know where this is going, its a slippery slope people. Religion and race are not the same thing. You can choose to believe in whatever god you want to believe in and still retain your racial identity. I really want to emphasize how ridiculous it is that APTN’s coverage of this chose to end by reiterating that these boys refuse to smudge. As if thats the catalyst for being Indigenous.
Third, being labelled a terrorist does not mean you’re not Indigenous. I have heard this the most. “Theres no way they can be Algonquin, they’re Muslim terrorists, it doesn’t work”. HEAD SMASH ON TABLE. This is a common rhetoric that needs to end. The angelicizing (made that word up) of our people does more harm then good. Bad Indigenous people do exist. Its a reality. Just like its a reality in every culture and race around the world. Being bad or evil does not suddenly remove your racial identification. It can remove your community identity, but not your race. So terrorists, murderers, and drug dealers who claim to be Indigenous are not suddenly removed from being Indigenous because we don’t like their actions. We can remove them from the community but we cannot tell them not to identify with whatever they choose to identify with.
Fourth, when we examine the claims they are making there is some merit to their claims but there is also a whole lot to critique. To start, they lived in Vanier (for those who don’t know Ottawa, Vanier is a highly concentrated Indigenous neighbourhood). Second, they went to Rideau High (a high school with a high concentration of Indigenous students, where they probably encountered a lot of Indigenous students and may have felt accepted). Lastly, there grandmother who is pushing the claim carries the last name Brennan. Those who know Algonquin families, know that a legitimate Algonquin Brennan family does exist. With all that being said it is highly plausible that their is some legitimacy to their claims.
The two main critiques that I have heard most are that they do not know what community they are from and that this identity claim is just so that they can claim Gladue. This is a big issue for me as I feel like you can claim to be whatever you want to be, but if you want to claim a connection to a people and reap the benefits of that connection then I would argue you must be an accepted member of that community. Yet, we must all remember that many Indigenous people do not have a connection to their specific communities which is not the fault of the individual but as a result of the historical atrocities committed towards us. So can we really judge? I am not sure we can.
The second critique I have heard is, “they’re just using the status thing to claim Gladue”. For those who don’t know, Gladue refers to a court decision that basically states that one’s Aboriginal ancestry must be taking into account when sentencing for a crime. Its basically a method to apply restorative justice principles when dealing with Indigenous offenders. Knowing this and studying up a bit on Gladue, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t think Gladue will be applied to this case. First off, their identity claims are not solidified and AANDC is not going to rush the process just for these boys. Next, I don’t see how they will be able to explain how the effects of being Aboriginal has translated to them wanting to fight with ISIS. It doesn’t really add up. Also, in a time when we are probably going to see a lot more terrorist related offences it does not make a whole lot of sense for a Judge to set this type of precedence in relation to these types of charges. Finally, no body knows exactly how long these boys have been attempting to gain status. The current trend in discussion is the assumption that they just up and decided this while in custody. We can’t just make assumptions when discussing race and identity. So stop.
I want to end this piece by reiterating that I am not in support of these young men whatsoever. My issue with this story is not the charges being brought up against them, rather the types of discussions that are happening with regards to their race and religion which I feel have been happening in a negative way. We must remember that the charges these boys are facing does not determine what they can and cannot identify as.