If you’re reading this, you’re probably already well aware of the walking controversy that is Joseph Boyden. At times it might seem strenuous to keep track of all the mess-ups this guy keeps getting himself into. It’s completely understandable, so to help you out, Not Your Average Indian has put together this this concise summary of why he needs to go away so we can all chill and get on with our lives.
1. Let’s All Say it Together: He’s a White Guy
Let’s not waste too much time on this one. Jorge Barrera did an excellent exposé piece for APTN thoroughly analyzing and critiquing Boyden’s claims to Indigenous identity.
Simply put, Boyden has no community. No one claims him, his ancestry is shaky to say the least, he’s transitioned through various identities and he has no ancestral or physical connection to the places he claims.
What makes him Indigenous? Apparently, somewhere down the line, someone in his family was Indigenous, possibly Nipmuc and/or Ojibwe.
Maybe that is the case, but does that make someone Indigenous? If we all go back far enough we may find various ethnic make ups that are contained in our familial genealogies. Does that give us the right to claim to be a part of those communities, without having grown up, lived, experienced or have a direct parental connection to those places?
2. He Takes Up Space
This one’s pretty straightforward. Boyden takes up space that should be focused on Indigenous voices and experiences, specifically the voices of Indigenous women. He speaks to issues that he has not experienced and acts as a representative voice of Indigenous people. He continues to be included on panels related to Indigenous issues, where he continues to receive sympathy from primarily white audiences.
He has said that he “should allow those with deeper roots in the community to speak” and that he has been “too vocal on many Indigenous issues in this country.”
What’s worrying is whether Boyden would have stepped back from this role if he had not been called out. Is he only receding from this position simply because he’s been caught? If so, his intentions are absolutely alarming.
Even more problematic is Boyden’s ability to take up space through the use of his whiteness and pandering to white audiences. His books and stories are written from a position of whiteness and take space, accolade and funds away from legitimate Indigenous authors.
3. Accountability? What Accountability?
Anyone who is Indigenous and is connected to an Indigenous community knows that you can’t just run your mouth. At some point, someone from your community is going to say, “Hey, that’s not cool, let’s talk” or, “Step down.”
Having a system of accountability in place is vital for anyone, but critically important for those in leadership positions or positions of representational power. If you step out of line, the community can collectively figure out what remedial actions are necessary or if you should even remain in your vocal position.
Unfortunately, Boyden has no community to hold him to account – to say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation.” Instead, he has critics and supporters, none of whom have communal relational connections to HIM, not to say they don’t come from a place of community.
There is no place-based Indigenous community to hold Boyden to account. He has friends and enemies, all of which he can easily disregard as they do not hold the relational power to ground him in a certain place that informs a certain way of being.
Boyden has described himself as a “nomad” transitioning between his home in New Orleans and wherever else he feels at home. But even nomads have a community that they are accountable to, that tells them when they’re messing up. If your “community” only pats you on the back and never critically engages with you, is that really a community, Boyden? Because that’s not the experience most of us have with our communities.
It’s also important to distinguish between Joseph Boyden, who has no Indigenous community claiming him, and someone forcibly removed from an Indigenous community. The latter can work on finding their way back and those communities can work on finding their lost ones. Boyden can’t do either because that Indigenous community for him does not exist.
Can he be adopted? Yes. Does that matter at the moment? No.
Also, can we start focusing our adoption ceremonies on our own and fellow POC instead of Boyden-types?
4. He Thinks Two-Spirit Means Having a Timeshare
Alright, NativeOUT defines two-spirit like this: “A Two Spirit person is a male-bodied or female-bodied person with a masculine or feminine essence. Two Spirits can cross social gender roles, gender expression, and sexual orientation.”
Furthermore, “Since Europeans arrived in the Americas, they’ve documented encounters with Two Spirit people. In many tribes, Two Spirit people were accepted and respected, but that changed with colonization. The colonizers, through forced assimilation efforts, changed acceptance into homophobia in many indigenous communities.”
Boyden, you are not two-spirited, you have never lived the experiences of two-spirited people, please stop appropriating Indigenous terms you don’t understand for you own desire to fit in.
5. He Hears “Blood Memory Voices.” WTF?
Let’s just assume for a second that Boyden isn’t trying to come off as some kind of mystical Indian who channels his stories through his ancestors who in turn validate his existence and actions.
Actually, let’s not. That’s exactly what he’s doing.
For someone with such a shaky ancestral connection to actual Indigenous experiences, it is utterly shocking that he would relate to any concept with the word “blood” and “memory” in it.
Let’s be straightforward here: Boyden gets his stories from the lived experiences of other peoples and their communities.
Mic drop. Go away Boyden.
6. Boyden Appropriates and Benefits from Indigenous Stories and Knowledge
Boyden’s stories aren’t inspired through his “channeling of the ancestors.” He appropriates voices, experiences and stories from the people he communicates with and the communities in which he immerses himself.
Boyden utilizes these stories without due credit or at times the permission of the people or communities he appropriates from. These stories then catapult Boyden into literary fame and fortune, while the communities he extracts from get absolute shit in return.
This is textbook appropriation.
All that’s different about it is Boyden’s claim that it’s all good because he himself is Indigenous.
Naw Boyden, it ain’t all good.
This is an all too familiar story for Indigenous communities. We constantly deal with extractive industries, researchers and artists who wish to use us for their own purposes of fame and glory.
To make matters worse, he uses his appropriated stories to inform and assist a Canadian agenda that seeks to relegate those communities’ current problems into the past. He subverts community and individual stories in a way that they end up doing absolutely nothing to help the communities he so selfishly extracts from.
7. He Straight-up Plagiarized
Investigative journalist Jorge Barrera, recently known for his exposé piece on Joseph Boyden, uncovered some troubling similarities between Boyden’s work and the work of Ojibwe storyteller Ron Geyshick.
By comparing various passges in Boyden’s short story, “Bearwalker” and Geyshick’s short story “Inside My Heart,” Barrera was able to demonstrate how without credit Boyden both paraphrased and plagiarized various passages from Geyshick’s story.
Boyden has attempted to defend himself by saying he “heard” this story from an elder – Xavier Bird – during his many visits to Omushkegowak territory. Bird’s family disputes this story.
8. Boyden is Dangerously Divisive
It has become apparent that the Joseph Boyden debacle has created and intensified debates and divisions within the Indigenous community. Conversations over his identity, role and place in the community have pitted academics, artists, leaders and grassroots everyday people against one another.
Some have chosen to adamantly defend him while others have chosen to simply out him.
Most recently, accalaimed Sto:lo writer Lee Maracle came to Boyden’s defense by asserting that critiques towards his identity are acts of lateral violence. This has opened the door to social media critiques aimed at Maracle herself, demonstrating how Boyden divides and pits us against one another.
He needs to go away.
9. He Openly Defended Someone Accused of Sexual Assault
In 2014, Joseph Boyden edited and released “Kwe: Standing With Our Sisters,” an anthology of works dedicated to standing up against violence towards Indigenous women.
Oddly enough, two years later Boyden would go on to write and circulate a letter defending Steven Galloway, the UBC professor who was fired amid allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and misconduct. The letter specifically called for an independent investigation into the firing of Galloway as his supporters found the process to be “unfair.”
Boyden’s letter was signed and supported by prominent Canadian authors such as Margaret Atwood. The letter demonstrates Boyden’s disregard for the voices of women in making claims of sexual assault. Pretty problematic for a man who claims to stand behind Indigenous women and advocates for an Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous women.
Boyden could do better by women, specifically Indigenous women, or better yet he could just go away.
10. Canadians Love Him!
By Canadians, it should be made clear I am speaking of non-Indigenous settlers that reside within the country now known as Canada. Canadians have demonstrated through unquestioned support their lust for Boyden and the stories he tells.
They’ve even gone to the extent of vilifying Indigenous voices that are critical of Boyden.
Why? Cause he makes Canada’s history of abuse, genocide and assimilation of Indigenous peoples easy to stomach and relegates it to a distance place or an even more distant past.
The problem here is that it lets Canadians off the hook for the ongoing realities of land dispossession, racism, white supremacy and state/societal violence against Indigenous nations.
Boyden’s books reek of reconciliation, a concept Canadians have consumed to the point of euphoria. Canadians love stories that allow them to relegate their shit to an unfortunate past – anything that makes them think about the present and themselves as somehow oppressive will garner an immediate backlash. Hence why we should continuously remain critical of those who are so well loved by Canadian audiences.
Now that you know what’s wrong with Jospeh Boyden and why he should go away, start focusing your attention and support towards legitimate Indigenous authors! Check out this thread by @KateriAkiwenzie-Damm for some great suggestions:
Edited by Sarah Boivin. Find her on Twitter @sarahboiv.