10 Reasons Why Joseph Boyden is a Problem and Should Go Away

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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.

Also this:

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.

Go away.

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:

Follow the author of Not Your Average Indian on Twitter @shadyhfz and Instagram @shadfez.

Edited by Sarah Boivin. Find her on Twitter @sarahboiv.

Fake Feathered Chiefs — Lets Talk.

David Guetta recently released an advertisement for one of his world renowned parties. His video features a slew of Indigenous misrepresentations and appropriations that have angered many Indigenous people, including myself.

Unfortunately, it seems that Guetta has been hiding in a cave somewhere producing his music because he has not received the memo that appropriating Indigenous culture simply is not cool anymore. Unlike Guetta, many people in the music industry are beginning to understand that this type of behaviour is pretty absurd and as a result we have seen music festivals the world over banning the wearing of headdresses by those attending the festivals.

Now while this whole Guetta situation frustrates and angers me, I am going to choose to address another related issue with the headdress that hits a little closer to home. Before I dive into it, let me just say that I am not trying to shift the conversation away from appropriation, rather I have always felt that there are many who are doing work addressing this type of appropriation and I have always felt strongly that we need to address issues inside our communities just as much as we address that happen outside our communities.

My issue is something that is sometimes talked about–but not really. It is always shrugged off as an issue of non-importance. However, to me, I feel as though if we are to tell the world to respect our culture (which includes our art forms, clothing and spirituality) then we must do the same. I have to say some of us, more specifically our “leaders”, have been doing a rough job at this. This issue is actually quite specific as well since it seems to happen among a select group of Individuals.

The issue is this: chiefs either wearing headdresses composed of fake feathers or chiefs from regions that never traditionally wore headdresses choosing to wear them as a symbol of their status. The double whammy is when you have a chief from a region that never wore headdresses choosing to wear one that is composed of fake feathers. Palm-in-face moment when I see that.

2013-08-20-08-39-30-chiefs

Example of First Nation Chiefs wearing fake feathered headdresses.

I will start this discussion by addressing the fake headdresses first. I simply do not understand why leaders would make this decision. I have seen first-hand chiefs marching with us during the many rallies I have attended only to notice the fact that their headdresses were made from cheap black and white dollar store feathers. Now I am not saying all are doing this. Far from it. Many leaders respect what the feathers and the headdress means to their people. However, to the ones who are doing this, I ask you, why? What’s the value? What’s the significance in wearing fake feathers? I feel as though these leaders either do not value the importance of eagle feathers or feel as though symbolizing their status as chiefs is more important then respecting and honouring the importance of feathers. So here it goes, I am going to say it: there is no difference between the bonnet that joe shmo wears at some EDM festival and the dollar store feathers I have seen on some chiefs’ bonnets.

They both hold little value as the feathers themselves are what represents the importance of the bonnet, not the wearer.

Chiefs come and go, however the power and spirit of those feathers lasts forever . It has literally become a status symbol to some leaders and I strongly believe this needs to be called out. The next time you see a chief wearing a fake bonnet ask them, “hey, tell me the story behind those feathers? I for one have little-to-no patience for photo-op Indians and I have strongly feel as though some leaders view the bonnet as just that a photo opportunity to showcase their chiefness to the world.

Now the second issue I spoke about was that leaders from regions that traditionally did not wear bonnets are choosing to wear them. This issue is a little more contentious and controversial. Mostly because many nations, especially in the eastern provinces, had our cultures immersed, mixed, and sometimes disintegrated by earlier contact with Europeans. Therefore, during times of culture revitalization throughout history, the war bonnet became a symbol of Indianness. Therefore, for some, the symbol (the bonnet) may be all they know about their own culture. However, that being said, many of us do know.

I believe a greater revitalization is currently happening. One that sees various nations breaking through the shackles of pan-Indianism and learning more about their own distinct cultures as distinct nations. This also means that people are beginning to represent that distinctiveness more prevalently. We see leaders who in the past may have worn war bonnets choosing to wear their own traditional head adornments instead.

Chief Isadore Day

Chief Isadore Day wearing an Anishinabe feather cap.

This was evident with Chief Atleo who would often wear his peoples traditional hat or with Chief Isadore Day who chooses to wear a traditional Anishinabe feather cap.

Therefore, for those leaders who simply are not catching on. You no longer have to look like a plains Indian to be an Indian.

Embrace your people. Embrace your distinctiveness and rock it with pride.

RCMP: 70% of Murdered Indigenous Women Killed By Indigenous Men – Misleading and Dangerous Statistic

The RCMP has just released some new statistics that aim to broaden the level of information we have about murdered and missing Indigenous women. Oddly enough this release comes amid calls for the resignation of the current Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Bernard Valcourt. 

Before I begin with this article, I would like to remind the readers that these are real women. They are not faceless statistics. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties and grandmothers. They are our friends, our cousins and our family. Therefore, when discussing this issue we must always remember that they are not just some statistic to be thrown around aimlessly. 

Here is a photo of two friends of mine, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander who have been missing for 7 years. These women are daughters, friends and family. They are real people and not just some statistic. Hopefully this can remind us and remind my self to keep this conversation respectful for both the women and their families. 

maisy and shannon

This new information released by the RCMP reports that 70% of murdered Indigenous women are killed by Indigenous men. At face value this statistic is very troubling. As it shifts blame back onto Indigenous communities. Specifically Indigenous men. This stifles any effort that Indigenous leaders are putting into having a national inquiry. The argument I am sure will be presented by the Minister that taxpayers should not front a bill for a national inquiry when this is “obviously” an issue we Indigenous people have created for ourselves. Luckily, some of us in this world know better than to take things at face value. Unlike news agencies like the National Post who feel as though spreading statistics without any qualitative data is helpful. It’s odd that I am again dealing with the National Post when it comes to bad journalism. However, many outlets are pushing this story as though the statistic is plain and simple. Well it’s not. This article will show how this 70% statistic is misleading and why an inquiry is necessary to prevent misinformation like this from capturing Canadian audiences. 

For this analysis we are going to use the same statistics given to us by the RCMP in 2014: 

missing-eng

I will begin by highlighting that Indigenous women in Canada make up 4.3% of the female population. Yet, represent 16% of all female murders on record and 5% of all murders in Canada. The current number that the RCMP has disclosed regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women is 1,181. With 1,017 being murdered which is not a number to be taken lightly and 184 missing. With that being said those numbers are debated among some. As some have argued the number goes well over 1, 200 women.

Now one issue here is that many including the RCMP and the Federal government will now assume that this 70% statistic is a clear-cut marker of the problem. The problem with that is that this statistic only represents the solved cases of murdered Indigenous women. It does not address the unsolved cases and it does not address the cases of missing women. Some of whom may be declared dead, yet not murdered. Meaning we have 225 unresolved cases if not more that we know nothing about in relation to whom the perpetrator is. This is probably the biggest issue with how this statistic is being presented. Since the way the statistic is worded is as if all murdered and missing Indigenous women are being taken from us by Indigenous men. However, this is not the case. What the RCMP is really saying is 70% of murdered Indigenous women, who are murdered by men and the murders are solved; are committed by Indigenous men. We discussed that there is disagreement over the actual numbers being presented to us about how many women have been actually murdered and are missing. This means we cannot take this statistic as pure factual evidence. Rather, its more of a guesstimate. Based on a guesstimate of how many women have actually been murdered. 

It is important to know that these statistics do not include numbers of unreported missing women. Nor does it include the numbers where cause of death has yet to be determined. 

The RCMP made another significant statistical error when releasing these numbers. Which is they made it seem as though 100% of cases involving murdered Indigenous women are committed by men. However, as their same statistical report from last year tells us; 89% of murdered Indigenous women are murdered by men, leaving a margin of 11% of murders being committed by women. Now I am not trying to shift blame here. Rather trying to show that the 11% which the RCMP failed to add to their 70% statistic would have had a skewing effect on the numbers they released. Since they claimed that the perpetrators are men and are 70% Aboriginal, 25% non-Aboriginal and 5% unknown ethnicity, whatever that means. This comes up to 100%. See how this becomes a misleading stat? 

Another issue here is that the RCMP chose to specify the ethnicity of Aboriginal perpetrators while leaving every other ethnicity out of the picture. 25% non-Aboriginal, does that mean caucasian or black? Furthermore, what does unknown ethnicity mean exactly? I would also beg to ask the question of how they determined the Aboriginal ethnicity of 70% of the offenders while obviously being unable to determine who the non-Aboriginals are and who the other perpetrators are exactly. Were all the Aboriginal perpetrators card-carrying status Indians or did they self identify when arrested?

This identity issue leads us into another issue. The Federal government has power over who can be called an Aboriginal or not. They also oversee RCMP operations. So the question becomes what criteria has the Federal government put on the RCMP is determining the ethnicity of offenders. If someone identifies as Aboriginal at the police station do we just automatically say okay and mark that section off? This is a huge issue which of course could skew the numbers again. 

Finally, to really understand the systemic problem here we have to examine where the RCMP is truly failing Indigenous women. That is on the streets. As only 60% of sex trade related deaths are solved. This 70% statistic makes it seem as though Indigenous men would be committing these crimes as well. However, as a study done by the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (IJO) has shown; white men are more likely to partake in prostitution. Furthermore, a study done by the non-profit Prostitution Research and Education; has shown that 21% of males who partake in these activities do so because of racial or sexual stereotypes associated with the women they are exploiting. So if we want to analyze statistics, it could be argued that the driving force behind the sex trade in Canada is white men, who are playing out ideals of sexual stereotypes of Indigenous women. Furthermore, it is often these women who are forgotten. It is often these women whose deaths and disappearances will not be reported, as we saw in the Pickton trial. What this all means is that there is a huge gap in the statistics which are complied and presented to the public by the RCMP. That gap is in relation to prostitution and the systemic issues surrounding that part of our society. I would be very confident in saying that excluding a detailed analysis of women who are murdered while in the sex trade would of course mostly implicate Indigenous men. Since excluding a discussion around that excludes the countless number of white men who may be implicit in the sexualization of Indigenous women and in the unresolved or unreported cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. More importantly the women forgotten in this case are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. 

All in all this article has attempted to show that statistics cannot be taken at face value. They must be analyzed and examined, hence why an inquiry is necessary. Without proper examination of the statistics given to us, these statistics will cause more harm than good. Therefore, an inquiry where all of these issues are discussed and presented will give us a full and detailed insight into the biggest social problem in Canada. 

But, let’s not play fools here. Bernard Valcourt needed data to back his claims that we Indigenous men are the real monsters here, especially amid calls for his resignation. He needed to show that it’s not Canada’s problem, it’s an Indian problem. Therefore, a miraculous statistic showed up to back his claims. The nature of how this statistic came to be must be questioned in that RCMP broke protocol to protect the credibility of a politician. That, in and of itself, is an issue that must be questioned and examined to better determine how and where this statistic came from. 

Whatever the numbers may be, Indigenous men are involved at some level with the disappearances and murder of Indigenous women. We as Indigenous men need to address that and take some responsibility on some level with regards to that. However, it is not as simple as some like Bernard Valcourt would make it out to be. Many systemic and social issues exist as a direct result of colonization. These issues have perpetuated violence in Indigenous communities and cannot be simply dumbed down to simple concepts like a lack of respect for Indigenous women by Indigenous men as Bernard Valcourt claimed. Althought, that may exist in some situations which does need to be addressed. We cannot sweep these things under the rug because its too hard to deal with our own implications towards our mutual suffering. Addressing these things will help. We need to start looking in as well as out. 

Regardless, none of what I have just said should affect the general discussions and actions taken to prevent Indigenous women from coming into harms way. Whether or not Indigenous men are truly to blame does not matter at the end of the day. These women’s lives matter and must be the first priority. Therefore, let us not let this cloud the reality that Indigenous women are dying at the hands of men. White, black, yellow, brown – all still men. At its core, men are the problem. Therefore, it is an issue needs to be tackled and the blame need be on all men. Not on certain types of men as was done in the south during an era of immense racism, which saw black men become sexual monsters that white women should be afraid of. Is that where Canada is headed? Are we going to sexualize Indigenous women and make monsters out of Indigenous men? I hope not. Yet we may already be in that period.