What does being Indigenous really mean?

Author Joseph Boyden recently faced accusations that he has faked his Indigenous identity. The controversy sparked a wildfire of opinions across the country and has people asking: what does Indigenous really mean? Unreserved invited three people with very different viewpoints to discuss who and how we belong.
Accusations that author Joseph Boyden has faked his Indigenous identity has sparked a wildfire of opinions across the country and has people asking: What does being Indigenous really mean? (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

The controversy around author Joseph Boyden's identity erupted just before Christmas. A news story by Jorge Barrera of the Aboriginal Peoples' Television Network could find 'no proof' of his claims to being Indigenous.

Over the years, Boyden has referred to himself as Métis, Wendat, Mi'kmaq, Nipmuc and various other nations.

He was a guest on Unreserved in 2015 and described his heritage as being Irish with Nipmuc blood from the 1860s on his father's side, and Anishinaabe and Scottish on his mother's — although he said they never spoke about her Anishinaabe heritage. 

Since then the conversation has deepened and we as Indigenous peoples started looking at how we define nationhood. Unreserved invited three people to be part of a panel discussion. They each have very different and passionate viewpoints on who and how we belong.

Host Rosanna Deeerchild asked them: What does nationhood mean to you in the sense of your own culture?

Columpa Bobb (Facebook )

"On my mother's side, I am from Tsleil-Waututh, "The People of the Inlet." And my father's folks are Nuu-chah-nulth. But we were relocated into Stó:lō territory, a number of us. The hope was because we were dependent on fishing places, we would kill each other off. That didn't happen and the Stó:lō accepted us and took us in. So I say I'm Stó:lō out of gratitude for that nation taking in my Nuu-chah-nulth ancestors. So for me nationhood is about law and governance of its citizenry." — Columpa Bobb is a producer and actor. She is Stó:lō from Coast Salish unceded territory in B.C., but is currently living on Treaty One Territory in Winnipeg.

William Dumont (Erica Daniels/CBC)

"The Métis were born out of two very different cultures and neither of them were keen on taking us in once we started to develop our own identity. We are a separate, different nation and that is what largely the Métis have struggled for, to establish that fact that we are our own nation. And I think that is how you define being Métis, is just knowing that is what makes you separate from both the First Nations and the settler traditions." — William Dumont just finished a commerce and marketing program at Red River College. He is a Métis man, who also lives on Treaty One territory.

Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm (Portage and Main Press)

"For me nationhood is something that would be defined by individual nations themselves. Their own sense of governance and how they define themselves, how they consider citizenship or membership in their nations or communities."  —  Author and educator Kateri Akiwenzie Damm is from Chippewas of Nawash and Saugeen Ojibway Nation in Ontario.

To hear the full conversation click the Listen button above.