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Zabrina Whitman writes that some people who try to self-identify as Indigenous devalue people’s rights, nationhood and recognition. (NOVA SCOTIA ARCHIVES) Europeans and Western governments have worked for centuries to oppress and eliminate the Indigenous peoples of Canada. This has included tactics such as the creation of the Indian Act, residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. The continuous attempts of ethnocide throughout history are neverending. One of the most damaging impacts to our nations, our family units and to us as individuals was the creation of the “Indian.” An Indian is more than a category of people — it’s a formula. It does not recognize ethnicity, culture or the ways in which our nations define who our people are.

We have worked aggressively for changes. We have worked adamantly for recognition of our nationhood.

Society and government appear to finally be making a turn. Work is being done to publicly educate on Indigenous issues and fight against negative stereotypes. Terminology is changing, but with this change of terminology, is the mindset actually changing?

Identifying, living, and breathing

Let’s be honest. Even 20 years ago, people tried to make us feel shame for being Mi’kmaq. Then a number of court cases occurred and a new concept was introduced. This concept was “self-identification” — a necessity for recognition in the Supreme Court of Canada’s Powleydecision. This 2003 court case affirmed Métis rights and outlined a three-step test for determining if a person is Métis under section 35 of the Constitution Act. Self-identification is just one part of the test. An individual still has to be a member of a present day Métis community and have ties to the historic Métis nation. While this test is specific to Métis rights, individuals have taken this concept of self-identification and have used it incorrectly to claim Indigenousness to any tribe or nation.

With self-identification, people seem to think that all they need to do is say they are “Indigenous” and it means that they are. People seem to think that in order to be considered Indigenous, all one needs to do is prove that they had just one ancestor — at one point in time — that was a “Native” or an “Indian” and therefore they are.

Those of us who live, breathe and were born Mi’kmaq, we know that’s not the case.

In recognizing these people and validating them, it is furthering racism and continuing our oppression. It devalues our self-determination of nationhood. It continues colonialism and Eurocentric behaviour. The Mi’kmaq say, “we know who our people are,” and we will continue to say that. For us, everything links back to our family. Our concepts of belonging, identity and connection are all based and linked to who our families are. Even though we know that we have people who are non-status under the Indian Act, we still know they are Mi’kmaq. As Mi’kmaq, we accept people who are a part of our many families. There are people out there who legitimately are Mi’kmaq, and they come to us to try to reconnect. And that’s what’s important.

If you talk to anyone who is Mi’kmaq — we are proud to be who we are. We’ve endured racism. We continue to endure racism. But we have never allowed anyone to make us feel shame for who we are, and we have never hidden our identity. We always stand tall. That’s the Mi’kmaq way.

Recognition, but from who?

For people to claim they have rights in Nova Scotia, who are not Mi’kmaq and/or are not connected to our families and our communities, is an attempt to devalue our rights, our nationhood and […]

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