The Identity Olympics

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I remember reading the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2012 – I was applying for an international internship I didn’t get with the UN. No hard feelings, it probably went to someone infinitely more worthy.

But I read all of the articles in the UNDRIP, and since the announcement that the federal government would back bill C-262 – calling for Canadian law to be in harmony with UNDRIP – I’ve been thinking of a couple. Articles 6 and 9 to be more specific:

Article 6

Every indigenous individual has the right to a nationality.

Article 9

Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.

Growing up in Ottawa, you get accustomed to the energy generated by a federal election.  The colourful plastic signs in everyone’s front yard, the palpable discomfort of opposing political views trying to be civil in public spaces. All of it is so wonderfully exhausting and it happens but once every four years, like the Olympics.

I remember asking my dad, who’s usually pretty amiable, who he would be voting for – I must have been around 8 at the time – and getting back his sternest, most stubborn Mohawk-glare.

“I don’t vote in this election,” he said after a pause.

“Why?” I asked, innocently.

Because we’re Mohawk.

When I told my mom, she reacted differently. “Well, you tell your father the Mi’kmaq participate in Canadian democracy because it’s important and if the effing Conservatives get in we’re all effed.”

I’m paraphrasing, and she didn’t say “effing”, but the point I’m trying to make is that Indigenous identities can be a minefield. And that’s before we were in a time where people have become overly concerned with being politically correct.

Ian Campeau, DJ NDN, formerly of A Tribe Called Red, once said, “Existing while being Indigenous is political” – or words to that effect.

He’s not wrong, but on average the federal political career for a Liberal MP is 12 years, seven if you’re a Conservative, and less than four for an NDP MP. My political career of existing while being Indigenous is coming up on 30 years. No wonder I’m so tired and Campeau quit the band.

While I accept my political responsibilities as an Indigenous individual I think it’d be nice to vote in a Canadian election without feeling like I’m compromising the sovereignty of my people, or rooting for Team Canada in the Olympics without feeling like I’m cheering for my oppressor.

I don’t need it every day, but every once in a while it’d be nice not having an identity in conflict with itself… like, once every four years.

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