APTN's Unofficial Pretendian List

APTN host leaks flawed research meant to defame Métis singer Iskwē. Host unceremoniously exits APTN a week later.

Update Jan 20 2023: Iskwe has shared on Facebook a photo of her expired Manitoba Metis Federation and an MMF letter dated Jan 18 2023 confirming her current citizenship.

APTN has an unofficial 'pretendian list' and it's being used against at least one Métis who didn't renew their citizenship card.

Beginning September 25th 2022, a collection of social media accounts run (quasi-anonymously) by Mitzi Brown, a 60s scoop survivor, began accusing a musician of being a "pretendian" and "race shifter". Three days later, the account shared an "exclusive" letter ostensibly from Manitoba Métis Federation stating that the musician Iskwē (legal name Meghan Meisters) was not an MMF citizen. This letter, which turned out to be addressed to APTN Investigates host Melissa Ridgen, was presented as smoking gun evidence of fraud but the “exclusive” letter contained misleading errors. The letter was released a day after Melissa contacted the @Raceshifters account asking for their email contact.

“Exclusive” letter. Kat Patenaude, Media Relations Adviser Manitoba Métis Federation letter to Melissa Ridgen APTN. Composite image sources: @Raceshifters Twitter and Jade Turner Music TikTok

Melissa Ridgen unceremoniously exited APTN October 4th 2022 with a haphazardly recorded 15 second exit farewell just over a week after the accusations began. ‘Was she pressured to leave?’ Remains an open question.

Days before the departure, Meghan’s qualification for MMF citizenship was confirmed by Gail Morin, a well-regarded researcher of Métis genealogy, in a private Facebook group for Métis Families. The genealogy shared below is incomplete (blank might be Indigenous — females mostly) but what is shown would be sufficient for MMF citizenship.

Meghan Meisters incomplete genealogy shared with the description “Meghan Meisters’ great-grandmother. Yes, she is Metis. Anyone who wishes, may save this tree and post it anywhere necessary.” Gail in the comments wrote “it took me all of a couple of minutes to unexposed Meghan.”

Update Oct 8th 2022: A reader / professional genealogist has shared a preliminary version of Catherine Lyons’ tree extended a generation showing minimum 12 of 32 ancestors with First Nations origins (Cree, Saulteaux [Ojibwe], Mohawk as well some of unnamed origins). I will link to details when published.

Update #2 Oct 19th 2022: Gail Morin has added written details about missing ancestors describing Catherine Lyons as “1/2" First Nations ancestry. Catherine is listed as “Cree English [Half-]B[reed]” in 1901 Canadian Census.

Update #3 Nov 21st 2022: According to a 1953 interview in the Winnipeg Tribune: Alice Margaret McKenzie, iskwe’s gg-grandmother, spoke Cree. “I spoke Cree when I came here — now there’s nobody to speak it to,” she told the paper.

There's a lot to unpack in all this.

Who is Mitzi Brown?

Mitzi has linked to her full name at least twice to the account @WokeIndigenous. Mitzi says she was "stolen” by a white family as part of the 60s scoop. These forced adoptions were one of Canada's more pernicious assimilation practices and adoptees now identify as survivors. The assimilation has caused thousands of people to be socially rejected from both Canada's white supremacist society (not white enough) and some Métis/First Nation/Inuit communities (too culturally white). Mitzi was separated from her biological siblings who, she says her white family did not find "cute” enough to adopt. Her biological sister went to another family and her brother was bounced around foster care.

Mitzi is very clearly a visible minority and talks at length about the racism and rejection she received not only from Canadian society at large but also from her adoptive parents and extended family.

This is not Mitzi’s first go at publishing. Back in 2008, Mitzi Brown ran the Toronto Aboriginal Directory and previously published the Native Career Magazine. Now she runs the Raceshifters website (quasi-anonymously since no authors are officially listed).

The quasi-anonymous social media handles run by Mitzi are:

  • @WokeIndigenous in Twitter and Instagram
  • @Raceshifters on Twitter and Instagram
  • @TorontoPost on Twitter and Facebook (UPDATE Dec 3rd: This account denies being run by Mitzi but posts videos narrated by Mitzi. On further consideration, there are enough reasons to doubt they are not the same person.)

Mitzi, using these three accounts, put singer-songwriter Iskwē on blast editorialising away any subtitles in the letter, claiming she never had MMF citizenship and neither does anyone bearing the name “Meisters”.

“Meisters” surname is not the name of Meghan’s Irish biological father which would have been on the birth certificate required for MMF application. Her birth name is not public. Neither are relevant because the Métis lineage is through her mother. Although having been proven wrong multiple times, Mitzi has not backed down. Even after posting Gail Morin’s genealogy, Mitzi pivoted to the suggestion that Meghan paid Gail to “find an ancestor” and dismissed all Métis organizations who practice lineal descent as “messed up”. Jus sangunis (By Blood) citizenship is practice by Canada, USA and roughly half of United Nations countries.

One can be a victim of colonial violence and a perpetrator of untruths. Both can be true.

Politics of a Lapsed MMF Citizenship

Iskwē announced on Facebook in March 2021 that she would be letting her citizenship lapse. "I believe I am more than a colonial numbering system that was put upon us by the Government of Canada, which is why I have opted so far not to renew my membership card, as I do not believe my identity, my ethnicity nor my culture expires after five years."

Calling the MMF "a colonial numbering system" is a bit of a political firecracker. The MMF sees itself as an Indigenous government, not a colonial one but is dependent on colonial funding and is subject to indirect control. The MMF is also facing a legitimacy crisis. According to the 2021 Census: there are more people who qualify for membership but don’t have it than do. There are also more people identifying as Métis outside the Historic Métis Nation borders than within. The democratic reality is that Métis peoples are more of a diaspora which places the political legitimacy in crisis mode. A widely shared political statement –like Meghan’s– would not be taken kindly.

There are also factions within the MMF who wish to continue as a predominantly Roman Catholic organization. Iskwē however, as many Indigenous people have begun to do, is to re-adopt their ancestors' cosmologies and merge or replace their Christian ones. Iskwē's public identification with Sky Woman may be seen by some as an affront to a Christian God. In the 5-part definition put forth by the Métis National Council, it says Métis are "Distinct from other Aboriginal Peoples" meaning a drift towards Cree cosmology presents a shift away from the Métis definition.

There is also a fine line between cultural re-appropriation and appropriation. The government of Canada outlawed Indigenous cultural practices, objects and gatherings and so when ‘palefaces’ adopt them there can be a collective eye-roll. Also, many Indigenous religions and cultural practices are not prothletising or crusading; they are location specific and their sacred knowledge is kept secret.

MMF Letter to APTN is Leaked

It is my opinion that the MMF's letter to APTN was intended to reduce Meghan's credibility and visibility among Indigenous movers and shakers. Again, in my opinion they never expected it to be shared publicly. So why was it leaked?

Mitzi Brown knew Meghan had intentionally let her citizenship lapse because she quoted elements of the 2021 Facebook post, and should have known there to be nothing newsworthy about the citizenship status. An "exclusive" is just too good to pass up. Context and subtleties don’t go viral and probably the reason it was left out of the public shaming that began September 25th and grew to fever pitch the evening before Orange Shirt Day of September 30th 2022.

How the “Exclusive” Source was Accidentally Revealed

The MMF letter dated December 2021 (date hidden on initial social media shaming), from MMF was later revealed to be addressed to APTN host Melissa Ridgen. Jade Turner posted a video on TikTok and Facebook September 28th in which the name on the letter was not sufficiently blacked out. This was spotted by Métis researcher Alexandria Anthony.

Soon after, Métis watchdog Jeri Malone noted earlier comments by Melissa Ridgen on a Sept 1st 2022 Facebook thread about a TikTok video about 'pretendians'. Melissa made it known she wanted a Direct Message because she was "collecting them all on a list 🧐📝". Melissa followed up saying "APTN isn't comfortable doing it. So I've started list [sic] not a list doing exposès- -- but at least verifying people." When a Facebook user asked about Métis registries she wrote "don't get me started on the identity problems we have among the Metis. Non-status people out east and these people with a 'root ancestor' from the 1600s and claiming that miraculously makes them Indigenous today 🙄"

Melissa is referring to this complex mix of identity and land claims being made in parts of Eastern Canada. Some identify using a previously unknown/forgotten ancestor. Unknown often because it is from the early settlement and colonization of Turtle Island (North America). These unknown ancestors are now sometimes easy to find due to the rise of internet genealogy. Others however, never identified based on genealogy and have maintained a continuous national, cultural or racial identity often due to longstanding cultural connections between modern-day treaty rights bearing First Nations peoples. These experiences exist on a spectrum of social and political recognition. Some however, deny the existence and recognition of any Eastern Métis.

It's complicated.

Is the MMF Letter Authentic?

MMF’s Official Twitter account has ignored several requests from comment from the public. In my opinion, it appears authentic. The official APTNInFocus Twitter account liked four tweets from Mitzi's Raceshifters account between September 27th and 28th calling on people to stop using the word "alleged" when calling Joseph Boyden, Michelle Latimer, Carrie Bourassa, and Iskwē "pretendians". All have countered these claims but have not shown they meet the strictest definition of Métis.

@APTNInFocus Twitter account “Likes” @RACESHIFTERS

I reached out to APTN and Melissa Ridgen both publicly and privately on September 30th. On October 4th, Paul Barnes the Executive Producer of Investigative at APTN responded to a similar question by Alexandria Anthony about Melissa’s unceremonious departure. He said "Melissa jumped over to Global" referring to Global Media, Canada’s second most watched TV network. The wording of the response seems deliberately vague and there is no word if the leak or the unofficial 'pretendian list' had anything to do with her departure with no word on when she decided to leave.

In response to questions about the MMF letter, Paul Barnes said "[Mellisa] was looking into this". All follow-up questions were ignored.

It is unknown if APTN will maintain a copy of the 'pretendian list' or if the problem jumped to Global.

The Wild Goose Chase

Between September 29 and September 30th the Twitter account TorontoPost (that Mitzi Brown denies running) contacted me asking for details about Iskwē’s family which she knew I had possession of. I had shared on Twitter that someone privately shared Meghan’s ancestry with me to confirm her genealogical connection to Métis scrip records. Scrip, signed between 1870 and early 1900s is the highest standard of genealogical evidence for Manitoba Métis Federation which was (until September 2021) part of the Métis National Council.

Alexandria Anthony noticed that Melissa Ridgen using APTNinFocus Twitter account publicly requested Mitzi Brown’s (Raceshifters) email address and received a positive response the day before the MMF letter was released.

When I asked TorontoPost through direct messages if Melissa Ridgen sent the MMF letter they said “Who’s that” and followed it up two minutes later with “?”. Either they have an awful memory or were ‘playing dumb’. Mitzi tried to convince me it was from “People’s Media Group” which had lawyers but could provide no information on this being other than an email name.

DMs with anonymous Twitter account @TorontoPost. (“People’s Media Group” isn’t an actual media group).

Cree Name Controversy

At the apex of Meghan’s public shaming there were calls for her to stop using the Cree name iskwē. Meghan says she is of Cree heritage and received her Cree name IsKwé (now spelled iskwē) in ceremony from Elder Stella Blackbird — Okemasis Willow Cree First Nation. She says her grandfather’s sister, who she calls aunty, chose the original spelling.

(Correction Oct 10th: Meghan’s “aunty” chose the spelling not the name. Megan named her elder replying to a comment from Leonard Sumner in her 2021 Facebook post.)

Meghan explained to The Hamilton Spectator in November 2019 that “She went to a naming ceremony conducted by a Cree elder. She fasted, spent time in a sweat lodge, offered gifts of tobacco and then was given her name - Iskwe, or Bluesky Woman - as well her clan (Butterfly) and her colours (blue, white, yellow and orange).”

From what I know (not much), Cree Clans are typically matrilineal. You are your mother's clan. But you can also change clans following proper protocols.

When asked on Facebook about “butterfly clan” origins in October 2018 Iskwē wrote "good question. [...] I've never met anyone else in my clan. A bit lonely lol" and in a July 2019 song promo of 'Breaking Down' Meghan said the butterfly clan "represents my family in the spirit world".

Iskwé on “butterfly clan” October 2018

Is it possible Meghan is the only Cree person in the butterfly clan? The only reliable reference to "butterfly clan" in literature that this author could find seems to be the Hopí people who are culturally and geographically distant. See also: American Anthropological Association 1910

On Facebook and Twitter the Cree musician Lisa Muswagon is asking that Meghan stop using the name Iskwē. "I am iskwe, my daughters are iskwe" saying, with skepticism of Meghan's claim that you must be Cree to use the name. Lisa has repeated Mitzi Brown's rumour that Meghan Meisters is "1/64th Ojibwe" based on a sloppy and incomplete analysis of Meghan's genealogy. Genealogy for Métis prior to scrip is exceedingly difficult as there are many 'dead-ends' for female ancestors from First Nations. Red River Métis were in alliance with Cree and are more likely than not to be of Cree heritage.

Lisa additionally said in a public Facebook post that Meghan "was the one who asked me to spell out Iskwe before I would even find out she was going to change her name." Adding "If I dig I can find this convo!". On Twitter, Lisa told me that Meghan asked her "for the correct spelling before changing from Meghan Meisters" and asked me to confirm this with Meghan.

I reached out to a mutual friend of Meghan and while waiting for a response, read Meghan's 2021 Facebook post which already had the answer. Meghan mentioned being given her clan name and colours from her elder when she was 18. (Meghan was born 1981 so this would be roughly 1999) but it was from someone who had passed away.

Suppose we can't take Meghan on her word… I went searching for public evidence of Meghan's use of Iskwē which seems to be April 2009. According to Discogs Meghan's first EP was from 2007 when she went by "Meghan Meisters". Her Twitter and YouTube are both "iskwe" dating to 2009 but socials allows for handle changes. The first web archive I can find of iskwe.com was from January 2013 which has "coming soon". Prior to this, iskwē used the domain iskwemuzik.com and archives go back to August 2009. The earliest viewable pages are from Feb 2011 which includes links to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all @iskwemuzik. A search showed earliest Twitter tags are from April 2009.

I asked Muswagon if she had evidence of communication with Meghan prior to April 2009 and I did not receive a response. I will update the story if I receive a response.

Face "Tattoos"

Meghan has drawn fire for the use of Inuk facial tattoo makeup in a photoshoot. The images were shared without context but a simple reverse image search on TinEye, sorted by oldest, linked to a CBC story from 2015 about her use of her traditional name and the conflicts it caused with Facebook's new requirement to use legal names and a rejection of traditional ceremonial names.

Images from this photoshoot can be found on the cover of Meghan's 2015 album Nobody Knows.

Collage of photos from 2015 photoshoot for album Nobody Knows.

A Google Image Search for "iskwe" shows more images with various facepaints than without. The online magazine Working it out Together (web archive dates it to 2017) asked Iskwē about it and she responded referring to the above album saying "I painted one half of my face with my interpretation of over-the-top appropriation of Inuit-style facial tattoos. The other half of my face was over-the-top glam makeup with big lashes, super smokey eyes, and red lips. Then, I beaded the word 'Iskwé' (meaning 'woman' in Cree), and covered my mouth with the beadwork. This was my way of standing up against imposed limitations on my culture and gender."

Irish Déne?

This public shaming has again brought up past criticisms of her identity which have evolved in an understandable manner.

In a 2015 Facebook post, Iskwē wrote about her Irish and Déne backgrounds."My mosom (grandfather) named me Meghan. He chose that name, honouring my biological dads ancestry (Irish). My aunty (nimosom's sister) chose the spelling. My mother married a wonderful man when I was 2, who is not my biology, but raised me as his own, without hesitation and completely full of love. It is his last name I walk with (Meisters)."

The name "Meisters'' according to forebears.io, a website which tracks surnames internationally, says it is mostly in usage in Latvia and Germany.

The Irish and Déne heritage is something Meghan diminished as a part of her public identity after further consideration according to her 2021 Facebook post. "When I was younger, my grandfather spoke to me of his great grandmother, who was Dene from the NorthWest Territories. I found these stories so wonderful that I was excited to include this nation as a part of my identity. As I grew up, I realized that, in fact, it was too far removed and should not be claiming this as my own, as I did not grow up with these teachings, language, etc. The same happened with the ancestry of my biological father, who did not grow up with. I was told he was Irish, so said was part Irish, as was seeking a way to connect with a family I did not know. But again, I realized as I grew, that this was not mine to claim as I did not grow up in this culture nor the community."

“$200k” in Grants

With each accusation of pretendianism comes a critique that it is being done for government grants and that they were therefore acquired based on false claims.

A Canada Council for the Arts search for "iskwe" returns $192,000 in grants over the last 10 years with only one $15,000 (NOTE: earlier version of this story said $4,000, fixed 6 hrs after initial publication) specified for Aboriginal peoples in the name of the grant.

Some have criticised $192,000 over 10 years as being too much. For context though, Canada Council gave $21 Million to musicians between 2020 and 2021. $192,000 would put Iskwē as less than several Indigenous Juno winners/nominees.

Juno Indigenous Artist of the Year winners (year) and amount [range]

  • Taima (2005) $33,000 [2002-2007]
  • Burnt Project 1 (2006) $3000 [2005-2006]
  • Leela Gilday (2007, 2021) $14,000 [2003-2020]
  • Derek Miller (2003, 2008) none listed
  • Buffy Sainte Marie (2009, 2016) none listed in last 20 years
  • Digging Roots (2010) $939,665 [2005-2022]
  • CerAmony (2011) $15,000 in 2012
  • Murray Porter (2012) none listed
  • Crystal Shawanda (2013) none listed
  • George Leach (2014) $3,500 in 2003
  • Tanya Tagaq (2015) $260,000 [2000-2020]
  • Quantum Tangle (2016) $136,000 [2016-2019]
  • Jeremy Dutcher (2019) $32,000 [2017-2020]
  • Celeigh Cardinal (2020) $49,000 [2018-2019]

Who else needs to be worried about being on a poorly researched Pretendian list?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Voshart believes in Truth and Reconciliation. Especially the truth part.

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