Métis Definition Wars

There is decades-long debate of who is or who is not Métis. Darryl Leroux, Associate Professor in the department of Social Justice and Community Studies at St. Mary’s University has garnered a following among those coalescing around a narrow definition of Métis.

  1. “The broadest definition of Métis would include everyone of mixed race, the narrowest only those who took land scrip.” according to The Globe and Mail’s Style Guide (2003). It also states journalists should not “join the battle over who is a Metis.”
  2. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated in the Daniels case (2016) “‘Metis’ can refer to the historic Metis community in Manitoba’s Red River Settlement or it can be used as a general term for anyone with mixed European and Aboriginal heritage.”
  3. The Library of Parliament in its Indigenous Peoples: Terminology Guide says “One approach describes the Métis as those persons whose ancestors inhabited western and northern Canada and received land grants and/or scrip.” adding “A broader definition includes all persons of mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous ancestry who identify themselves as Métis.” this definition was cited by The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. (2019)

Despite these clear nods to complexity, Leroux confidently trumpets a simplified and narrow definition under the guise of allyship. Suggesting there is a consensus where there is none. His over-simplified demagoguery impacts the identity of about 400,000 people.

Darryl Leroux is right because he said so. He’s done the research. He read thousands of internet forum posts.

“I write about white French-descendants with the same ancestry and the same family lore as in my family.” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (2021)

Most Crucial Hypocrisy

As part of his 2018 book Leroux wrote, in reference to his maternal grandfather Phillias Brabant, that “the most crucial indicator” that his own family “has absolutely no claim to an Indigenous identity today” was that “there was no discussion of any ongoing, sustained relationship with an Indigenous person, let alone any Indigenous kin”.

Yet despite “the most crucial indicator” he is routinely willing to provide journalists quotes and sound bites discrediting those with Indigenous kin so long as they have the same perceived racial pedigree as him.

During film-maker Michelle Latimer’s public shaming, Leroux said he has “the same family history,” “similar family lore” and that he “has the same two Indigenous ancestors”. Despite different lineages, entirely different life paths and inter-marriage with community. To Leroux, identity is the result of racial breeding. aka Eugenics.

He claims to fight white supremacy all while championing the work and ideas of a genealogist who built her identity on the work of Nazi-era Eugenics.

Leroux doubled down on his opinions even when an Kitigan Zibi Algonquin Elder, Annie Smith St. Georges verified Latimer’s family connection. Leroux went to Facebook and Twitter to say “Proximity to indigeneity, in whatever form, is all it takes for white families to claim the identity for themselves.”

Crucial indeed.

Leroux is on a Mission

Darryl Leroux has painted a grim portrait of his family. In 2015, under the Twitter hashtag #BarbaricCulturalPractices Darryl, claimed his grandpa “beat the **&^ out” of his uncle and that there was a lot of domestic violence from husbands to wives in his family over the decades. Including an uncle who shot an aunt because he was angry. (Unknown if this family was Darryl’s perceived mix-blood lineage or not.)

Leroux’s early impressions of Métis identity seem to be marred by opportunistic motives and irrational behaviors within the perceived mix-blood lineage of his own family. Under these pretenses, he presents himself as having a unique insight into all people with a similar perceived racial pedigree.

He told Media Indigena (2017) that, when he was a teenager (~1991–1997), he noticed several family members “sought to confirm [through genealogy] that they were in fact Indigenous in some way or another.” In a Medicine for the resistance podcast (2018) he said his family sought to identify as Métis “not with intentions that are pure or in any way interest in supporting actual Indigenous people” in part 2 of the same podcast saying he had “an uncle who applied for a [Métis] card. Got a card. Because he wanted his grandchildren to get free education.” (Common myth is that Indigenous people get a free post-secondary education.) Leroux stated his uncle was “defrauded out of 150 bucks.” Leroux also tweeted in 2020 that he had a cousin “call the feds demanding that she get status so she could adopt a child.”

Leroux, in his book Distorted Descent, wrote that he has uncles and cousins who “have shifted into an ‘Indigenous’ identity and encouraged other family members to follow suit,” adding “There is no tribute or honour in race shifting,” and encourages “family and community intervention.”

It is not clear what family intervention has taken place and with who specifically. Darryl Leroux thanked his brother and “best friend” Shawn on his PhD thesis. Shawn Leroux has retweeted his brother’s book and a far-reaching statement that people of mixed descent should not be recognized as Métis which reads in part “We’re white people.

Darryl Leroux and his brother were reached for comment regarding the clarity and accuracy of all the family claims made. They were given access to a draft of this story prior to publication. They did not respond in time for publication. Story will be updated if there is any response.

Update: On January 4th 2021 Darryl Leroux, in response to someone else, tweeted that “There was family lore about hidden indigeneity on both sides” of his family and “Strangely, it was the side with zero ancestry who aggressively pursued the ‘Metis’ cards and all of that.”

Creating Stereotypes

Leroux triggers three raw nerves to discredit all the Other Métis.

  1. Primarily a genealogical movement.¹ (see footnotes)
  2. Most are self-indigenizing.²
  3. Most do it to counter land claims.³

By repeating these stereotypes, Leroux characterizes people who aren’t Métis Nation into heartless, opportunistic, race-shifting, land-grabbers.

Leroux’s prejudiced formula is simple and not academically rigorous. He has found a large group, ~400,000 Other Métis, and mines internet forum posts and news articles for anecdotes that exemplify the 1–5% that would exist in any population with bad motives. With such a large group, he has plenty of material. ~4,000–20,000 people.

Leroux has avoided interviews from critics and blocks people to prevent counternarratives from appearing on his social media.⁴ Several months ago he ignored my question, blocked me a week later, accused me of not reading his book (I have, here is the receipt) and accused me of being best friend with Michelle Latimer (my pinned tweet at the time made it clear I wasn’t). He uses his University credentials, not facts, to bolster the credibility of his arguments.

By visiting his citations and reading his source material in context one can see the game Leroux is playing. In his book he writes that he watched “hundreds” of interviews, for which we, the reader, do not have the full transcripts. He quotes small segments of twenty speakers rather than give a broad overview of respondents’ motivations. He presents ~5% as characteristic of all.

He claims to have read thousands of forum posts. The quotes are devoid of context where there exists a robust dialogue regarding the positive merits of reconnection.

Distorting Circe Sturm’s Concept

Is Darryl Leroux “using some of Circe Sturm’s ideas” or distorting them?

The definition of “race shifting” Circe Sturm first defined and applied to Cherokee identity is much different than what Darryl Leroux applies to Métis. Sturm states that most unrecognized Cherokee “are operating in good faith on the firm conviction that they have Indian ancestors.”

When Leroux was given an opportunity to give closing statements on MEDIA INDIGENA (2017) podcast he said “My work is focused on getting people like me to understand that having a long ago ancestor does not make you Indigenous today.”

In contrast to Sturm who, in her 2017 book, states her “goal is not to wield power as a ‘scientific’ observer to sort out the ‘wannabes’ from the ‘real’ Indians. Anthropologists have tried to do this in the past, often with disastrous political effects.”

Sturm’s empathy might have to do with her own identity shifts. In her 2002 book Blood Politics she wrote:

Over several years, my sense of identity began shifting as a result of my experiences at the university and in the field. My Choctaw identity moved front stage next to the Sicilian and Texan, while the German receded. The process was both personal and social. Other Native Americans on the university campus and in Oklahoma assigned me different degrees of Native-American identity depending on the circumstances and the people involved.

At the extremes were moments when individuals argued either that I was a victim of internal colonialism, denying my Native heritage, or that I “hadn’t grown up on a ‘rez’ and hadn’t a clue.” The truth, I think, can be found somewhere in between. I believe that most of the time other Native-American students viewed me as a white woman with some Native-American ancestry. In the last few years, I reached out to my extended family and learned far more about my Choctaw relatives and their life experiences. At the same time, I investigated whether or not I was eligible for tribal enrollment through my grandmother. I was surprised to find that the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma had no minimum blood quantum requirement and only asked for proof that my great-grandmother had moved to Oklahoma and was listed on an earlier tribal roll. However, my grandmother had been born in Mississippi, the original homeland of the Choctaw people, and had never moved west. Moreover, even with proper records, I failed to meet the Mississippi Choctaw Nation’s minimum racial standard of one-half Choctaw blood or more. Had my grandmother moved to Oklahoma, I would have been in, but because she stayed in Mississippi where the racial definitions were stricter, I was out.

Sturm wrote “[I]nitial ascriptions of race may be challenged and reassigned over time as we get to know one another better and learn about one another’s life experiences, particularly about kinfolk, communities of origin, and cultural differences. In this way, multiracial people may achieve a form of social recognition that is more in line with their own self-perceptions.”

Sturm spent several years interviewing members of non-federally recognized tribes. Leroux has watched some videotapes and read internet forum posts.

Sturm writes about multi-generational effects of hiding one’s identity. “[I]f a race shifter has known Indian ancestry, then arguably his or her family has been passing as white, maybe even for generations, for reasons often related to racial discrimination. In such cases, we see the legacies of colonization and assimilation, both forced and chosen, in which individuals and families have had to endure the pain of severing their community and kinship ties in order to achieve a higher social status. Here, race shifting would be an effort to reclaim a racial identity that was either forsaken or lost. If they do not have Indian ancestry, then their effort to pass as Indian is often seen as a form of appropriation, an expression of a desire to be something they are not.”

Leroux retweets anonymous twitter accounts that share unsolicited, inaccurate genealogies.

Darryl realizes the importance of genetic genealogy but hasn’t synthesized its implications in his work. Sturm has. A complex caveat in addressing non-parent events reads:

But how would I go about verifying a statement about kinship? To do so would require that I transport myself back in time to see who had sex with whom and what children resulted. Even if I could engage in some ethically absurd form of anthropological time travel, how would I know that a particular act of intercourse led to a particular birth? Even the dry documentation of the paper trail is often deceptive when it comes to racial histories. Let us say that I had been able to find genealogical documentation on fifty individuals. How would I know that the documents I had uncovered were not doctored or manipulated in some way at the time they were created? How would I know that a parent — or a nurse — told the truth (the whole truth) or even was privy to it? If we go down this road, questions regarding truth, authenticity, and even science are endless.

I suggest that we travel in a different direction. I believe that we can learn far more about the social and political construction of Native American identity by asking not whether these claims of kinship are true or false but under what conditions others accept them. When trying to determine whether or not someone is Indian in daily life, most people do not go looking for a literal paper trail. Instead, they measure such claims against their own internalized standards of community belonging, which may or may not put a premium on genealogical verification. Their initial questions are rarely about documentation of blood and ancestry to the exclusion of all else. More common is a line of inquiry that emphasizes social, political, and cultural belonging, such as “Can you name a family member?” or “You know your tribe, but does your tribe know you?”

I wrote an email to Circe Sturm earlier this year about Leroux’s use of her work. She responded but when later asked if her response could be moved on the record she requested our correspondence remain private stating “I have always tried my best to tread carefully with sensitive topics like these and I feel more comfortable with being able to choose when and where my words circulate.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DANIEL VOSHART is a designer living on Turtle Island. He is Métis… or is he?

FOOTNOTES

[1] “So I saw these patterns but really looking at what individuals were saying about their own genealogy. So I see this as primarily […] spend a few months online and see all of their ancestors going back to the early 1600s. It’s really not that difficult […]” via Medicine for the Resistance. Cherokee grandmothers and Making metis Part 2: The importance of educating and talking about it (April 2019)

“basically this genealogical research this this effort to remake one’s identity based on ancestry” @10m20s via Episode 18: The Stealing of Indigenous Identities with Darryl Leroux (Oct 2019)

“It’s really a genealogical movement” @5m30s via Redeye Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity (24 Dec 2019(?))

[2] Adam Gaudry and Darryl Leroux “discuss emerging movement among white folks to self-indigenize” in a mediaINDIGENA podcast. Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (Aug 2017)

Published an article titled ‘Native American DNA’ and the self-indigenization of French descendants (Oct 2017)

Leroux tweeted that in 2013 he began “to trace this growing urge to self-indigenize, and understand what it meant” (Sept 2018)

Darryl began using the hashtag #selfindigenize via Daryl Leroux’s Twitter (July 2018)

“[Liberal party Candidate] bases his “Algonquin” identity on an ancestor born in 1631 […] but the large majority of French-descendants don’t self-indigenize themselves.” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (Oct 2019)

[3] “Some begin as a way to oppose Indigenous rights by promoting notion that [Indigenous peoples] no longer exist, except as “métis”.” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (Jun 2016)

“white settlers, mostly French-descendants, come to know each other in movements that oppose Indigenous rights … after Powley, they encourage each other and others like them to become “métis” […] in becoming “métis”, they find a politically effective strategy to oppose Indigenous land claims/territorial rights, ensuring white folks’s dominance.” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (Dec 2017)

“The largest self-identified métis organization in Canada started as a 9-member hunting rights organization that opposed a Mi’kmaw territorial agreement with the provincial government in Gaspésie (QC) in 2005. In 2017, it claimed to have 16,000–20,000 registered members.” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (Feb 2018)

“A toxic stew of anti-Innu/Indigenous, anti-black, and Islamophobic discourse … After the Powley decision, they created a “métis” org as part of a strategy to put a stop to comprehensive land claims in Nitassinan (Innu homeland).” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (Feb 2018)

“Most of the self-identified “Métis” organizations I have studied have their origins in quite racist, anti-Indigenous opposition to land claims, mostly led by men/hunters. [Btw, i hunt and I’m a man.]” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (March 2018)

“Many of the “eastern métis” organizations in question started out as active anti-Indigenous movements … against land claims, territorial agreements, or Indigenous harvesting rights.” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (Apr 2018)

“Anybody who is telling you (as pretty much all “eastern métis” leaders are saying) that “eastern métis” movement doesn’t involve opposition to FNs and/or their own land claims is totally confused, strategically ignorant, or just plain lying to you.” via Darrly Leroux’s Twitter (April 2018)

“largest and third-largest (by membership) self-identified métis orgs in QC had origins in explicitly anti-Indigenous movements against land claims or territorial agreements between government and Indigenous peoples.” via Darrl Leroux’s Twitter (April 2018)

“Most of the so-called Eastern métis organizations that I’ve studied are over-the-top patriotic. I have several examples of how they see themselves as protecting white people’s rights against Indigenous peoples’ land claims. #raceshifting #selfindigenization” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (July 2018)

“Many of these groups have mobilized a little-known court decision to oppose the hard-fought hunting and territorial rights of Indigenous nations across Canada” Self-made métis (Nov 2018)

“Often, [a shift away from a white identity] is done by opponents of Indigenous land claims.” “[…] it’s fair to say that about 50 “Indigenous” organizations created since 2003 are Indigenous only in name” How some North Americans claim a false Indigenous identity (Sept 2019)

“[genealogical research] to oppose often quite aggressively and with a lot of hostility Indigenous peoples sovereignty and self-determination in parts of Eastern Canada” @10m20s via Episode 18: The Stealing of Indigenous Identities with Darryl Leroux (Oct 2019)

“They use pseudo anti-colonial rhetoric to support full-frontal attack on Indigenous sovereignty. Malette et al. are the ones who rely on blood quantum and nothing else. That’s why genealogy is the key to the #raceshifting movement they support.” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (May 2020)

“[…]all a political strategy to oppose regional land claims.” via Darryl Leroux’s Twitter (Aug 2020)

[4] Darryl Leroux has blocked: Jeri Malone, Johanne Brissette, Seb Malette for “harassing” him. He has also blocked Alexandria Anthony, and Miranda Moran. The Twitter accounts Louisette Lanteigne and Abernaki Heritage Foundation claim Darryl has blocked them as well.

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Daniel Voshart

Daniel Voshart

Design | Cinematography | Criticism