My name is Joseph Boyden

Being Indigenous isn’t all about DNA. It’s about who you claim, and who claims you.

Joseph Boyden (Photograph by Jacob C Boynton)

Joseph Boyden (Photograph by Jacob C Boynton)

My name is Joseph Boyden. Late last December I had a hard time wrapping my head around what a Cree Elder I’ve known and respected for 25 years told me when we spoke about the firestorm that questions concerning my ancestry had sparked in Canada over the holidays. This elder told me that I was experiencing a rite of passage. I wanted to tell him that I’d not long ago turned 50, and weren’t rites of passage something geared more toward the teenage years? But I knew to listen and not interrupt. He told me that what I was experiencing was actually a gift.

A gift? People I did and didn’t know were questioning my family’s history, our creation stories, our ancestry. People were questioning me as a fiction writer and a journalist and a vocal activist for Indigenous rights in our country as an honorary witness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Now, from these months of hindsight, I understand it was the perfect storm brewing. Last October I’d spoken up publicly to demand accountability by a university and its conduct in the treatment of a friend—and the complainants— embroiled in an ugly and horribly mishandled controversy that ended up sending shockwaves beyond literary Canada.

I’d also been especially vocal for the last years in speaking about Indigenous Canadian issues, all of them sacred, so many of them painful. I’d gotten involved in my own way in the last federal election and made my stance clear that the former federal government’s abysmal treatment of virtually all issues having to do with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples could not continue. For the past few years, when the media came calling, whether it be the CBC or the Globe and Mail or a tiny radio station in the rural North with a listenership of 50, I was more than willing to stand up and be vocal. As an honorary witness, my personal mandate is to speak in my role as a writer and public voice about the dark clouds and frightening basements of our shared history and the abomination that was residential schools and the ongoing intergenerational tsunami of trauma.

I look back now and I can see that I took to this role with the zealotry of a true believer. And I wasn’t listening to the voices of caution, the voices of friends and elders and knowledge keepers and, yes, critics too. Take a breath. Let others speak. Be quiet for a bit. And if there was a third atmospheric disturbance in this perfect storm I speak of that consumed my personal life late last year, it was the thunderhead that had been developing in parts of Indian Country, questions I now understand had been circulating for a long time. Who are you? Who are your people? Where are you from and who accepts you?

My name is Joseph Boyden. I’m from a big family. I’m the sixth of eight full siblings whom I love dearly, with three older half-sisters from my father’s first marriage, whom I love just as dearly. In total, I have seven older sisters, one older brother and two younger brothers. My father, Raymond Wilfrid Boyden, was born in November 1897. He was a front-line combat physician in the Second World War and became, according to the stories of my family, one of the British Empire’s most highly decorated medical officers in that conflict. He was mentioned for the Victoria Cross numerous times in dispatches, and King George himself pinned the Distinguished Service Order on him at Buckingham Palace in 1945. My father died in 1975, leaving his wife to raise their eight children on her own.

My father Lt. Colonel Raymond Wilfrid Boyden, D.S.O., CD, MD (on the right with mustache) shortly after World War II when he was put in charge of the military hospital in Hamilton, ON. (Joseph Boyden)

My father Lt. Colonel Raymond Wilfrid Boyden, D.S.O., CD, MD (on the right with mustache) shortly after World War II when he was put in charge of the military hospital in Hamilton, ON. (Joseph Boyden)

My mother, Blanche Boyden, is one of five siblings. She is half-sister to the youngest three. Her oldest brother died in 1975. My mom became a teacher in 1951 and needed a birth certificate for the job but didn’t have one. When she applied and finally received it, she was surprised to see that up until that point, her family had celebrated her birthday on the wrong day. My mom tells me that she doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s just that they’re products of their era, but none of them speaks much at all about their lives when they were younger, or the people who raised them and who are long dead. Unlike a number of my siblings and me, none of them seems to have much interest at all in their cultural or genetic makeup. My mom’s generation, and my father’s, too, didn’t vocalize cultural or racial or religious identities that existed outside of a narrow Anglo and Christian mainstream.

My mother, Blanche Boyden, on her honeymoon on the shores of Nottawasaga Bay, Georgian Bay, ON. (Joseph Boyden)

My mother, Blanche Boyden, on her honeymoon on the shores of Nottawasaga Bay, Georgian Bay, ON. (Joseph Boyden)

Enter Uncle Erl, my father’s older brother, a First World War veteran, an artist, an actor and itinerant traveller, a gay, mixed-blood man living life the way he wanted to in a white world that could never understand him. I’m proud of my Uncle Erl. I wrote about him in an essay for Penguin Books the year before my first novel, Three Day Road, was to come out. This very magazine wrote a profile piece about him back in the mid 1950s, not long before he tragically and accidentally shot and killed an American tourist in Algonquin Park while posing for a photo for that tourist, Uncle Erl dressed as “Injun Joe” and aiming a rifle at the camera. In the ensuing trial, the shooting was deemed accidental, but my uncle couldn’t live with the guilt and died not long after.

I urge you to read the Maclean’s piece about my uncle written before the tragedy. Despite the 1950s casual racist and sexist tone, the female writer paints the portrait of a fascinating man who did far more than play dress-up Indian for tourists. Uncle Erl’s story is the story of a person accepted by the Indigenous communities in which he lived, a man who was claimed by those communities as one of them, a gifted and contrary person who understood the natural environment and could sometimes decipher the dreams of the people who came to ask him and taught their children and always treated the people he loved with love and respect. He gave many gifts and was given many gifts. He spoke Ojibwe, always welcomed his visitors with a meal and a place to sleep and was a knowledge keeper who was widely accepted and sought out by many different Indigenous people for his wisdom. In their own words, the Ojibwe of my family’s home of Nottawasaga Bay and beyond made it clear to all that he was not a white man. He was one of them. The people claimed him.

Uncle Erl died years before I was born, and despite the sentence in the article where the author writes, “Erl König Boyden may look like an Indian, think like an Indian and spend most of his year among Indians, but so far as he knows he hasn’t a drop of Indian blood,” I know his truth intrinsically. Just as he did. He knew who he was and he lived his life as openly and proudly as he could despite the strictures of early-20thcentury Canada. He was a veteran of the Great War, a restless and gentle and incredibly smart soul who loved and was loved by his communities. My uncle, his younger brother—my father—and my mother have sacred stories of who we are that they carried and still carry. And I, along with all of my siblings and all our mixed-blood children and grandchildren, refuse to allow people who claim to act in some public interest to attempt to publicly shame us—the ones who are still alive and even those who are now dead—for their own motives. My family is fierce in our protection of one another. And we are proud of who we are.

I understand now more than I ever have, that a family’s history is sacred. I’m trying my best to learn the lessons of this rite of passage, this gift that has been given to me in the past year. One understanding I’m now able to begin vocalizing is that a family’s history, a family’s stories, belong to the family. It’s their right to share or not to share them with the world. And a family’s stories need to be viewed in their whole, in an appropriate way and by the invited viewer. The stories of our family are all carried with us, and in us. They should never be cherry-picked by strangers who then unfairly and poorly and unceremoniously pull them apart to dissect what they choose, small bloody parts of our parents’ flesh and muscle sliced away from our bone to be inspected under a public microscope by outsiders with questionable agendas. In part, this is why I’ve now decided to speak about my family, and myself, publicly.

I, along with others in my family who were so inclined, have spit into plastic tubes and sent our mucus off for DNA testing. And guess what? The verdict is: we’re mutts. Celtic DNA. Check. Native American DNA. Check. DNA from the Arctic. Cool. I didn’t know that. Explains my love for winter. Some Ashkenazi Jew? I love it. More scientifically minded family members than me have been exploring areas like autosomal DNA and mtDNA and haplogroups, and guess what? We are what our family’s stories have always told us we are. And then some.

Those who were most vocal in their arguments against me and my family over the holidays last year were adamant, though, that it wasn’t about DNA at all when they spoke about my right to call myself an Indigenous person. It’s about whom you claim, and who claims you.

My old friend, the Cree elder who originally told me I was experiencing a rite of passage and being offered a gift of learning, isn’t the only one to view my experience in this way. Over the past many months, I’ve visited with and have done ceremony with and spoken with many other elders and knowledge keepers. Their message has been so similar. This is a rite of passage you are going through. Go through it. What are you learning?

This is something I’ve learned: the Indigenous people who know me, have known me all my life, spoke up not just privately for me from the beginning but publicly too. The following statement was posted on social media back in January, from people I consider my family who are from Beausoleil First Nation in southern Georgian Bay:

“The Sandy family has been lifelong friends with the Boyden family going back to our many beautiful childhood summers on Beckwith Island [and Christian Island] on Beausoleil First Nation. We’ve known each other all of our lives. Some of us call Joseph Boyden our uncle or cousin. We all call him our friend. Our beautiful mother Bertha travelled down to New Orleans in 1995 to help marry Joseph and Amanda in Ojibwe. And we think it’s really cool that some of us show up in his first short stories. Joseph is one of us.”

Others who’ve known me for much of my adult life made sure to speak up last January, too. This is from a Moose Cree family from James Bay, people I consider my family as well:

“We are the Tozer family. We are Moose Cree and we have deep roots in the James Bay region called Mushkegowuk. The Cree side of our families go back centuries on this land. Joseph Boyden has been like family to us for over 20 years. It started when he came to the region as a teacher and has continued ever since. He and his family are as close to our family as one could ever hope. Our families are one family. He is our good friend. Our partner. A student and a teacher. He is family in every way that matters.

Along with Joseph, we had a dream of creating a camp for youth-orientated organizations wanting to get youth out on the land from our communities in the North to experience their homeland and learn how to connect with our natural world.

It was from there that we created the Camp Onakawana project about two decades ago. Joseph has been involved from the beginning and is a big part of that as a teacher, a fundraiser and a strong voice. More than 800 children and youth visit the camp from all across the North each year. And our young people love to come here. Camp Onakawana is a positive place and a beautiful place. We are proud of what we have built and what we continue to build with our brother.”

And certainly another powerful gift has come from other Cree and Ojibwe families who’ve traditionally adopted me both in Ontario and Manitoba, from Wabigoon to Wasauksing (where both birth and traditional family live) to Winnipeg to Sagkeeng. Being adopted in this way comes with responsibilities and obligations. It’s a true act of love and of protection that is just as important as blood bonds. Lisa Meeches is one of my sisters. When the storm was at its loudest at the very beginning of 2017, she spoke up for me and of her desire to protect me and my work. Lisa wasn’t afraid to stand up for me. She knows me. I’m her brother, after all.

Many years ago, a man I consider one of my greatest life teachers gifted me with one of my traditional Anishnaabe names. I believe that I continue to learn how to grow into the name he gave me. It’s a good name, and he was a good, good Anishnaabe man. A great man. I was one of the few who wasn’t birth family whom he asked to visit him before he passed away. I share this because learning and reading and hearing his stories taught me so much about speaking and writing my own.

I was made an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a few years back. It is one of the big honours—and responsibilities—of my life. I wasn’t chosen for my blood quantum, or for my bloodlines at all. I was asked because I’ve focused and will continue to focus my life and my career and my voice on trying to bring attention to Indigenous issues in this country, especially the history and traumas created by Canada’s residential schools.

I’m learning in all of this to let go of the hurtful words publicly thrown at me and instead hold on to the words that mean something. Two of Chanie Wenjack’s sisters told me not to worry because they know who I am, and I know who I am, and that they know I’m an Indian because someone who isn’t couldn’t have written the words I did about their brother. Another friend said she knows I’m Indigenous because Indigenous people wouldn’t be bothered treating a white person so badly. Donna Chief from Wabigoon lost her birth brother Joseph tragically and told me I am now her brother and she claims me, and you’ll have to go through Donna if you want to get to me.

I began writing at the age of 12 or 13, horribly angst-ridden poetry about pain and about my search for the different threads of my identity. I turned to punk rock at 15 and cut my hair into a mohawk to honour that part of me in the most physical and awkwardly teenage way I knew how. When I began writing my first fiction in my mid-20s, they were imagined stories from the real country and people who are a part of me, and that I remain a part of. When my first novel won the only Indigenous prize I’ve ever won, I split the winnings evenly with the other four shortlisted writers as a way to say thank you for including me in their community. All of these experiences, I realize, really are amazing gifts that I’ve been given.

For a long time now, often in this magazine, I’ve written about environmental and social and personal issues that impact Indigenous peoples and communities, many of them communities in which I lived and taught in the mid-1990s on the west coast of James Bay, including Moosonee and Moose Factory, Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Attawapiskat. I consider this country my adopted home, and there are many people in these communities who consider me family and whom I consider family. They are my community, and I am a part of theirs. But like in any great extended family, I have no doubt there are plenty of people on the west coast of James Bay who either have no idea who I am or don’t think of me as one of them. I get it.

And this leads me to questions I’ve been contemplating a lot as I navigate this recent rite of passage and try to answer to those who are asking who I am. If I am accepted by people in Indigenous communities, if I have been traditionally adopted by a number of people in Indigenous communities, if my DNA test shows I have Indigenous blood, if I have engaged my whole career in publicly defending Indigenous rights as well as using my public recognition as an author to shine light on Indigenous issues, am I not, in some way, Indigenous?

When I found out that my first novel had been accepted for publication in 2003, I was asked to write my short bio for the back cover. I thought long and hard about what it should read. I’ve always been very careful to represent myself and my family properly. My bio reads: Joseph Boyden is a Canadian of Irish, Scottish and Metis roots. That’s it. One sentence. A sentence I wrote back in 2003 and had been contemplating and exploring all my life.

When I wrote that bio I was—and remain to this day—an enrolled member of the Ontario Woodland Metis, a community thousands strong who recognize me as one of them. My mother has told me she is of Scottish and Ojibwe ancestry from Georgian Bay. My father’s people are traced to Massachusetts, and the Boyden name appears on the Earle Report. A number of years ago, one of my siblings found a Boyden Mi’kmaq clan in Newfoundland. We were thrilled, although we later learned we were unrelated. Such is the complicated process of learning a family history.

Some of my ardent critics labelled my identity as “shifting” last December. Some people—Indigenous and non-Indigenous—viewed it as an attempted character assassination. Others couldn’t hide their pleasure and jumped right in for the kill. Still others, friends included, were confused by it and what had precipitated it. That was the culmination of my own personal perfect storm. And it was one fuse that helped to ignite a much bigger perfect storm that’s been brewing in Canada for years.

What does it mean to be Indigenous in this country? Who gets to define it? Who gets to belong? And who gets to say who doesn’t belong? Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples aren’t some homogenous group who are all the same and see the world in the same way. There are more than 640 First Nations bands alone in our country, and cultures, politics, religions and worldviews are wildly different in a myriad of ways. And don’t forget about the hundreds of thousands of non-status First Nations peoples in Canada. And then when we include the hundreds of thousands of Metis peoples, and those who identify as Metis, we’re talking a sizable percentage of Canada’s population. The questions raised are important ones. And they have big repercussions for the country.

A wise Indigenous woman I know, Lee Maracle, who is deeply respected by Indigenous people in Canada and around the world has captured, I believe, the essence of how to begin answering these questions in a perfectly simple (but definitely not simplistic) way: it is up to the individual Indigenous families and communities to decide. If a family or community accepts you as a member, you are a member. And other families and communities need to respect that.

I will admit that I can still get really angry in regards to this rite of passage I’m going through. For months and months now, I’ve actively rejected the idea of writing a letter to Canada, to the world, to explain myself, to explain that my family’s stories about who we are, are just as sacred as any other family’s. A part of me remains that punk-rock kid saying f–k you to those who attempted to make me appear somebody and something I am not and then try to take away what I truly am.

Joseph Boyden (Photograph by Jacob C Boynton)

Joseph Boyden (Photograph by Jacob C Boynton)

For years I’ve always made it clear that a small part of me is Indigenous, but it’s a huge part of who I am. My trying to be careful and respectful seems to have incensed some people, people who claim that either you are all, or you are not at all.

I think one of the most important gifts for me is the reminder that I’m imperfect. I am not whole by myself. But I am made much more whole by my birth and traditional families. I am part of something bigger than me. And that is why I fight being dissected and sliced and diced and put under a public microscope. My own being is not big enough to live in the world acting as if I am complete. I am part. But I have been gifted the ability to speak and write stories. I am part of a bigger fabric. I don’t often know where these voices come from. But I’m meant to tell these stories. And I will not stop telling them. You don’t throw away something gifted to you.

My mother said this to me as she watched me struggle early last January: Joseph, we are people of the land. My family is fierce in our love and in our acceptance. We are mixed-blood people, mostly Celtic, but with Indigenous roots. My family is big enough, if you consider all of my siblings and their children and grandchildren, to be considered a decent-sized town by Canadian standards. We are our own community. And we also know that we are part of a bigger community. We are healers and teachers and warriors and unemployed and gainfully employed. We are who we are. We are a mystery and we are ridiculously obvious. We are a part of Turtle Island. And all of us, I want to believe, keep learning tiny bits each day about not just where we come from, but where we, and those who follow us, are going.

I know that we are moving through a complicated history, and I know that I do not speak for all Indigenous people. My dear friend and sister Tina Keeper reminds me that as an honorary witness, and an Indigenous person, I must always remember that there’s so much more to come in the unfolding narrative. What I’ve been asked to be a part of is a gift I’m fortunate to carry. I will never assume to speak for all, but I must speak my own voice.

There’s a mystery to and in my family, and I’m fine with that. But as an author, and as a husband, and as a father, as a person going through this particular rite of passage, I needed to at least explain this much about us, the blood and traditional people I love and will always fight for with my most ferocious heart. There is more to come from me. A lot more. My great big family, we’re far from being silenced.


This post was updated to include reference to Lee Maracle after she agreed to be identified.



My name is Joseph Boyden

  1. Why don’t we all just stop what we’re doing and ponder what it means to be a member of whatever culture we identify with?

    We can all get upset over how other cultures interfere with ours.

    Meanwhile, in reality, today we all rely on the same benefits of civilization, created and maintained by modern industry.

    Don’t you get it? Dwelling in the idealistic romance of any cultural history is akin to liking the smell your own farts. Nobody else shares your enthusiasm.

    So don’t talk to me about the spirit moose, because you’re really living just like everyone else is.

    • It’s a bit of the old ‘picking the scab’ routine going on here (to use another bodily function metaphor), but what’s wrong with that? We pick our scabs (and leave scars). We smell our farts (and sometimes rue our diet). Turning to the actual purpose of the article, I believe there’s a use to dropping a few names and driving home the point about Indigenous people in their integral roles forming a Canadian entelechy. It was the late and truly great Rene Levesque who said 25 percent of the blood of every Quebecer is (Indigenous). I believe Joseph Boyden has the right to stand his ground and declare himself in and among the Indigenous people of Canada. He says it, many and possibly most of the Indigenous people say it. Whatever boil (bodily function metaphors abound tonight) was burst that spilled the invective upon him has surely passed being infectious.

      • I don’t need to tell me if I should be eating schnitzel or wearing a kilt.

        I’m a Canadian because I’m a citizen here and I live for the most part like everyone else.

        That’s good enough for me. If it wasnt I’d leave, or ancestry would be meaningless anyways.

        So I tell all these fart dreamers to wake up and smell the coffee.

        You’re a Canadian. Stand up for Canada.

        • Rob- Very eloquently, yet delightfully inelegantly, said.

        • But what kind of “Canadian” are you?
          You appear, dismally, to be of the residential school believer’s group.

          • Get over it.

            By today’s pansy standards everyone from the greatest generation and before was verbally and physically abused in school.

            We lived.

            People suffered a hell of a lot worse than being dragged to school.

  2. What a wonderful piece of denial… typical for people who have been exposed as liars or frauds. It’s a shame that too many people in power keep supporting this man. Shame on the magazine for giving him a venue. Perhaps there will be an equally long and featured rebuttal. One thing is clear Boyden was and is a liar. Shame on him and his supporters – this man is an insult and deserves to be stripped of any and all awards he accumulated based on his lies.

    • I’m posting a ot here because I truly do not understand the vitriol.

      I GET (and apparently so does Boyden) that he accepted too many invitations to speak about ongoing injustice towards indigenous Canadians – that he should have declined and directed CBC etc to other speakers – perhaps activists who grew up on reserve and who are intimately connected to their communities – I accept that he did this without thinking – he was keen to use his considerable talent in support of a cause that he is passionate about – but also, that in retrospect, he should have said no now and again.

      It seems a stretch to call him a liar unless all the people he names are also liars. Is that what you are saying? I just need to understand why indigenous scholars who condemn Boyden are to be believed but the Mushkegowuk families who support him are not. I suspect I’m not the only one who’s having trouble keeping up….any help with this would be appreciated .

  3. Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a black person.

  4. Unbelievable. That’s the best Boyden can manage after 7 months to come up with something that didn’t reek of mendacity and misdirection?
    He should be a politician. He used a few thousand words (and kept going in circles) when a couple of hundred would have been sufficient.
    The DNA test. LOL. When someone needs their DNA analysed for ethnic markers because of personal curiosity they do what Boyden did in the comfort of his own home. They “spit into a tube”and mail it away. When a personal reputation, along with millions of dollars, is at stake the only acceptable protocol is for the lab to take a sample directly from the test subject or people will rightly assume someone is still trying to float a flacid fiction.
    The spin factor in that bloated waste of ink was off the charts. There’s a reason Boyden neglected to mention percentages from his DNA test. Can you guess what that reason is?
    Other than the risible ploy with the test there was absolutely nothing new offered. Just more mealy mouthed weasel words for the gullible and the easily amused to chew on. He’s had at least a couple of decades to nail down the identities of actual indigenous ancestors and still bupkes…zilch…goose eggs.
    Does Boyden really think people are that stupid or is he just hoping his hard core base of fans are? Very telling that he avoided trying to explain away all the lies he’s told. You just can’t walk those back. They now define him but there’s still a lot of money at stake and that is what motivated him to churn out that pile of precious twaddle.

  5. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Article 33 says that indigenous peoples have the rights to determine their own identities and belonging.

    Boyden’s detractors would have more of a case if he were unilaterally declaring himself indigenous and had not been accepted into the communities of Mushkegowuk. But, he has always been forthright about his very mixed genetic makeup (his families stories now confirmed by DNA testing – silly I know, but he no doubt felt the need to address every critic) and he has done SO much to promote the concerns of indigenous Canadians.
    I would ask critics to consider how much greater is mainstream Canadian awareness of our shared tragic history, the echoing inter-generational impacts of residential schools and other government sanctioned programs of assimilation and family destruction, the government’s wanton disregard the terms of treaties, the failures of INAC, and the persistent and obscene problem of racism since Boyden’s writing was recognized and became popular. Of course, he alone is not responsible for raising our collective awareness but I think it wrongly minimizes the contribution he has made through his fiction writing and advocacy work.
    I know that some indigenous writers have complained that he “stole the spotlight,” but to that I would argue that he blazed a trail, acquainting a mainstream audience with issues of concern to indigenous Canadians and building an interest in learning from a more diverse collection of voices. It is certainly true that in recent years, there has been more room in bookstores, in literary reviews and in academic courses for the works of other gifted Canadian indigenous writers. I do think that Boyden provided an introduction that accelerated a growth in interest and recognition.

    As to his “stealing voices” and speaking for others when he should have remained silent – well, I think he has addressed this with some humility and self-awareness. He is sincere in his desire to make things better, and as he said, he accepted every invitation to speak about issues that he cares deeply about…I know that in my field, I am passionate about issues and I will talk your ear off (albeit without Boyden’s eloquence and persuasiveness) if the opening arises. I do think when people care deeply about issues they become evangelists and need to be reined in. I think that is where Boyden is – he cared so much that he was ready to use his linguistic skills in the cause. Maybe CBC, The Globe and Mail, and this publication should not have defaulted to the always compelling Boyden but should have called upon others. I think we have all learned something here.
    I am sorry that Boyden has suffered such truly nasty attacks from indigenous scholars and his fellow writers. I accept that perhaps he might have stepped out of the sun a bit more, but he did not deserve the personal attacks and the completely hypocritical complaints about his identity. Isn’t the denial of the right of communities to determine who belongs why the Indian Act is so odious? I really don’t understand the point being made about identity and belonging.

    I will continue to respect Joseph Boyden for his sincerity, his insight, his total commitment to justice, and because in spite of the viciousness with which his overzealous campaigning was criticized he has remained gracious, generous and humble.

    • “he has done SO much to promote the concerns of indigenous Canadians.”

      Could you be anymore hyperbolic? There are many fora where Boyden would find it easy to “promote the concerns of indigenous Canadians”, but when pressed he always caved in and had the back of those he felt were more important to him and his career. The defining moment came when Boyden defended the Aspers and their ludicrous Human Rights Museum for failing to acknowledge the many genocides inflicted on First Nations peoples. Plus his own published literature perpetuates many odious caricatures of indigenous “savages”.
      If you’re “tired of agendas”, tiredofagendas, then you should be using Boyden’s body of work to heat your home next winter…if you can stand the acrid smell of mendacity.

      • Boris you have skirted all of the points I made in your rebuttal – and then scoff at my “hyperbole.” I assume that you are not interested in a respectful conversation where you might disagree with me and point out inconsistencies in my argument, missing facts, etc. Starting with an insult and then ignoring the facts that I have laid out does not suggest to me that you are capable of even-handed assessment. Your claim that his work perpetuates a caricature of indigenous people as savages relies on a single work – the Orenda – which as I understand has been well researched and is historically accurate. It is very unpleasant to see one’s ancestors portrayed as savages – but then all of our ancestors were ruthless savages – from Scandinavians to the Queen of England – I’m not sure it serves anyone to pretend otherwise – are you suggesting the authors should avoid giving offense if the historical facts are unflattering? And then there is Three Day Road which begins with fact and portrays its main characters with great affection and empathy – it shows them to be noble men caught in a vicious time. So I am not sure that your criticism is legitimate. I did not like the Orenda but its characters were 3 dimensional and did not make me think of indigenous Canadians as savages – rather it reminded me that all peoples have all at one time or another progressed from a life that was raw and fragile – and a way of life that we would now reject allowed many of our ancestors to survive. We can’t deny our histories.

        • Are you here working as a publishers “Fixer”? You certainly do have an agenda redolent of the most odious kind of spin doctoring. It’s very telling that you steered clear of trying to defend all Boyden’s various nose stretchers regarding his various bogus claims of indigenous ancestry. And what does this even mean?:

          “Boris you have skirted all of the points I made in your rebuttal”

          Your post at 11:18 am was a stand alone post, not a reply.

          I’ve often wondered if Boyden actually authored any of his published works without a LOT of help from editors and a large team of consultants. If you’ve ever listened to him being interviewed it’s embarrassing how inarticulate and tongue tied he can get plus this current essay reads like something a guilt racked sophomoric plagiarist might scrawl. I think he was promoted by publishers largely based on his looks and willingness to prevaricate like the duplicitous Anglo Saxon Jesuit apologist he is.

          • Jeez Boris,

            I most certainly do not work in publishing or in public relations. It may surprise you but I have no skin in this game. I have met, but do not “know” Boyden — he would not know my name and we have never corresponded. I have never had any kind of business, financial or other kind of relationship with him. Okay, are we clear?

            You are focusing on the least meaningful elements of my post. It’s true my post it did not appear as a rebuttal, but that is a function of the Macleans’ interface rather than by design. It’s telling that you focus on this but sure, you can have the point.

            You suspect my motives. So I’ll be clear: I care quite a lot about the dysfunctional relationship that exists between Canada’s peoples and I think indigenous Canadians have a lot to angry and resentful about. I think it is past time for the rest of us to wake up, accept that we have benefited from a long history of government sanctioned theft and cultural genocide. I think settler Canadians need not to feel guilty – we did not create the injustice but it’s there and we benefited so we have an obligation to act now to fix it. I think Boyden actually raised awareness of the issues (obviously I am not giving him all the credit for this) among the wider public, and I wonder how, in spite of the legitimacy of asking him to allow others to speak, you can condemn him for this contribution to a cause that I presume you would support. The continued persecution and denial of his identity (maybe not so pure as yours or others) is hardly going to help this cause.

  6. I find all the comments so negative and quite frankly ignorant and very judgemental. Three things I would never associate with Joseph or his writings. Why so much judgement? Through his writings we are genuinely learning about a culture, a community, a history, traditions and more that many of us have no clue about if it weren’t for his brilliant works of literature. I believe when Justin Trudeau met Barack Ombama he gave him a copy of The Three Day Road for his library. Does that gift not in itself say something? The First Nations people were here long before we were and we have not treated them with the respect they deserve. There will always be haters unfortunately and I find when people react to other people it is because something in themselves is triggered and they react from fear not love. These people who are publicly voicing their narrow minded opinions are actually very sad and I am sure they are being blocked by their egos on some level. These comments I am guessing are the complete opposite to the teachings and spiritual messages deep rooted in first nations cultures and beliefs. I think any human who has an open mind and kind heart sees the beauty in all people, animals, places and things. Why is it so hard for people to accept that Joseph Boyden in his heart and his DNA has a very strong connection with the people and culture of the First Nations and in turn is giving them a voice. I think we would be better off thanking him instead of being so critical. I personally look forward to many more stories from him.

    • Justin Trudeau? Isn’t he the guy that promised the moon and the stars to First Nations people and then, once elected, reneged on almost everything ?

      It doesn’t appear that you have taken the trouble to ask yourself why so many prominent indigenous scholars and writers are highly critical of Boyden and his fraudulent appropriation of First Nations culture. I wonder why that is.

    • The problem is NOT his writing or work product. The problem is the misrepresentation of who he really is.

      An artistic work(s) standsor fall on its(their) own merit. It is a thing apart from its creator. The problem is when one seeks to leverage that artistic work into misrepresenting who one really is. This is where he begins stealing the voices and stealing the limelight due others, and he becomes a colonial oppressor stealing from indigenous people what should be theirs and not his.

      • Okay, but please explain how and why you totally reject the fact that Boyden has been claimed as a family member by members of the Muskegowuk Tribal council? Are they not permitted to do this? Is it illegitimate?

        Forgive my ignorance but it really does seem like several people want to have things work both ways with respect to identity and belonging…and to reject the right of communities to accept their own members seems like just what the colonial oppressors did with the Indian Act. I look forward to an explanation.

        • You’re right about this system’s interface issues. There was no reply available to your last post on page 1.
          I’ll keep this brief as my TGIF is just now revving up.
          You seem to have a sincere desire to help bridge the gap between retrograde settler mindsets and the indigenous communities they all but destroyed.
          Unfortunately championing an ethnic fraud like Boyden, when most indigenous scholars and writers are condemning his actions, is the worst thing you can do. Boyden, in struggling to clear his name, has been extremely divisive in the very communities that already have enormous and tragic issues to deal with. Boyden should just permanently retreat to NOLA and start writing for the National Enquirer or become a full time fantasist pretending to be a feather wearing Native Warrior.
          Oh wait..I think that hound dog has already barked.

  7. I grew up in housing project in Scarborough, just a hop skip and jump from Boyden’s middle class childhood home in Willowdale. Interestingly, he has been writing books about indigenous people, while I actually lived with my bi racial Native American daughter on the rez for five years. Writing is one thing, living it is another. Visiting the rez, even spending time hanging out and talking to elders is not the same as being an indigenous person in a white society, a world that is still promoting colonization but in more subtle and insidious ways. Publishing is a gateway to this sort of cultural conditioning and books do impact how people see a certain race, especially if the face of the author is white and he is part of the establishment as Boyden is.

    If you are visibly caucasian and you have had a privileged background, comparatively speaking, you will not understand what racism feels like, how it wounds, limits and sometimes kills. Our entire system of governance is colonial and inherently bigoted, no truthful person will dispute this, and the fact that this article is in this very Canadian magazine is no surprise to me at all. Mr. Boyden has once again been given a forum to defend himself from scores of Native people who have a very valid reason to take exception with his work. The fact that he is deafening himself to their voices by taking a defensive position and using other indigenous people to defend him, speaks volumes. If he truly felt that he is coming from a place of integrity and a solid foundation, then he wouldn’t need to continue using the media to explain himself and justify his position.

    I knew Lee Maracle as well. I met her at the Barrie Native Friendship Center in 1997. We had tea at her home later and she held my baby girl, talked to me about mothering, discussed the herbs in her kitchen and her passion for Native plant medicine. We saw her a few times before moving to the rez in Washington. She is a wonderful woman, mother, writer and elder. I do agree with her, it is up to families to determine who is and who is not indigenous. However, an ongoing discussion between my visibly aboriginal daughter and I always leads to this one vital question: Which face should be the public face of the indigenous experience, the white or brown? I have my own belief based on respect for those who cannot pretend to be white when it suits them or who have the residential school trauma haunting them daily. Being indigenous is unlike anything else, the racism is so ingrained in rendering the indigenous person invisible that to put a white face to an indigenous experience is essentially a variation on the residential school objective :To take the Indian out of the child. To use the arts to do this is an absolute disgrace. As a writer and mother who has lived the truth of life on the rez, the harsh reality in every aspect, I have chosen to never write it, although I own the experience. Why?
    Because there is a much bigger and more important issue here than my writing or my story. I just wish Mr. Boyden could also understand this basic indigenous truth, that the tribe, the people and the generations to come, are far more important than the selfish considerations and professional ambitions of one person.

  8. First off, I am torn on this entire controversy. I claim my ancestry and continue to spend my life embracing my culture, identity and belonging within my family and nation. With that said, I had to fight long and hard to reclaim both my bloodline and status. To that point, here lies the root of my being torn. Mr. Boyden is one of the most powerful writers I have had the joy of reading and luckily meeting, in Ottawa during a event welcoming the Attawapiskat walkers outside Parliament and again at a TD hosted literacy table at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto a few years back. I asked if he would sign a copy of one of his books for my daughter who had to debate which of his books I would take for an autograph. He was kind and generous in his time and encouragement of my daughter in his note to her. As these events of the last year have unfolded, I have been saddened by my own struggles tied to who gets to claim an Indigenous identity when so many of us have been denied this right even when our parents are Indian Residential School survivors. In the end all I can say is if has been adopted by a nation within our peoples, then the question is resolved. He is part of someones family. His blood line may be and will be a continued point of argument and debate and my sense is will mostly be used against him on both sides of this issue. But there are people who call him kin. He has been adopted and I think that adoption must put to rest this debate.
    Mr. Boyden may not have been fully open about everything, nor are many of us out here who judge. Perhaps his new bio should note, ” I am an adopted member of a nation, I am a passionate believer in the journey towards healing and reconciliation and my cell memory tells me my culture, Identity and sense of belonging has deep roots in Indigenous CND.”

  9. Well said Joseph. Some will not ‘get it’ regardless how articulate any discussion may be. Citizenship can be as much about where you are as anything else. Culture, however, is all about who you are. And that is defined not just by who you think you are but by who others important to you think you are. Thank you for helping to sharpen that perspective.

  10. Joseph you know who you are, what you are and your background. No one can take your beliefs or feelings away. Stick to it.

  11. There are indisputably millions of dollars at stake for both Boyden and his publishers so it’s entirely understandable to expect them to take any measures possible to obscure the fact that Boyden is likely an ethnic fraud, a liar, a plagiarist and extremely divisive in indigenous communities that need to pull together to recover from ongoing settler aggression. People tend to have short memory spans and will forget that Boyden still has not presented any kind of irrefutable proof that he has any indigenous ancestors. That’s why he just spun out several thousand weasel words to obscure the truth of his many deceptions.

    So…just how many crisis management pros are posting here on behalf of Boyden and his publisher?

  12. Tribalism! What a divisive force! Let’s move past it and claim membership in the human family. All of us! We all come from the same progenitors and seek essentially the same goals. Tribalism is an exclusionary system which is, in essence, racist and nothing less.

    • I just remembered Groucho Marx’s statement: ” I would never join a club that would have me as a member!” LOL

  13. I loved the Three Day Road! I found the writing so compelling, artful, spiritual and transformational so I am a big fan but I find this article cringe-worthy for multiple reasons. I am a member of Key First Nations, a sixties scooper and half European. I once heard a hilarious Indigenous comedian say “you never see Indians pretending to be Chinese or Italian” and there is Hamlet “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” I also don’t think it is our right to judge how a person sees themselves but the tone of the article is so righteous and naming powerful friends who agree with you is just eyeball rolling. I think at the heart of this issue is humility about who you are and what your connection actually means to you and not presented as proof of authenticity. I can’t stand people who exploit their connections with Indigenous people as a way of validating a vocation or commerce…adoption into a community is sacred and comes with it rights and responsibilities. I think publishing or telling of an adoption or friendship creates the perception of exploitation when an enterprise is behind it. I am glad to hear that there was sharing of prize monies that were allocated for Indigenous Writers because I think there is a real difference when people have a lived experience, meaning that the hallmarks of colonization are all over the artist’s life. Those funds and prizes are clearly set aside for this group of Indigenous Canadians. For example, I am the first in three generations to raise my own child as a result of residential school and adoption. Even though this is my real lived experience I feel guilty applying for certain pots of money because I had a very middle-class upbringing that gave me economic privileges. It feels like JB is justifying himself and also comes off sounding like such a victim, I think that is one of the cringe-worthy parts. JB you are not a victim, you put yourself in this situation..anyone around Indian Country knows that there are politics around appropriation, identity and cultural is very clear that you let yourself down by not disclosing in an appropriate way exactly what your ties are to Indigenous people. Even now it feels like you are saying DNA doesn’t is a combo of experience and history and good friends. I think we have to be really diligent and clear about what is and is not Indigenous because of exploitation and appropriation..this topic is not about a bunch of Indians ganging up on someone but a legitimate line of questioning due to the terrible history we have in this country. I feel the take away from this article is that the Natives are hostile again when really the questions being asked of JB are an important part of reconciliation in this country. I don’t hear a respect for the questions and standing behind powerful Indians is so hierarchical and cringe worthy and a further exploitation. I love the writer JB, it is the grey areas around identity, indignation and entitlement that I struggle with.

    • In the end, this controversy becomes simply a condemnation of the Canadian publishing business, and the Canadian Indian industry. Boiled down to essentials, the Indian industry is a grievance industry built around siphoning profits out of the billions of dollars the Canadian government spends warehousing poor natives, while those poor natives generally benefit precious little. Sharon Brass, for example. You acknowledge a decent, middle class upbringing. So, why apply for program money simply because you are part native? Why would you choose to be a non-contributing member of society, taking more than you give, simply on the basis of ancestry? (Thus demonstrating the Achilles heel of socialism, in that, given the chance, everyone will choose to take more than what they contribute. :))
      The single biggest problem with Canadian publishing is that it has evolved towards publishers choosing to seek out writers who will come with grant money attached. The target market is not the mass market, but libraries and niche markets, and the various government funded cultural entities who claim to be our arbiters of “culture.” There is an overlap of the Indian industry and the publishing industry. That’s why native writers are over represented (as a percentage of population) in Canadian publishing, for example.
      The Canadian David Baldacci’s and Stephen King’s and Lee Child’s are squeezed out of the marketplace simply because the Canadian publishing industry has increasingly focused on writers who are seeking to write the Great Canadian Novel, and any grant money that might be part of the deal, instead of books that people might read just for the enjoyment of reading a good, escapist novel. People don’t read literature. They read books, and all good literature starts out as a simple book.

  14. it seems that this man is both a skilled writer, and a skilled liar. Canada’s Rachel Dolezal.

    of course many Aboriginal people were claiming him back when he was pretending to be one of them. and now they’ve known him a long time, some of them since he was a kid, and some of them his entire adult life, at least according to him.

    of course, not all Aboriginal or Native people are so accepting and so forgiving of this fraud. after all, it was an expose by someone from APTN which brought the truth to the fore. there have been whispers about it for years, it being the deception.

    what bothers me most is all the honours and awards he’s scooped up with were specifically meant for Metis and Aboriginal people, and not for some ‘transracial’ imposter.

  15. “Such is the complicated process of learning a family history.” Indeed it is. Underlying this ‘discussion’ or, if you like rite of passage are fundamental facts: 1) race as a concept sucks being 95% an excuse for bigotry, 2) ethnicity is nearly as badly flawed and saved only by a component of culture, 3) culture is what we live more than what we inherit. Our heritage is truly what we understand it to be. As a caucasian Canadian, I have had no cause to defend my heritage so imagine my surprise to determine that my educational system provided me with a dishonest rendition of my heritage i.e. the colonialist view of two founding nations. The message was that I and most others like me were English through and through; in fact, I am half Norwegian, although that ‘complicated process’ thing eventually leads to a mutt mess of Finn, Sami and Dane and, if ethnicity matters, my immediate relatives are Tronheimers – part of Norway but stridently not Norwegian. Anyway, I was almost exclusively taught the English heritage thing, even studying English history, which carefully avoided the fact that a large portion of the British Isles were Scandinavian provinces and even that notable British rulers were Scandinavians or even that the Normans were Franco-Scandinavians. We even were fed the greatly exaggerated story of Giovanni Caboto the alleged Englishman that allegedly discovered Canada for the English. Still, I can claim to be English – after all I am fractionally English – in uncontested fashion; since that conforms to the racist and colonialist vision of many Canadians.
    Cultural appropriation is also a stupid meme, more so when it is also conflated with the race card. Should I be offended that an English screen writer chooses to present a confused and stereotypical view of Norse heritage, that ‘Viking’ is a 19th century fiction or merely that this cartoon enjoys immense popularity? Am I confused – part German but never wore leather shorts, part English but prefer coffee to tea, mainly Norse but only know two words of Norwegian and none of the Norse that my grandfather spoke?