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Reviewed by:
  • 'Real'Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood
  • Jean-Paul Restoule (bio)
Bonita Lawrence . 'Real'Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous NationhoodUniversity of British Columbia Press. xviii, 308. $34.95

Bonita Lawrence's work draws on first-person interviews to provide a descriptive overview of identity politics for urban Aboriginal people. This work is framed by, and situated within, an analysis of legislative and political definitions of Indian identity imposed by various settler governments since the nineteenth century. Essentially, Lawrence argues that the division, exclusion, and entitlements created historically by the Indian Act and treaty negotiation practices are responsible for the often intricate and puzzling social categories of Indian identities and politics practised and experienced by Aboriginal people today.

In attempting to illuminate the difficult choices, challenges, and ruptures that influence Aboriginal people in urban settings, it is quite easy to get lost. To keep the reader focused, Lawrence continually returns to the way in which colonialist definitions have created and contribute to this confusion. Using twenty-nine interviews as the primary data, Lawrence's study features a diversity within Aboriginal communities. This study composition makes Lawrence's work quite complex. Every aspect that potentially divides Aboriginal people - including gender, ties to land and community, blood quantum, knowledge and use of language and culture - is described in all its complexity. This is no easy feat. If at times Lawrence constructs convoluted sentences to portray the various exceptions, and historical derivations and detours of identity discourses, it is because there is no simple way to relate this history. An unfortunate side effect may be that some readers will become confused. But if they're confused trying just to understand Lawrence's analytic and descriptive approach to urban Aboriginal identity, it only serves to underscore what it's like for the people in her study who have to live it.

Academic study of urban Aboriginal identity has proliferated in the past ten years. The basic research undertaken for this book pre-dated many important developments in the urban Aboriginal landscape, so don't look for any discussion of the impact of the Corbiere decision or the federal [End Page 177] government's Urban Aboriginal Strategy. This timing also explains the absence of key urban Aboriginal identity literature such as Deborah Jackson's insightful book Our Elders Lived It! (2002) and the edited collections by Susan Lobo and Kurt Peters (American Indians and the Urban Experience, 2000) and David Newhouse and Evelyn Peters (Not Strangers in These Parts, 2003). But the title of the book highlights the mixed-blood aspect of identity and Lawrence draws on mixed-blood literature extensively. While admirably picking apart the paradoxes of the racial identity of Métisness, Lawrence surprisingly underestimates the reality of a distinct Métis cultural identity on the plains. Early on, Lawrence admits the work will have an eastern Canadian bias and indeed, this is true - Métisness on the plains is more than a by-product of treaty negotiations and the Indian Act.

But there are many strengths in Lawrence's approach. Her chapter detailing how sexism influenced Indian identities is already becoming a classic, used as it is in several introductory area studies courses. Also noteworthy is Lawrence's handling of issues of appearance. Light-skinned Aboriginal people and their exclusion from Aboriginal life by 'Hollywood ' Indians have been fleetingly addressed by others, but the privilege they enjoy has rarely been discussed so well as here. Lawrence's analysis of light-skinned Aboriginal privilege is both original and overdue.

Lawrence also uses this work to illuminate the players and the field in the inevitable battle that is to come over the Indian Act's phasing out of status Indians through intermarriage. She has shown how and why urban Aboriginal people will play a key role in this coming fight, in particular those who have gained advanced education and middle-class socioeconomic status as a result of their Indian status and Aboriginal rights.

This book serves as a wake-up call to Aboriginal people in both urban areas and rural reserves. Lawrence warns that as we fight each other over socially constructed...


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pp. 177-178
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