- 'Real' Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood
The body of literature today that deals with Aboriginal peoples in Canada is centred mainly on the issues – past and present – that dominate the lives of those peoples for whom the federal government bears direct responsibility. Primarily the literature is focused on First Nations peoples (those who are subject to the Indian Act), and on the Inuit. There is also a substantial literature on the Metis, although here the federal government's role is, especially since late May 2005, only beginning to emerge. The greatest gap in the literature – though it is not wholly neglected – lies in the area of those Native peoples who do not have legal status in Canada and for whom no level of government accepts any responsibility, save that reserved for all citizens of Canada. In 'Real' Indians and Others, Bonita Lawrence begins to fill that gap with a description and analysis of the dilemmas facing those who, through legal and administrative actions of the federal and sometimes provincial governments, have either lost, never had, or have recently re-acquired their Indian status.
Her book is not historical. It falls more accurately into ethnic, colonial, and post-colonial studies and is informed by sociology and social anthropology. Nevertheless it brings us to a historical moment. It is a book about the outcome of history and its ongoing ramifications. It is this aspect of the book that is both its strength and its weakness. Lawrence is concerned mainly with identity – in this case, Native identity – and its construction both by the community in which people live and by the external, government forces that, she argues, dictate it. Throughout the book she examines the issues of identity confronting the lives of Native persons that the state refuses to recognize and that 'legitimized' members of the Native community frequently ignore. Motivated by her own history as the child of an Anglo-Saxon father and an Indian mother, Lawrence explores the world of those who live in an official identity vacuum and who consequently are left to struggle with constructing, [End Page 166] negotiating, and living their Native heritage. Her exploration is conducted largely through the participation of twenty-nine persons of mixed origin living in Toronto.
Lawrence divides her book into three sections. The first part of the book explores the historical origins and continued practice of regulation of Native identity. She pays particular attention to the Indian Act since it is (and was) the primary tool through which the state confers or denies Indian status, and to Bill C-31, which in 1985 restored Indian status to limited numbers of Native persons, especially women. In this section – as she does throughout the book – Lawrence stresses the importance of gender in regulating Native identity and the ways in which the federal government discriminated against Indian women, systematically undermining matriarchal tribal organization and traditional female roles. In the second section she turns to her participants to examine how they survive and negotiate their identities as Native people in a city, Toronto, chosen because it represents 'the final stage of a process of urbanization,' a process that, over generations, has gradually, relentlessly, expunged 'Nativeness.' Toronto, Lawrence ironically implies, celebrates difference to the extent that urban Natives are simply one more ingredient in the maw of multiculturalism. In the book's final section Lawrence returns to her central theme, colonization and the state regulation of Native identity, but enhances her argument by tying in her participants' comments, common observations, and experiences. She re-emphasizes the destructiveness of the Indian Act and how the state has methodically utilized its provisions to create both Indians and non-Indians, with the result that most persons of Native ancestry turned against each other in a struggle for the meagre benefits that the state bestows.
The solution to this legalistic, bureaucratic nightmare, she posits, lies in three directions. First, the current movement to renegotiate the numbered treaties should include the admission into treaty of the...