- 150,239 hits
PRAISE FOR UMBRELLA MAN!
Winnipeg Free Press"Ramirez is an appealing character who uses his Canadian connections to augment his sleuthing..."
Ottawa Citizen"Crisply written, the characters are real ... Blair enters the world of the thriller."
Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail
"Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series gets better with every book. An Ottawa lawyer, Blair has a real knack for using her Havana setting, with its eccentricities born of necessity, as both a charming backdrop and a real guide to plot lines.
"This time out, Ramirez begins with a confrontation with Mama Loa. The witch doctor says people in the sky are going to die. Ramirez isn’t convinced. There hasn’t been a murder in Havana in weeks and who cares about clouds in the sky?
"When the prophecy kicks in (expertly done) there’s not just one, but several connected killings and yes, the sky is there, too. But this is no local curse or a shot of voodoo. This is plain old-fashioned KGB-CIA hit man-style killing. That makes it political, not personal, and Ramirez knows he’s on borrowed time."
Jack Batten, Toronto Star
"Marvellously accomplished ... Cuba is a small triumph of evocation.
"Blair manipulates the new characters in the book with the finesse of a card dealer dealing a hand from the bottom of the deck."
The Indextrious Reader"Blair's mastery of intricate plotlines means that I didn't even guess at the extent of the machinations until the very end. "And yet it all seemed to make sense once it was explained -- the very different storylines all connected in a great ending -- which was very cinematic in scope, and again, quite spy thrillerish. "All in all, you'll find warmth, friendship, terror, clandestine plots, violence, explosions, and true love in this story. The perfect summer read."
PRAISE FOR HUNGRY GHOSTS!
National Post"An exciting procedural."
Chronicle Herald"Blair's thriller never disappoints ...This series, with its study of seemingly disparate cultures that actually have a lot in common, continues to be a delight."
The Chronicle Herald"A charming and funny, but also poignant, series. "
A Bookworms World"Blair's plotting is meticulous, inventive and oh so well played ... an excellent addition to a wonderful series. Absolutely recommended."
Globe and Mail"Heavy on atmosphere and style, the two places Blair shines." Margaret Cannon
Ottawa Citizen"Top-notch mystery ... A new level of sophistication. Hungry Ghosts is one of the best mysteries to come out of Ottawa this or any year. "
Winnipeg Free Press"Terrific cop characters Ricardo Ramirez and Charlie Pike -- intrepid, quietly anti-authoritarian investigators relentlessly sleuthing in their isolated corners of the world--and locations in non-touristy Cuba and the impoverished Canadian Shield make for a cracking good read."
"Blair grows more assured with each novel ... she shapes all the elements in each of the three plots into coherent and related whodunits.
"As a bonus, Blair rewards readers with enlightenment about the perils of ordinary life both in Cuba and on Canadian aboriginal reserves."
Mass paperback (Canada and the US)!
Mass paperback (Canada and US)!
REVIEWED BY THE NEW YORK TIMES!!!!"The Beggar's Opera is a well-crafted procedural with a detective who is haunted by the victims in his homicide cases. Inspector Ricardo Ramirez of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police returns in The Poisoned Pawn. Ramirez is a wonderful guide — hiding nothing but hoping we’ll look past the poverty, hardship and political corruption to see the beauty and humanity of his battered city."
Trade paperback (Canada)
Second in the series!
REVIEWS OF MIDNIGHT IN HAVANA!
Neville Moir, Publisher, Polygon
"I am a bit of a sucker for the weird and unusual and a taste of the exotic, so when I saw this script I sat up and took notice.
"Set in contemporary Havana, we are introduced to the major crime unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police led by an inspector who sees the ghosts of unsolved murder victims who in turn is assisted by a dwarf pathologist who needs a stepladder to be able to conduct his autopsies.
"Although handicapped by a creaking bureaucracy, intermittent internet and a lack of pencils, the policemen’s resourcefulness, dark subversive wit and profound intelligence more than compensate for these shortcomings.
"A compelling mystery with brilliant characters and a fantastic setting this is a spellbinding whodunnit. But above all a book of immense humanity."
Scotland on Sunday“All the ingredients of the best detective novels."
Bookbag (UK)“A thrilling and engrossing mystery that uses the intrigue of a communist Cuba setting to add not only an interesting backdrop but real jeopardy to the investigation. A fantastic start to what I hope will be a long series.”
Book Noir"A poignant yet pacy mystery. The major, and the minor characters, leave the reader wanting more - in the best possible way."
The Killing Time"Canadian author Peggy Blair's debut novel (originally published in Canada under the title The Beggars Opera) is a treat. It's a fast-moving, original and atmospheric mystery."
REVIEWS OF THE BEGGAR’S OPERA!
Booklist (starred review)“A fine novel and the launch of what looks to be a superb series.”
Publishers Weekly“Decaying but beautiful Havana provides the atmospheric backdrop for Blair’s absorbing debut.”
New York Post“For mystery fans who need a break from both our winter weather and the proliferation of Nordic crime tales, here’s a first-time novelist introducing Inspector Ricardo Ramirez of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Police. Havana is as much a character as the people in Canadian author Blair’s fast-paced story.”
Mystery Tribune“We highly recommend this book to the readers who love mysteries in exotic locales.”
Fresh Fiction, Texas“A compelling mystery with flawed, haunted characters that reach beyond stereotypes. Poignant, carefully crafted, and hopeful, Peggy Blair has created a new series that is worth reading.”
Richmond Times Dispatch“Readers will find themselves gripped by this smart novel as Blair combines a surprise-filled plot with well-drawn characters and lush details of Cuban life. A heady mix of deprivation and depravity, The Beggar’s Opera marks a promising start to a projected series.”
The National Post“Compelling and convincing, a genuinely mysterious mystery that manages to both surprise and maintain its internal integrity.”
Quill and Quire“An impressive police procedural, one that is as much about a detective facing his own dementia-induced demons as a country in the midst of political turmoil. The Beggar’s Opera was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association’s Debut Dagger Award, and it’s easy to see why.”
Toronto Star“Quirky leads, an exotic setting, and not one, not two, but at least three twists at the end (saving the best for last). It’s a great start for the series.”
Winnipeg Free Press“There are enough strong characters, dazzling locations and subplots in Blair’s book to sustain more than one season of thrillers.”
Vancouver Sun“A fast-paced, well-plotted mystery set in Havana... One can only hope Blair, a lawyer for 30 years and former member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, continues her career as a crime writer as well as she has begun.”
The Chronicle-Journal“The Beggar’s Opera sets the tone for a style that includes rapid plot developments and unexpected twists, with a dollop of social conscience thrown in for good measure.”
The Ottawa Citizen“The Beggar’s Opera does not disappoint. It’s fast-paced, atmospheric, has unusual characters and delivers surprises right to the final pages.”
The Sherbrooke Record“Blair nicely strings the reader along, casting doubt on what’s real and what’s imaginary, while serving up a tale that combines a penetrating commentary on Cuban life with a whodunit full of twists and turns.”
The Hamilton Spectator“Full of atmosphere. The Beggar’s Opera is a debut novel with a twisted climax, revealing dialogue and astute social observation on how far apart we are from Cuba and yet how close.”
The Chronicle Herald“A splendid fictional debut with the first in the Ramirez series…. Blair’s riveting, gritty tale is so realistic, it may give readers nightmares about landing in legal trouble while in another country.”
REVIEWS OF THE POISONED PAWN!
The National Post“The story treads dark and nasty territory, but Blair sidesteps the impulse to wallow in graphic violence by sticking to her characters’ actions and motivations… The Poisoned Pawn shows there is a way to hold onto decency and humanity in the face of the worst criminality.”
Margaret Cannon, Globe and Mail“If you, like me, somehow managed to miss Peggy Blair’s debut novel, The Beggar’s Opera, then you should read this second book and then run to get the first. Let’s hope there’s a third in the works.”
Chronicle-Journal“The plot comes together nicely in a Hollywood-style ending, which extends from ordinary people with murderous intent to international conspiracies at the highest level.”
The Ottawa Citizen“Blair’s experience in First Nations law comes shining through in this novel. But it’s the Cuban story that really makes it sing.”
Vancouver Sun“Two crime novels. Two resounding successes. Canadian writer and lawyer Peggy Blair proves her debut novel, The Beggar’s Opera, acclaimed by readers and critics alike, was much, much more than beginner’s luck. Blair’s prose is evocative, nary a word amiss.”
Jack Batten, Whodunit, Sunday Star“An affecting series … Even if impoverished and politically oppressed Havana presents unique burdens, Ramirez is not without a sense of humour as he goes about his clever sleuthing.”
New Brunswick Telegraph Journal“The plot is intricate, intriguing and surprising. There is plenty of death – innocent, inadvertent, coolly calculated, retributive – and there is plenty of subtle strategizing as the stakes mount for both countries. We haven’t seen the last of Ramirez.”
Owen Sound Sun Times“Blair has found a winner in crumbling old Havana with Ramirez, a man haunted both by his country and unsolved crimes."
My first advance from Penguin!
Peggy Blair on Agent Rejections – Here… Marilyn Norman on Agent Rejections – Here… Peggy Blair on Agent Rejections – Here… Jo-Anne Ward on Agent Rejections – Here… Duncan A Campbell on Agent Rejections – Here… Peggy Blair on Agent Rejections – Here…
- Boris Epshteyn Named in July FISA Application; Did Nunes Obstruct Justice? March 27, 2017
- Agent Rejections – Here are some samples. Read ’em and weep. March 21, 2017
- Fan Mail! #SpoilerAlert February 10, 2017
- The Inconsistencies in Joseph Boyden’s Various Backgrounds January 13, 2017
- Joseph Boyden’s Disputed Status as Indigenous Spokesman and Why it Matters December 26, 2016
Yes, I’m a realtor, too!
Peggy Blair, Sales Representative
Royal LePage Team Realty
200, 1335 Carling Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario K1Z 8N8
- @JohnChr47599945 @VeldonCoburn @turtlehands Yeah, I saw that. And nothing funny about it at all. Depraved. 1 hour ago
- RT @purringtonpost: Why "Take Your Cat to Work" day failed in corporate America! #catsrule https://t.co/TZprAMgvOD 1 hour ago
- acrylic paintings (2)
- Amazon (4)
- Apryl Miller (1)
- ARCs (1)
- Arnprior Library (2)
- Art Exhibition (5)
- artists (3)
- Artworks (13)
- Backstory (3)
- Bestseller (1)
- Blogging (29)
- Blurbs (1)
- Book Awards (20)
- Book Clubs (3)
- Book Launch (44)
- Book Reviews (127)
- Book Sales (7)
- Bookstores (9)
- Canada Reads (1)
- Characters (10)
- Contracts (7)
- Crime Fiction (2)
- Cuban recipes (2)
- Czech Republic (1)
- Dealing with rejection (16)
- Dialogue (4)
- Don't Give Up (7)
- E-books (16)
- Editors (13)
- Election 2011 (32)
- Events (16)
- Famine Bay (1)
- Festivals (3)
- Foreign Rights (18)
- Forensics (1)
- Genre (9)
- Getting Published (153)
- Guest Blogs (1)
- Historical Fiction (2)
- Hrichy Havany (1)
- Hungry Ghosts (27)
- Ian Rankin (1)
- Indies (1)
- Inspector Ramirez series (2)
- Jacket cover (1)
- Joseph Boyden (1)
- Libraries (6)
- Margaret Cannon (1)
- Marketing (32)
- Mayor Jim Watson (1)
- Media (37)
- Mysteries (4)
- National Post (1)
- Negotiations (1)
- Offers of Representation (4)
- Other blogs to keep an eye on (25)
- Ottawa (2)
- Peggy Blair (34)
- Perth Mystery Night (1)
- Plagiarism (7)
- Plot (7)
- Podcast (6)
- Prague (1)
- Prologues (1)
- Publicity (6)
- Publishing (26)
- Querying (21)
- Reader Selfies (3)
- Readers (1)
- rejection letters (1)
- Research (2)
- Revisions (14)
- Rogers TV show (8)
- Round-up (4)
- Royalties (3)
- satire (1)
- Scams (1)
- setting (3)
- Slushpiles (4)
- Social Media (22)
- Stuffy Reading Night (1)
- Thanksgiving (1)
- The Angel's Share (3)
- The Author-Agent Relationship (14)
- The Beggar's Opera (5)
- The Debut Dagger (11)
- The Dreaded Synopsis (2)
- The Exclusive (1)
- The Giller Prize (5)
- The Importance of Networking (9)
- The Mid-list (1)
- Umbrella Man (3)
- Uncategorized (124)
- visual art (2)
- volunteer work (1)
- Wordpress (1)
- Writers Groups (1)
- Writing (88)
Nothing makes an author happier than a happy reader, so a big shout out to Frank who took the time to drop me a note in the mail. I love getting fan mail! So happy he enjoyed the books. (But I’m sorry to say that Umbrella Man is the last we’ll hear of Inspector Ramirez; it’s the last book in the series.)
I’ve had a lot of my non-indigenous friends express sympathy for the beleaguered author, Joseph Boyden. They think his background sounds complicated and that perhaps he’s being unfairly criticized for not being “Indian enough,” as one of them said to me today.
The discussion that’s been raging on social media, however, is not about “how Indian” Boyden is, but whether he has any indigenous ancestry at all, or whether he’s made that up entirely.
This is based on two major concerns: his wildly divergent stories about his ancestry, and the inability of APTN, after conducting a genealogical/archival search, to find any indigenous ancestry at all. Boyden argues, in response, that the records don’t reflect his family history and that the family hid their indigenous ancestry, and for sure, that’s always possible.
So let me simply set out a list of some of the inconsistencies that remain problematic, despite his interviews this week with Candy Palmater on CBC and Mark Medley of the Globe and Mail.
In 2005, Boyden told the Quill and Quire that there was “Métis in [his] ancestry, and his father’s Irish-Catholic family history also has some Micmac in the mix.”
The mention of his father being part Micmac (Mi’kmaq) appears again in an interview with The Scotsman that same year, and a further reference to his aboriginal “blood” as including Mi’kmaq was reported in the Globe and Mail in 2008.
In his December Twitter statement responding to the APTN article, Boyden said that he did not recall ever saying he was Mi’kmaq and that the interviewers must have misunderstood him when he said his father had Nipmuc blood. The Nipmuc are a small Indian tribe in the US, so this certainly seemed plausible, as the two words sound similar.
Here’s the entire tweet:
However, Boyden told an New Orleans reporter that he was “Mi’kmaq on my father’s side. They’re an east coast tribe in Canada.” Which really negated any suggestion of confusion on the part of the interviewers. In his interview with Mark Medley yesterday in the Globe and Mail, Boyden finally admitted that indeed, he had said he was Mi’kmaq, but it was a mistake:
“Métis, when I used it, it was as the Canadian federal government defines it. Mi’kmaq was a mistake, and I did make that mistake.”
Medley didn’t ask him to explain how the mistake originated, but I would note that the Mi’kmaq are a completely different nation from the Ojibway or Nipmuc, linguistically, culturally, and territorially. It would be like telling someone I’m Welsh or Polish, when I’m Canadian. I don’t really know how one could make that mistake or do so repeatedly.
As for the claim of Nipmuc heritage, in the statement he provided APTN for their original story, Boyden wrote:
Over the last few decades I, along with some siblings, have explored my family’s heritage. We’ve uncovered and traced a fascinating and personal genealogy, a genealogy often whitewashed of our Indigenous ancestry due to the destructive influences of colonialism,” said Boyden, in the statement. “While the majority of my blood comes from Europe and the Celtic region, there is Nipmuc ancestry on my father’s side, and Ojibwe ancestry on my mother’s [sic].”
Barrera reports: “It wasn’t until about 2014, in an interview with Walrus magazine, that Boyden began to say his father’s ancestry included links to the Nipmuc. The next year, in an interview with CBC’s Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild, Boyden revealed he discovered Raymond Wilfred Boyden’s Nipmuc heritage by reviewing Nipmuc membership rolls.”
I find it interesting that Boyden would rest his claim to Nipmuc heritage on his father’s side by relying on historical census documents but deny the reliability of historical materials when it comes to the Ojibway heritage he claims, but I digress.
The problem is that the Nipmuc themselves don’t support the information Boyden provided. The Nipmuc’s main historian and genealogist says she finds the claim confusing. In the APTN story, she points out that Boyden is not a Nipmuc name. She looked at the female names of Boyden’s ancestors from the records (which remember, predate the date of the census rolls Boyden relies on) and couldn’t find a connection.
Although Boyden said in his Twitter statement that his Nipmuc ancestors were from Dartmouth, Massachusetts, she debunked that altogether:
I think it’s very hard to maintain a claim based on one’s own research when that research is not only not supported by the historical evidence, but is contradicted by those who are actual experts in the area. That leaves us with Boyden’s claim to Ojibway ancestry.
In his Twitter statement, as noted, he claimed his Ojibway ancestry through his mother; his father’s ancestry, he said, was Nipmuc. However, it is through his father’s brother, Erl, that Boyden has most often referred to his Ojibway heritage. The 2008 Globe and Mail article refers to this claim, that both sides of the family had Ojibway “blood”:
Both his father, an Ottawa-born Irish Catholic who later became a doctor and served with distinction in the Second World War, and his mother, an elementary-school teacher of Scottish origin, had aboriginal blood (Ojibwa, Mi’kmaq). During the summer, they’d take their 11 children – Boyden was the third youngest – camping and canoeing in and around Georgian Bay where the Jesuits once roamed. An uncle, Erl, his father’s older brother, was nicknamed “Injun Joe” and, when he wasn’t “travelling the world like a bum – he was even in a Jimmy Cagney movie years ago,” he lived in a tepee in Algonquin Park.
In the 2008 Penguin Reading Guide to Three Day Road, Boyden wrote that “In the summer of 1945, Erl, my dad’s older brother, was living a traditional lifestyle in a teepee near Algonquin Park, selling crafts to tourists.” He adds: “I grew up with history and myth swirling around me, stories of my father’s war exploits and my uncle Erl’s Ojibwa ways inseparable.” He referred to his uncle as somehow acquiring the “horribly racist moniker” Injun Joe.
But as both APTN and blogger Robert Jago reported, “Injun Joe” chose the moniker himself, as part of a persona he adopted to sell Indian souvenirs.
Jago posted several newspaper articles about a coroner’s inquest into the tragic death of a tourist in the mid 1950s when Injun Joe put on a headdress at the request of a tourist, and fired what he thought was an unloaded rifle. Injun Joe was cleared, but all the news reports of the time indicated that “Injun Joe” was not really an Indian, but Erl Boyden, a white man. (You can see these stories imbedded in the APTN story, along with some pictures of Injun Joe.)
Dorothy Sangster of Macleans magazine did a lengthy feature about Erl Boyden in 1956 called The Double Life of Injun Joe. Here are a few excerpts:
When Erl Boyden was five years old, his Uncle Richard took him to a wild-west show in Ottawa and introduced him to Buffalo Bill.
Excited by tom-toms and war cries and trailing war bonnets, little Erl fell in love with Indians on the spot. He took to cutting out pictures of Indians, improvising Indian costumes, collecting Indian souvenirs. His bedroom in the old Boyden home on Mackenzie Avenue, in the shadow of the Parliament Buildings, became a litter of bows and arrows and buckskins. His most treasured possession was a five-foot cotton tepee his aunt Bertha O’Donaghue sent him from New York. The Last of the Mohicans was his favorite book and he and his two brothers saved their nickels to see Broncho Billy Anderson on Saturday afternoons at the neighborhood movie house, and Custer’s Last Stand, a stage show that came to Ottawa’s Grand Opera House in 1907. School bored young Erl—his thoughts were elsewhere. He saw himself as a white boy who by his knowledge of hunting and outdoor lore is adopted by an Indian chief and given a place of honor in the tribe.
Boyden is sixty years old now, but he’s still playing Indian. All summer long you can find him sitting beside the highway at Dwight, a small resort town 160 miles north of Toronto on the road to Algonquin Park, under a sign that says, “Ugh! Indian Souvenirs!” The tourists know him as Injun Joe.
The toy tepee has changed into a real tepee. The buckskins and tomahawks are spread out on counters for sale. The child is a man who refuses to put away childish things. “Haven’t you guessed? I’m a case of arrested development, Peter Pan in a war bonnet.” he says. Erl König Boyden— he was named after his mother’s favorite Schubert song— has been soldier, sailor, artist, stage designer and Jack-ofall-trades, but says the proudest day of his life was the day he met Buffalo Bill….
He says: “They come here and buy armfuls of stuff marked ‘Algonquin Park.’ they take pictures of what they idiotically believe to be a real live Canadian Indian and away they go into the wide blue yonder, happy as larks. Who am I to spoil iheir fun? Next year more tourists will arrive, similarly bathed in gloom and burdened with filthy lucre. Ah well, as the French observe so truly, c’est la vie!”
In the news release Boyden issued this past week in response to the swirling controversy, Boyden says that “My family’s heritage is rooted in our stories. I’ve listened to them, both the European and the Indigenous ones, all my life. My older sisters told me since childhood about my white-looking father helping his Indian-looking brother hide their blood in order to survive in the early 1900’s.”
That Indian-looking brother he refers to was clearly Erl Boyden. If Erl was trying to hide his identity, he certainly found a peculiar way to do it: he didn’t try to pass as white, but as Indian. And he himself denied that he had any Indian blood. Once again, from the 1956 Macleans article:
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. His father was a well-to-do Ottawa merchant (in household furniture) who traced his family to Thomas O’Boyden of Yorkshire. His mother was Irish.
Erl’s statements about his non-indigenous ancestry, by the way, are supported by the APTN historical research.
So all we are left with is Joseph Boyden’s word that the records are wrong based on his family’s oral history. However, his own mother and her brother, Richard, told APTN that the family’s claim to indigenous ancestry wasn’t based on oral history, but on the research Boyden did. His uncle (his mother’s brother Richard) told APTN:
“He is the only one who obviously brought this whole situation to the forefront because of his interest in Aboriginal people in Canada, and his writings are certainly Aboriginal. He is really the one who raised this issue to begin with or indicated there was a connection,” said Richard Gossling, 82, who is Boyden’s uncle on Blanche Boyden’s side. “I am sure that Joseph has answers that we certainly don’t have because of his writings and whatever research he did.”
Joseph Boyden’s mother, Blanche Boyden, said her son has the answers.
“I don’t know much myself,” said Blanche Boyden, 86, in a telephone interview with APTN. “We didn’t keep many records in those days…. Joseph proved it and he got the papers and everything so there is no question about it.”
Blanche Boyden said the “key” was her grandmother, Blanche McInnes, who her son discovered to be Indigenous.
“Soon as I gave him the name McInnis, he had no problem with it,” she said.
Except that APTN established that Hector McInnes, Blanche McInnes’s father, wasn’t indigenous at all: he was of Scottish and Irish ancestry. There was one missing record: the ancestry of Hector’s wife, Kate Ellis. APTN couldn’t find records for Kate Ellis’s parents, George and Margaret Ellis. I found the record: it’s in the 1881 census records: they were born in England.
So let’s be clear: this isn’t about an absence of records. The archival records exist: they just don’t support Boyden’s claim to indigenous ancestry. This is not about “blood”: that’s not why this controversy continues: this is about honesty.
There are many individuals from indigenous communities who have stepped forward over the past month to report on Twitter that Boyden told them different stories about his background as well. For example, he told an acquaintance of mine from Cape Croker that he was from Wasauksing First Nation; he told the same thing to the editor of Muskrat Magazine. He told a leading Métis writer and lawyer, Chelsea Vowel, that his mother came from Cape Croker (Cape Croker is Saugeen Ojibway and a totally different First Nation from Wasauksing; as an aside, I worked with the Saugeen Ojibway for a decade as their lawyer on treaty fishing rights).
This article by Jesse Brown in CanadaLand reports only a few of the discrepancies. As blogger Robert Jago said this week, the stories are getting hard to keep track of.
But the claim I found most troubling was one that occurred during an interview Boyden had with Peter Mansbridge, where they talked about the writing process. Boyden told reporter Leslie Stojsic during the camera shoot that “his ancestors were from the bear tribe (Attignawantan) of the Wendat population.”
The Wendats are commonly often referred to as Huron — these are the people he writes about in The Orenda. But they are an Iroquoian nation, again, totally different from the Ojibway or the Nipmuc peoples.
In the APTN story that questioned his shifting identity, Jorge Barrera quoted from a statement Boyden provided APTN as follows :”My family is Mukwa Dodem, Bear Clan.” That’s a claim to being Anishnabe Bear Clan, or Ojibway, not Huron. As one of my indigenous Twitter friends, @redindiangirl pointed out, how can you know your clan if you don’t know your community?
In his most recent press release, Boyden says: “Children don’t go about consciously presenting identities; they just are who they are. And that’s how I was: a white kid from Willowdale with native roots. The Ojibwe family I grew up with in summers on Christian Island still call me cousin or uncle. The bad poetry I first scribbled as a troubled teen was about searching for my mother’s clan. For the last 22 years I’ve been a member of a Moose Cree First Nation family, active in their community….”
Spending summers in a First Nation community doesn’t make one indigenous or my daughter could claim to belong to a few different First Nations.
The Tozers, the Moose Cree First Nation family in Northern Ontario that Boyden has long befriended, clearly love the man and consider him family. No one can dispute their strong, abiding friendship; I wish had friends who were as loyal as they are.
But they can’t confer indigeneity on him either. That’s up to the community to decide. Anymore than I could have Australian friends stay with me each year and because we’re very close, decide they’re Canadian.
Following his interview with Boyden this week in the Globe and Mail, Mark Medley wrote as follows:
But also damning, to many, was the collection of quotes Mr. Boyden had given to the media over the years, which pegged his ancestry as Métis, Mi’kmaq, Ojibway and Nipmuc. Had he knowingly lied about his heritage?
“Never,” he said. “People are calling it an ‘ever-shifting identity.’ I have not [lied]. I have misspoken one time – well, not one time, a few times.” When asked about the discrepancies in his statements about his ancestry over the years, he replied: “What are the discrepancies?”
I’ve pointed out some of the times he’s “misspoken” and why his interviews this week don’t really answer the hard questions. Maybe in the future, he’ll provide some clearer answers.
NOTE: (January 15) A reader, Kelly T, notes in Comments, below, that I haven’t mentioned Boyden’s claim to be Métis. I had left that out deliberately, both in the interests of length and also since he retracted that claim in his December Twitter statement, saying he thought the term meant “mixed blood.” This is not unreasonable, as it is a common mistake, although I would note that Boyden wrote a book on Métis leaders Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont.
However, as Kelly T. points out, in an email to Métis writer/lawyer Chelsea Vowel, posted on Twitter, he told Vowel that his mother “was always told there was a Red River connection on her mother’s side.” This is at odds with what his mother and her brother told APTN, which was that they had relied on his research concerning their indigenous ancestry, and that the “key was Blanche Boyden’s grandmother, Blanche McInnes, who [Boyden] discovered to be Indigenous.” According to the 1881 census and APTN’s research, she wasn’t.
In his interview with Candy Palmater, Boyden indicated he used the term “Métis” as the federal government used it some twelve or thirteen years ago. However, Boyden claimed to be Métis in a 2005 Quill and Quire story, in a 2011 Nuovo magazine story, and in an interview in Macleans magazine in 2014.
He received an honorary degree from Nipissing University in 2009: the press release refers to his Irish, Scottish and Métis heritage. And finally, he confirmed he should be identified as Métis in an event last November, after telling Chelsea Vowel that he would no longer claim to be Métis.
Late last week, celebrity author Joseph Boyden’s indigenous background was questioned by both Jorge Barrera of the the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and by an indigenous blogger, Robert Jago. The questions they raised created a firestorm of controversy on Twitter. The story hit the mainstream media yesterday, with stories on CTV, the Globe and Mail, and the National Observer, among others.
Boyden has become perhaps the leading Native spokesperson on indigenous issues in Canada. He has been interviewed hundreds of times, and has offered his views, among other things, on reconciliation, on murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls, and on residential schools. No one in mainstream media, to my knowledge, has ever challenged his authority to speak on behalf of indigenous communities or has asked more than cursory questions about his background.
As part of trying to at least set out why this is a problem, I’d like to explain the controversy, and why it matters. Let me first clarify that I am not indigenous. My family has Scottish-Irish roots and my ancestors moved to Moose Creek, Ontario in the early 1800s. My father left Moose Creek after the war and later in life, taught in reserve schools in northern Alberta and B.C.
As a lawyer, I specialized in Aboriginal law on the First Nation side. I spent over twenty years working with primarily Ojibway and Mohawk nations and did my LLM and LLD in Aboriginal law and history. I wrote Lament for a First Nation, which traces the history of the Williams Treaties First Nations back to first contact. I spent the latter part of my legal career hearing cases of the physical and sexual abuse of indigenous children as an adjudicator with the Indian Residential Schools Process. So while I am an outsider — a settler– I am a relatively well-informed one with close connections to several First Nation communities.
Joseph Boyden has often referred to his native roots by discussing his Ojibway uncle Erl (“Injun Joe”) and his traditional Ojibway ways, including how he lived in a teepee in Algonquin Park. Late last week, Robert Jago, blogging as a host of @indigenousxca, released a series of tweets about Boyden, as well as a video that contained newspaper articles from the 1950s which said “Injun Joe” wasn’t really an Indian.
He included an excerpt from a 1956 Macleans interview by Dorothy Sangster with Erl Boyden called “The Double Life of Injun Joe.”
In it, Erl Boyden told Sangster he wasn’t aware of having any native blood, and said he only pretended to be an Indian so he could run his lucrative souvenir business: “Tourists come here and buy armfuls of stuff marked Algonquin Park, they take pictures of what they idiotically believe to be a real Canadian Indian and away they go into the wide blue yonder, happy as larks. Who am I to spoil their fun?”
Shortly after, Jorge Barrera published his story, Author Joseph Boyden’s Shape-Shifting Identity. In it, he pointed out how Boyden had at different times referred to being Mi’kmaq, Métis, Ojibway and Nipmuc, which are all very different nations. Despite conducting exhaustive research into Boyden’s background, including a review of archival materials and contacting a Nipmuc genealogist, Barrera was unable to find a connection.
In response to APTN, Boyden posted a statement on Twitter in which he said he had distant indigenous ancestry: Ojibway from Nottawasaga Beach and Nipmuc from Dartmouth, Massachusetts. He apologized for having referred to himself as Métis, however, saying that he had misunderstood the term to mean “mixed blood.”
He said that he could not recall ever referring to himself as M’ikmaq, but perhaps the interviewers had misheard him when he’d said Nipmuc, which is certainly plausible, as the terms sound similar, and the Nipmuc, a small American tribe in Massachusetts, is not well known in Canada. (Although, according to this article, Boyden was careful to explain to an American interviewer that the M’ikmaq on his father’s side were an East Coast Canadian tribe.)
Boyden also said that the uncle referred to in the APTN story had died before he was born, and knew he was Indian but hid his identity, as was so often the case in the 1940s and 1950s.
I found Boyden’s statement that his uncle Erl knew he was Indian but hid his identity a bit hard to swallow: after all, he lived in a teepee, called himself “Injun Joe,” and wore a war bonnet. It’s a bit like trying to hide the fact you are Jewish by wearing a yarmulke. But I don’t think it matters. Boyden clearly self-identifies as an indigenous person. And there is the rub.
What I have learned over the years is that self-declaration is one thing, but there is a reciprocal side to it, which is acceptance by the community with which you self-identify. Otherwise, anyone can claim to be indigenous based on little more than family gossip or wishful thinking.
I have been struggling to think of an analogy, and the closest one I can come to is with respect to religion. I cannot simply decide to be Roman Catholic, for example. There are steps I must go through first. I must be baptized, or the church has to agree to accept me through conversion. Once I am part of that community, I can rely on its ceremonies and its teachings, but I have responsibilities to it as well.
Since Boyden has yet to say something like “great grandmother X was from Y First Nation,” there is so far no indigenous community that has claimed him. Tracing one’s roots can be difficult in a world where the colonizers disrupted family ties, pulled children out of homes, scooped them and put them in foster care, and actively severed their ties to their communities. However, Boyden claims to have those roots; he has simply declined to provide them. As a result, indigenous people are still asking: Who are his people? Unfortunately, the statement he provided on Twitter doesn’t answer those questions.
For those rushing to Boyden’s defence, I would suggest they exercise a bit of care. We have to listen to what indigenous people are saying. As settlers, we hold enormous power. We have a responsibility to be cautious before we accord prominence to someone to speak about indigenous issues. As tweeter Tom Fortington said, it’s too much to put the entire burden of accountability on First Nations.
It troubles me, for example, that Boyden described himself in interviews as Métis for years, but now admits that he was wrong and that he didn’t know what the term meant (although he wrote a book about Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont). There is harm in this, because his misunderstanding was provided a national platform. In another interview, he completely misunderstood what it means to be two-spirited, and people were misinformed because he was mistaken.
I don’t think anyone can question Boyden’s passion or his commitment or his incredible talent or even his good intentions –that’s not the issue. Perhaps it comes down to respect. We do not respect people by taking away their voices. The First Nations people I met over the decades were always careful not to overstep. If they were asked questions about another nation’s world views or experiences, they deferred to those they considered better-suited to answer them.
According celebrity in such large measure to only one person to discuss pan-Canadian indigenous issues silences other indigenous voices. And if that one person is mistaken, or lacks authority, or worse, knowledge, we are more likely to misunderstand the things we need to know as we head down the difficult path towards reconciliation.
I will leave you with a Facebook post by Daniel Heath Justice who explains far more eloquently than I can why all of this matters. It’s a brilliant analysis, perhaps the best one I’ve read so far. It’s one of those indigenous voices I mentioned, shared with permission.
Here are my thoughts after last night’s win: there are some silver linings we shouldn’t lose sight of. There was no revolt in the streets, and no armed insurrection, which I feared might follow a Clinton victory. I worried that if elected, Clinton would be assassinated. That’s a relief.
With Trump having the Oval Office and GOP in control of House and Senate, the GOP will have no excuse when it can’t execute Trump’s agenda or live up to the hype he’s created.
And, since he’s fundamentally incapable of being briefed and doesn’t read, he won’t like the job he was given and is unlikely to do it well. Dissatisfaction will rise quickly from those who trusted him to bring change and those who try to advise him and are dismissed out of hand. Expect lots of of turnover. He owes nothing to the GOP but they don’t owe him anything either; knives will be out.
The media, which found him so amusing and then created a false equivalency between him and Clinton won’t do that anymore: they will cover the mistakes and missteps without the white noise. We’ll get more accurate coverage and less partisan screaming.
If we’re lucky, the media will pay less attention to polls. Maybe they’ll even be banned altogether. Wouldn’t that be something? Right now, people make decisions based on the equivalent of astrology. At the very least, there will be more skepticism about their reliability.
And finally, it gives the Democrats time to find new blood and rebuild, knowing that Trump can’t serve any longer than the eight year maximum term. He may not make it for the first four. He’s the type, if he dislikes it, to simply quit. It’s not an easy job for anyone, particularly someone as thin-skinned as he is. He’s 70 years old; he has already physically aged as a result of this campaign. Governing will age him quickly. Just look at Obama and Bush.
I was at Carlingwood Mall today signing books at Coles and as always, I met some really lovely people. One was an elderly gentleman who came over to chat with me – he was having trouble walking and shuffled about with a cane, but he was the kind of man who cared about his appearance, with his white hair and his carefully coordinated, neatly pressed suit and tie.
He told me he had worked on the first computer in Canada back in 1951 and that it was almost the size of Coles itself, but that it wasn’t much more than a glorified slide rule.
As we chatted, I learned he had been an engineer, that he had travelled to China, that he spoke six languages, including Ojibway and Inuktitut, and that he had once sailed the Atlantic steering only by the stars.
Getting old was horrible, he said, and shook his head: he couldn’t remember things the way he used to, and he just wanted a book to escape with. He’d done enough thinking, he said; he’d done nothing but think for a lifetime.
“It sounds like you’ve had an amazing life,” I said, and he agreed, but he thought it was ironic that a man who used to steer by the stars — an astro-navigator, he called it– couldn’t make his way around a shopping mall. He’d taken off all his clothes one night last week, he said, “I can do that, since I live alone” — and lay on the grass and looked up at the stars. He couldn’t remember their names anymore but he still recognized them, and I had the sense of the stars, of the sky, as being his companion over the decades.
He decided to buy a book, and I signed it for him, and he left, and then he came back a few minutes later and said his name was John, and that it translated into Chong in Chinese, and that the person who had told him that — “a travel guide, or Chinese espionage agent, as they all are” had joked with him that they must be related. “It is one of 100 family names in China,” he said. “It meant I was related to millions of people,” and he laughed at the thought of being their cousin.
He pointed out the banner across from Coles that said “Welcome to China” and taught me how to read the Chinese symbols beneath the words that meant “Middle” and “Jade” and said because Jade was imperial that meant “Middle Kingdom,” because that’s how the Chinese see themselves.
And then he thanked me in several different languages, including Ojibway, and said he was sure he’d enjoy reading UMBRELLA MAN, and went on his way.
He was a fascinating man with the kind of effortless brilliance and humour that made me wish I’d met him in some other parallel universe when he was younger or I was older, the kind of man who makes you think about ageing and loneliness and the power of stars. I think — I hope– he’ll like Hector Apiro.
Before I left Coles, shortly after the book signing ended, Keith, one of the employees there handed me this letter that was sent by a Vancouver reader named Frank back at the end of September . It made the rest of my day memorable too– all in all, a very nice day.