Nouveau Indians

Ha! I am not the only one in this house who flakes out. I had just gotten home from work with my Mum when a television crew showed up at the door to do an interview with her they had scheduled. I was enlisted to frantically run around with her cleaning up the living room for her interview, including toting her new partially completed Ravensburger puzzle into the kitchen and putting the anxious weiner dog in the basement, where I am now. We even had to move the television so that it wouldn’t mar the view of her paintings.

So now I’m stuck in the basement, online, again. And I just signed on to the APTN Forums, although I haven’t posted yet. Mom called it “Junior Red Power” forum. It kind of is. There’s sort of a phase everyone goes through when they first become politicized where everything is really touchy, I have been there too, I probably still am in certain respects. But it seems the APTN forums are filled with really young aboriginal men who are upset about not having white privilege, but not at the point where they see other issues besides racism. I mean, some of them can be really sexist and homophobic, and then some of them have some really obvious internalized racism going on. I’ve never fit in well with Second Wave Red Power activists, because they simplify race issues in the same way radical feminists simplify hegemony issues. And as Kinnie Starr says, a bunch of them keep changing their name to Horse. And there’s also something very Nouveau Indian about it. Not that they are all Nouveau Indians, just that it’s the kind of movement that attracts Nouveau Indians. Nouveau Indians go through this awkward phase, oh man, it’s so embarrassing.

Okay, a Nouveau Indian, for those who don’t know, is someone who recently discovered that they have a North American Indigenous ancestry, OR, someone who was raised white or to believe in white supremacy and has now realized that it doesn’t jive with their racial identity. So everything is new, bannock is sacred, and dreamcatchers are given the same religious importance as crucifixes. Basically they take aboriginal culture and try to live it/be it within the same structures of thought as white culture. In a lot of ways, they have a tendency to embrace racist ideas of aboriginals. And they go for Pan-Indianism, instead of specifically researching their own tribal beliefs, which can be very different from the sort of New Age tainted idea of Indian spirituality.

And they don’t like using the word Indian. A lot of us here in Canada still use the word Indian because that is how we are legally defined, we are “Indians within the meaning of the Indian Act.”

How does an Indian act? Oh man, and this is another thing that drives me crazy about Nouveau Indians. Some of them pick out EVERY negative stereotype that exists and emulate it! Dude, drinking yourself into a black out does not an Indian make. John A MacDonald was a drunk, and that didn’t make him an Indian now did it? I once knew a very earnest Nouveau Indian who had a collection of what he called eagle feathers, but were actually from mostly ravens and seagulls. He had no idea what an eagle feather looks like. And then some Nouveau Indians, particularly men, embrace a really male supremacist idea of Aboriginal culture, not knowing or caring that traditionally our cultures have been mainly matriarchies. Take OKA for example, the public saw a group of men with guns on a barricade, what they didn’t see was a core group of Mohawk women in the background making the major decisions.

A lot of Indians will complain bitterly about Nouveau Indians, and it’s too bad. I mean, they need some way to be embraced into their culture, but no one really wants to be around them except unscrupulous neo-colonialist Indians. I was asking friends why they disliked Nouveau Indians, it seems to be mainly that they act like white people. And I don’t mean they speak english or go to university or wear clothes from the GAP, I mean that kind of competitive smarmy I’m number 1 and I won’t share kind of crap.

I curated a Nouveau Indian once and got stalked for a year by her. Actually my other stalker was a Nouveau Indian too!

But I think too, it’s just that they go through the kind of bouts of righteous anger in their mid twenties or thirties or forties that the rest of us went through in our pre-teens. Anger is a useful political tool, but it can also eat you up if you’re not careful, along with exhausting your personal resources.

I think what irritates me the most, in my personal dealings with them, is that they assume since I’m light skinned I am also a Nouveau Indian and going on the same journey as them. It’s such a wild assumption. I spent my entire life immersed in Cree culture, I was raised by Cree women, I grew up around some of the people they’re now studying to connect to their cultures! I have no idea what it means to rediscover one’s culture after living in another for so long. I know what it’s like to come out though, maybe there is something parallel to it.

Maybe we need Nouveau Indian support groups or something. They need a space to make cultural mistakes and learn without pissing the rest of us off because they’ve suddenly given themselves and all their friends Indian names.

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