TORONTO, Jan. 11, 2017 /CNW/ - A few weeks ago, I found out that my 85-year-old mom had been contacted by a journalist who prodded her with pointed and personal questions about her heritage. Specifically, he asked her to prove how Indigenous she is.

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. My mother's family history is certainly not laid out neatly in the official records, or on either. From the age of nine or ten, the woman I knew as my grandmother told me stories about my mother that, until recently, my mother preferred not to share with anyone. The details are private and painful, yet my mother has been forced to revisit aspects of her past she believed were closed away forever. 

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 and doing everything we can to get youth out onto the land at Camp Onakawana on the Abitibi River. This is my life.  And I've always said pretty much the same thing: "a small part of me is Indigenous, but it's a big part of who I am."

It's clear to me now that I've made mistakes. While my intentions were good, I recognize that I've been too vocal on many Indigenous issues in this country. I let myself become a go-to person in the media when issues arose. I was wrong to do that and will never again provide anything but my piece.  That role should go to those with deeper roots in their communities – wiser and more experienced spokespeople and elders – who have that right and responsibility, and who can better represent their community's perspective.

The most painful mistake I have made is in regard to our Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and, specifically, my bringing them into an unrelated public debate. I am so sorry I did this. I ask forgiveness of families who have been traumatized by the loss of their loved ones. I have learned one of the most important lessons of my life with regard to speaking out publicly or privately without putting enough thought or care into it.

To those, especially friends, who may be feeling I've been avoiding them, I've spent the last weeks up north, offline, choosing to be with my mom and family where we spoke proudly and sometimes very painfully about our heritage and many other things. If you are concerned about the mistakes I've made, I ask forgiveness of you too. If it is about blood quantum, then I fear I will never be good enough. Please know that I didn't go silent out of a sense of shame but out of the desperate need to listen. My family and others in these last weeks told me this: I can try and talk and defend and explain all I want, but perhaps it's time to close my mouth and ask for guidance and truly listen.

So this is what I'm trying to do. Some amazing people including numerous elders have begun to reach out to me and invite me into their circles, to let me know that it is my heart they believe in – that I have done some good things for people but that I still have lessons to learn if I wish to go further. I do wish to go further. It's time to listen again, and so I'm travelling with some blood family to go spend time with our traditional family. I've got so much more to learn.

Joseph Boyden

SOURCE Joseph Boyden