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“Metis:” Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood

By Chris Andersen

Review By Gabrielle Legault

January 29, 2015

BC Studies no. 188 Winter 2015-2016  | p. 116-17

In “Métis,” Chris Andersen highlights the widespread marginalization of Métis peoples by taking to task the continued racialization of the term “Métis.” Systematically unpacking the ways in which the word “Métis” has been misrecognized and consequently operationalized as a synonym for “mixed,” Andersen argues that identifying “Métis” based on discourses of hybridity reproduces the racialized logic of the Indian Act (which functions to dispossess Aboriginal peoples of their inherent indigenous rights). Andersen supports his argument through an in-depth analysis of political and legal sites that have worked to legitimate a racialized understanding of Métis identity including the National Household Survey (formerly the Canadian Census) and the Supreme Court of Canada, with significant attention paid to R. v. Powley (2003).

The premise of his book is certainly controversial because many Métis people and organizations continue to identify on the basis of being of mixed indigenous ancestry. Yet Andersen unapologetically argues that the term “Métis” should be reserved for people who have legitimate ancestral ties to the historic Métis Nation, stating “the category ‘Métis’ is not a soup kitchen for Indigenous individuals and communities disenfranchised in various ways by the Canadian state,” and that, “however volatile our citizenship codes have necessarily become in the racialized cauldron of Canada’s colonialism, they deserve to be respected” (24). His stance, though well justified, is polemical and could leave many self-identifying Métis people living in British Columbia — those without sufficient ties to the historical Métis Nation — excluded.

Although Andersen’s approach may be divisive, he is adamant that it is impossible to conceive of historic Métis nationhood within the context of a nation-state approach based on distinct geo-political boundaries, and he sees nation-ness as “most helpful when we think about it in terms of a political process empirically rooted in the context of the pre-existing social relations out of which it emerges” (123). Although the Métis have attempted to implement a nation-based model in pursuit of Aboriginal rights and recognition, Andersen suggests that indigenous nationhood needs to be re-envisioned in terms of peoplehood. He defines peoplehood “as a distinct kind of political community that finds its roots in its historical relationality with other peoples and in its ability to produce and have respected intersocietal norms that govern expectations of behaviour” (130-1).

Such an approach would accurately represent the situational and geographic nature of historical and collective Métis identification, while also recognizing the importance of extended kin linkages, reciprocal social relationships, common resource use, and significant mobility. Furthermore, to avoid diminishing the centrality of vast kinship relationships within historic Métis society, Andersen pays attention to the dynamics of a historical positive core (and periphery), thus moving beyond analyses that are restricted solely to the Canadian Prairies. This could considerably affect Métis living in British Columbia who can link themselves — albeit indirectly — to the historic Métis Nation.

Overall, “Métis” critically explores the key issues related to the politics of Métis identities and contemporary recognition. To counter the pessimistic tendencies of critical engagement, Andersen presents a positive re-imagining of previous administrative failures, while also providing suggestions to scholars who want to write about Métis peoples in less oppressive ways. This book offers a succinct analysis of Métis identity politics that any academic writing about indigeneity in Canada will benefit from reading.

“Metis:” Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood
Chris Andersen
Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014. 284 pp. $32.95 paper