Note: This post also appears on Elyse Bruce’s blog.
Thomas D. Taylor here. I am a white man through and through, and have been offering my opinions about the Idle No More Movement and Chief Spence for some time now. You can see my articles published on the Thomas D. Taylor blog site as well as on Elyse Bruce’s blog site.
I hesitate to write this article (using the expression ‘wooden nickels‘) because it is bound to upset some people. One thing the Idle No More movement doesn’t need is negative attention being drawn to it, but then, I wouldn’t have to write something like this if some people just behaved ethically. And maybe that is something people will want to consider the next time they are thinking about using a social movement for purposes of personal gain. The cause gets muddied, and people get hurt.
Then again, what’s happening is not my fault. It’s somebody else’s. I am just speaking up about this issue, first to make people aware of what’s happening, and secondly, to nip this in the bud before other people get the idea and hop on board the exploitation train.
Well, the other day I heard a non-Native woman (an erstwhile independent investment fund and tax shelter representative who is now a Tarot card reader and food manufacturing company co-owner and alleged IT specialist) claim to be one sixteenth “Indian.”
More specifically, she claimed to be one sixteenth Mohawk, and to be related to Chief Spence. As the story goes, her father found out about this indigenous lineage in 2008, when the woman’s grandmother died, but he only told her about her Mohawk lineage “a few weeks ago.”
It’s confusing to me, because in 2010, this woman said she came from a long line of Gypsy tarot card readers and was a direct descendant of Madame Laurette, who is a medium, or something like that.
But sandwiched between her claim of being a direct descendant of gypsy Tarot Card readers and of being 1/16th Mohawk is her assertion that she is related (albeit “distantly” according to her) to Chief Spence as well.
I suppose all of this is possible, but it is also suspect for a number of reasons.
Before I list them out, I just want everyone reading this to know that I am prepared to stand corrected. If I have my facts wrong, comment on this article, and I will apologize, and make amends.
But here is what I discovered over the course of my research:
Mohawks are part of the Iroquois Nation. Their traditional lands stretch from around Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River into New York State. Mohawks have a distinct language of their own.
While it is possible that the woman of whom I speak may be related to Chief Spence, it’s difficult to see how that might be. But maybe I am the one with blinders on here. I am equally blinded in terms of how this woman’s Gypsy heritage fits in. Maybe I’d have to grease her palm with money to find out. Maybe some of you can figure it out. Kudos to you if you succeed.
Incidentally, lest you think my money comment was meant to be mean spirited, according to what I found online, personal consultation fees for this woman’s Tarot card reading is $100.00, and $250.00 for corporate readings, (with an additional charge of $75.00 per employee). She also offers 140-character tarot card tweadings on Twitter.
Interestingly, this woman did not pipe up about her indigenous heritage during the more trying times in recent history when the government and the media were really hammering indigenous peoples. She didn’t speak up loudly about her heritage when the residential schools were still open for example, nor was she vocal when some of the more controversial blockades were going on these past few years. In fact, if memory serves, I’ve even known this woman to say a derogatory thing or two about “Indians” and “Red Men” from time to time.
It’s only now, when people are beginning to think that it might be “cool” to be an “Indian” that she has spoken out about her alleged ancestry. But then again, she supposedly only found out about her alleged heritage “two weeks ago.”
This phenomenon is something that I refer to as “Native When It’s Convenient.”
Now before people start bashing me for writing this entry, I want to say that one of the GOOD things to come of the Idle No More movement is that it’s bringing people together. Many white people are becoming more sympathetic to the plight facing indigenous people, and many indigenous people are beginning to realize that more whites are sympathetic and open minded about indigenous people and the trials and tribulations facing them than previously thought.
And it is natural that when people come together, they want to find commonalities. I am not the first one, nor will I be the last to examine my own familial history to see whether or not I have any direct connections to indigenous people, and I have already mentioned that my uncle Fred, who is Chippewa, married into the family many years ago.
But the difference between someone like me and a person like this woman I know, is that I am not trying to exploit people or a situation to my advantage.
How is making specious claims exploiting anyone, you may ask?
Well, you see, this is not the first time she has exploited something to her advantage. In the past, she has claimed to be on the autism spectrum, and leveraged this self diagnosis so that she could market a special kind of food product her home-grown company manufactures. The idea was to market this new product, and pennies from every sale would go to an autism organization.
The problem was that if you asked her about autism, she couldn’t tell you much about it. She didn’t understand its history, its origins, its symptoms, its causes, the debates raging around it, the political movements in the autism community, who the respected researchers were, or anything else. Ask her a question about autism back then when she first claimed to be diagnosed, and even right now, and she cannot give you a straight answer.
Her self diagnosis came after taking a popular online autism quiz that was put together by (unbeknownst to the woman in question) a personal friend of mine who served as a moderator in seven autism forums I administrated, and an acquaintance. The quiz was completely non-scientific in nature, and was never meant to be a diagnostic tool at all. Some of the questions on the quiz were taken from diagnostic tools, but fully three quarters of the test was, by one of the quiz creators’ own admission to me, complete and absolute “trash.” Their private purpose for creating the quiz was research.
One of the creators was interested in seeing if there was a relationship between people with Neanderthal characteristics and people who had Asperger Syndrome. His opinion was that people with Asperger Syndrome are all descended for Neanderthal men you see. In his further opinion, Neanderthals had red curly hair, thicker brow ridges, and some such more. And so he seeded questions about a person’s appearance, how they thought, etc., to see if there was any coincidental association between body type, thinking processes, Asperger Syndrome and Neanderthal Men.
The other person involved in the test’s creation, a woman, wanted to see if other people on the autism spectrum possessed the same qualities as she did. Other questions served no purpose. They were “dummy” questions. When you intersperse meaningless questions with meaningful ones, it makes it harder for test takers to fudge results.
No safeguards are in place to prevent anyone from taking the test over and over again until they learn to “pass” this test. Passing it supposedly means that you might be on the autism spectrum. And as studies have shown, the more often one takes a test, the better the chances are of scoring higher and higher with each effort.
At any rate, this was where this woman’s initial autism “diagnosis” came from, despite the fact that the test itself warns that it is not a diagnostic tool. This is a test whose creators insist is inaccurate, unreliable, and who warn is not a diagnostic tool, and a test that no medical researchers acknowledge as being valid or statistically accurate.
Ask her a question about her native heritage, and she cannot tell you much either. Ask her about how she is related to Chief Spence and she gets vague. She joked about “forgetting” to go on a hunger fast to support Chief Spence, and about chowing down on “oysters” instead of fasting, and while she talks sympathetically about the Idle No More movement and Chief Theresa Spence, her opinion about Attawapiskat’s supposed misappropriation of funds, Mohawk blockades, etc., waffles with just about every new media report.
But she’s become very popular among her online friends. She’s now a hub, and people come to her with questions about Idle No More, Chief Spence, and the “Aboriginal Experience” as if this woman (who was born among whites, and who lived among whites all her life, and who never knew about her alleged Mohawk heritage until a couple of weeks ago when she says her father allegedly revealed it to her) has any concept whatsoever about what it’s like to be a Native woman. Also, this woman offers up no explanation, as to why her father chose this moment in time to tell her forty-something year old daughter about her supposed native roots.
With all the new activity on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, I have to wonder if sales of her home-manufactured food products have improved.
What’s worrisome is that she has provided no proof (that I know of) of her indigenous lineage, no proof (that I know of) of her gypsy lineage, no proof (that I know of) of her autism diagnosis, but her fee schedule for Tarot card readings, and her website for her homemade food products are easily accessible.
Do you see why I think this is exploitation on her part?
I see the way she is acting in the same way that I saw people act after 9/11. Before 9/11, President Bush got into office by the skin of his teeth, and people were ashamed to say they voted for him. After 9/11, EVERYONE had voted for him, and they scolded anyone who “dissed” him. Near the end of Bush’s second term, when the United States was entrenched in two wars that looked like they were never going to end, “no one” had voted for him again.
We have the same thing now. Lots of Fair Weather Friends who are “Indians” When It’s Convenient. They march in solidarity with indigenous people when it’s “cool” (and safe) and disappear back into the safe world when it’s not.
Now, I strongly believe that in order to bring people together, people must overcome their ignorance. One way to do this is to find commonalities. Another way is to sit down and get to know people face to face. And if the result of this research and dialogue is a joining of forces for the betterment of mankind, this is a good thing.
But if we’re simply going to use a critical moment in history to exploit a people that are already downtrodden, then my opinion is that you should think twice and butt out. What you are doing is making things worse, and giving yourself a bad name in the eyes of everyone. Even those who openly appear to support you may have a different opinion of you in private.
We would all do better to apply our energies to good causes than to complex manipulations and machinations.
So for those who have done wrong thus far, please consider that even our lives may be seasonal, and that we can turn over a new leaf at any time.
Thomas D. Taylor