Adoption or Allyship in the Contemporary Algonquin Context
I am of the thought that in the contemporary context community adoption as a cultural practice must be reconsidered, where principled allyship is the better alternative. Otherwise, the practice of community adoption will exist only to be spun by spin doctors as the new form of interference.
Learning through Introspection is Indigenous
Before I begin it is important for me to offer that existing within the context of a section 15 Charter challenge, and within the context of the contemporary land claims and self-government process best known as a termination process (Russell Diabo), I have been exposed to some very grounded and puzzling human dynamics. When I introspect on these dynamics, and the things that puzzle me the most, sometimes knowledge emerges that will not be received well. Many people will not immediately understand the deeper meaning inherent and therefore will not understand why I offer my insights gained.
Ultimately, knowledge is a relationship and as such I ask that readers take the time and establish a relationship to this knowledge rather than being quick to judge.
We Adopted Historically
Historically, Indigenous nations readily adopted other people into their nations in that, among other things, they greatly valued the alliance gained and the genetic diversity that came with the new members.
While historically Indigenous nations adopted and assimilated other people, in a contemporary sense I have noticed that this practice of adoption embodies an undermining contradiction, and thus has limitations. I say this because in the contemporary context adopted people are challenged by jealous or dissenting community members and easily discredited as not really being speakers for the nation. In this process of discrediting adopted members it becomes apparent that they are not really accepted as full members.
Outrageous Initiation Requirements
I have found that when people are adopted they are placed in the situation where they have to do outrageous things, as a rite of passage so to speak, to prove their loyalty to the nation. This exists, I have noticed, as an unspoken requirement. One such example is the new member ends up in prison in defending the nation’s rights. Through these “initiation requirements”, these adopted people are vulnerable, become symbolic icons of the nation, yet contradictorily they lack the genuine power needed when speaking for pressing issues of the nation.
Today We Discredit Adopted Members
One of the most well known Algonquin today is retired Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and Allies Chief Robert (Bob) Lovelace, and rightly so as he has certainly proved his loyalty to the Algonquin and our land and waterscapes when in 2008 he went to prison to protect it from uranium mining and its ill effects. Lovelace has also encouraged and guided the production of several academic research projects that will serve future generations of Algonquin. It is important, though, that I point out here that as an adopted Algonquin Lovelace does not have the lived knowledge of being Algonquin since childhood, or the lived knowledge of being Algonquin inter-generationally speaking. Regardless, he does have knowledge of colonization and what it has done to the Algonquin.
Despite his proven loyalty I have noticed that when Lovelace speaks up on Algonquin issues, many people – Algonquin included – are far too quick to discredit him as not really being an Algonquin in terms of his genetic material and blood lines. This is because we no longer really value adoption as a governance tradition.
This situation of discrediting, I think, is a barrier and stifles Lovelace’s potential from doing what he could do best: speak out against the current Algonquin land claims and self-government settlement offer of 1.3% of the land and a $300 million one-time payment, and being heard and understood in a way that other Algonquin cannot.
A Limiting Contradiction
While this is the situation, at the same time many people gravitate toward Lovelace as a knowledge holder of Indigenous knowledge and truth - even on an international sense. Certainly in some ways he has been a teacher to me. It is in this way that he, and his adoption, embodies a very limiting contradiction, and it is in this way that in the contemporary context, adoption is a barrier to hearing what he has to say about Algonquin issues and concerns. It is precisely for this reason that it is my contention that principled allyship versus adoption is the better choice in the contemporary context. We need to remove the barriers that are silencing important voices such as Bob's.
This blog requires a huge qualification. Robert Lovelace is an important person and his commitment to the Algonquin, Indigenous cause, and the earth is clear to me. This analysis should not be interpreted as me not valuing who he is and what he has done for the Algonquin.
Lastly, it is Robert’s thought that I should offer this analysis. More precisely it is his thought that this blog could stimulate the needed discussion, which could then lead to collective thinking, where collective thinking could lead to consensus, and so on …
Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at email@example.com and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.