Joseph Boyden pens essay on Indigenous controversy

TORONTO — Joseph Boyden has penned a lengthy essay for Maclean’s magazine addressing critics who have questioned his claims of Indigenous heritage.

“Being Indigenous isn’t all about DNA. It’s about who you claim, and who claims you,” says the subheadline on the piece, published online Wednesday.

Late last year, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reporter Jorge Barrera launched an investigation into claims of Indigenous ancestry the Toronto-raised novelist has made throughout his life, and the evidence — or lack thereof — to back it up.

The probe made national headlines and sparked a debate on identity and who has the right to speak on behalf of Indigenous communities.

In his new Maclean’s piece, Boyden questions what it means to be Indigenous in Canada and writes that DNA testing has concluded his family members are “mutts.”

“Celtic DNA. Check. Native American DNA. Check. DNA from the Arctic. Cool. I didn’t know that. Explains my love for winter. Some Ashkenazi Jew? I love it,” he writes.

“More scientifically minded family members than me have been exploring areas like autosomal DNA and mtDNA and haplogroups, and guess what? We are what our family’s stories have always told us we are. And then some.”

Since the controversy erupted, Boyden says he’s spoken with many elders and knowledge keepers who have supported him and told him he’s going through a “rite of passage.”

The Scotiabank Giller Prize winner behind “Through Black Spruce” details the support he’s received from some Indigenous communities and how Cree and Ojibwe families have traditionally adopted him both in Ontario and Manitoba.

A request to interview Boyden on Thursday was not immediately answered.


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