Appropriate appropriation?

By Managing Editor Molly Barrieau

If you can believe it, the final assignment for First Nations Studies 102 is a portfolio. Not just any portfolio, but a scrapbook narrative portfolio. The idea is to research your family’s history, display such, and comment on your story and its connections to Canadian colonialism.

Seems easy enough, right? No essay, no rifling through dusty VIU books to find quotes, no citing. I should be dancing. Yet, the further I dig into each side of my family, the more I am beginning to feel very un-Canadian. Turns out my superbly British side has been in Canada, Ontario mostly, for ages. Which is great and all, but they get a little boring.

Then I looked to my father’s side. That’s where it gets interesting. For years, according to the stories, I have considered myself non-status First Nations, specifically Mi’kmaq from New Brunswick. This has offered me many opportunities here at VIU, and I am forever grateful for the help.

However, these last few weeks, I’ve begun to second-guess it all. All of it. What if my family has been told the wrong story—as there is no proof of my direct lineage—and I am, in fact, just a mutt, a blend of English, Irish, and Scottish.

Am I less Canadian?

Am I appropriating a culture, just because my hair is dark and my dad tans well?

The more I begin to question my story, with my ancestors woefully staring at me from black and white images, the more I want confirmation.

It took my father 62 years to finally succumb to the pressure. This project has propelled his own desires to find the truth. While I was setting up my <Ancestry.ca> free trial, I called him.  “Order it,” he says.

“Really?”

“Yeah, put it on my credit card.”

We ordered a DNA test. It has yet to arrive, and we are yet to see the results, (here’s to the longest six to eight weeks of my life). Soon, my family will finally know if in 1934 my French Canadian great grandmother slept with a First Nations man. And, if the marriage two years later to another Frenchman was, in fact, only to cover the secrets of her
bastard child.

Here’s to you, Grampy. I never really knew you, but my connection to you grows each day as I learn more about you. I hope this helps you rest, knowing that your family acknowledges your story.


Molly is a creative writing major with a modern languages minor, has a love for editing, publishing and linguistics. She is in her fifth and final year at VIU. She hopes to land a job in Montreal and open a poutine truck with her partner when she retires.