White Claims to Indigenous Identity
Distorted Descent examines a social phenomenon that has taken off in the twenty-first century: otherwise white, French descendant settlers in Canada shifting into a self-defined “Indigenous” identity. This study is not about individuals who have been dispossessed by colonial policies, or the multi-generational efforts to reconnect that occur in response. Rather, it is about white, French-descendant people discovering an Indigenous ancestor born 300 to 375 years ago through genealogy and using that ancestor as the sole basis for an eventual shift into an “Indigenous” identity today.
After setting out the most common genealogical practices that facilitate race shifting, Leroux examines two of the most prominent self-identified “Indigenous” organizations currently operating in Quebec. Both organizations have their origins in committed opposition to Indigenous land and territorial negotiations, and both encourage the use of suspect genealogical practices. Distorted Descent brings to light to how these claims to an “Indigenous” identity are then used politically to oppose actual, living Indigenous peoples, exposing along the way the shifting politics of whiteness, white settler colonialism, and white supremacy.
For more information on the rise of the so-called ‘Eastern Metis’ in the eastern provinces and in New England, including a storymap, court documents, and research materials, visit the Raceshifting website, created by Unwritten Histories Digital Consulting.
“Distorted Descent is a brave, original piece of scholarship, offered in the context of a politically sensitive and socially controversial subject of Indigenous identity. His research exposes the extent to which white settler colonialism undermines Indigenous rights through the theft of Indigenous identity. It’s a real wake-up call.”
– Dr. Pamela Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance, Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University
“An important addition to the tool kit out of which a decolonized future is being doggedly built.”
“Distorted Descent is a brave and necessary work.”
“Leroux’s absolutely needed and timely study unpacks the contemporary practice of white settlers self-Indigenizing while also highlighting how this process actively harms Indigenous peoples and uplifts whiteness.”
– Jenny Ferguson, Quill & Quire
“This is a timely and important study highlighting Canada’s historical literacy about who Indigenous people really are which, coupled with an exponential growth in interest in genealogical research and DNA tests that trace your ancestry, has supported the claims of white-Canadians to Indigenous ancestry.”
– Brenda MacDougall, Chair in Métis Research, University of Ottawa
“The entire nation must confront these latest efforts to claim ‘Indigenous lands and life.’ Whether allies or accomplices, all Canadians must educate themselves and unlearn the stereotypes that pervade the national consciousness. They must channel their wealth, power, and
expertise to support actual Indigenous organizations and communities fighting at the front lines. Most importantly, Canadians must nurture a sense of reciprocity and realize that they have been taking without giving for too long.”
“A fascinating book that I can recommend for anyone interested in Indigenous rights, or, for that matter, anyone interested in controversial questions of race and identity.”
“Saint Mary’s University associate professor Darryl Leroux rings alarm bells about how some 200,000 Canadian “white settlers” have redefined themselves as Métis over the past 15 years, feeding a surge in race-shifting to claim Indigenous identity and the power, status and benefits that go with it. This recent phenomenon is about people who, for some 300 to 350 years, have identified as white, and are now basing their new identity on an Indigenous blood line, if there is one, that is so diluted that anthropologists have taken to calling it ‘racial homeopathy.’”
“This book raises important questions about race, nationalism, colonialism, politics, and the law, and how politicized personal identity is shaped, in the contemporary context, by (real or imagined) genealogical ties and genetic ancestry. The empirical focus is the ongoing, contemporary struggles over Indigenous self-determination in the province of Québec, Canada. Leroux offers an important, necessary and politically charged intervention, including a wealth of detailed evidence about race shifting from white to ‘Indigenous’, undertaken mainly by French-speaking Québécois men involved in hunting and fishing.”
– Elaine Coburn, York University, Social Identities
“Leroux has conducted an extremely thorough study, one that lays bare the extent to which whiteness will go to oppose the resiliency and determination of all things Indigenous. His book is simultaneously a fascinating and disturbing account of a landscape of race-shifting and the political machinations that accompany it.”
– Patrick Lewis, University of Regina, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
“[Distorted Descent] is a deeply necessary book that responds to the challenges of the contemporary moment and charts a path for a more livable future.”
“In the present climate of ‘fake news’ and claims to ‘post-truth,’ Leroux’s book provides essential data. Any hope for genuine reconciliation requires decolonization and the acknowledgment of the violent history of settler colonialism. Leroux’s contribution is a call to honest engagement.”
“While claiming an Indigenous identity may seem like a harmless form of cosplay, Leroux illustrates how damaging these practices can be to the self-determination of actual Indigenous peoples. The two case studies show that the main catalyst to claim an Indigenous identity was to derail agreements that were being negotiated with the Innu and Mi’kmaw First Nations. Leroux’s book is itself an illustration of one of the forms that Indigenous allyship can take.”
– Darren O’Toole, University of Ottawa, Native American and Indigenous Studies
“Darryl Leroux masterfully gives a full account of the political reasons for this phenomenon [of race-shifting]. Distorted Descent provides both an extremely important argument as well as a prose that draws in the reader.”
About the Author
Darryl Leroux is associate professor in the Department of Social Justice and Community Studies at Saint Mary’s University in Kjipuktuk (Halifax, Nova Scotia). He has been working on the dynamics of racism and colonialism among fellow French descendants for nearly two decades.