Canadian documentary ‘The Pretendians’ tackles a hot topic

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Canadian documentary ‘The Pretendians’ tackles a hot topic

Friday, September 30, 2022

By Acee Agoyo


A new documentary tackles a topic that continues to spark controversy across Turtle Island. Why do so many people claim to be Indian? Created by Executive Producer Drew Hayden Taylor, “The Pretendians” will premiere on CBC, Société Radio-Canada, on Friday night. Although the documentary is currently only available in Canada, it focuses on an issue that has also attracted attention in the United States. “A lot of the Pretendian issue is also making mainstream news,” said Taylor, a citizen and resident of the Curve Lake Nation, an Ojibwe community in Ontario, said in an interview Thursday ahead of the premiere. Taylor, an award-winning playwright, author and journalist, highlighted a series of recent stories about the suitors, including the case of Gina Adams, an American artist who is the subject of a major article in Maclean’s magazine. She recently has left his position at a major educational institution in Canada after questions were raised about his claimed tribal affiliation. “It’s actually one of the weirdest things we’ve found is that, you know, two-thirds of them, or two-thirds of the people we’ve found, are opportunists.” , Taylor said of people like Adams, who turn pretentious pretensions into profitable careers.

Taylor thinks pretension seems to have taken hold in educational institutions because of their efforts to hire people from indigenous communities, whether tribal nations in the United States or First Nations in Canada. Emily Carr University had touted Adams as part of a ‘cluster hiring initiative’ of ‘Indigenous faculty members’ at the establishment of British Columbia. “They’re doing everything they can to encourage Indigenous hiring in academia, you know,” Taylor said of those efforts. “It’s something positive. It’s a wonderful thing. However, problems can arise due to reliance on self-identification rather than recognition of the sovereignty of Indigenous nations. In Adams’ case, Emily Carr University described her as “of Ojibwa Anishinabe and Lakota descent from Waabonaquot of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota” although the former employee has no connection to any tribe. in the United States “As a result, a lot of these institutions are hiring people who claim to be Indigenous and who aren’t,” Thomas said. “These universities are caught in the middle of ‘What do we do?’ a segment in the market for illegitimate “native” art in British Columbia, where investigative journalist Francesca Fionda discovered that fraudulent products represent 75% of what’s selling in Vancouver, a popular tourist destination.

A segment of “The Pretendians” features Drew Hayden Taylor, left, and Francesca Fionda examining the fraudulent market for Indigenous art in Canada. Photo by Sara Cornthwaite
Another segment of “The Pretendians” highlights efforts to exploit and undermine the sovereign nature of First Nations in Canada. Through the use of fraudulent documents from Indian status, non-natives attempted to take economic advantage of gas stations and even car dealerships in order to avoid paying taxes on their purchases. “They call themselves aboriginal, they have aboriginal ancestry, and ‘here’s my map to prove it,'” said Chief Rick Obomsawin of the Odanak First Nation states in the documentary. According to Obomsawin, Indian status fraud poses economic and legal risks to businesses on his reserve, located in Quebec. It was only by educating off-reserve consumers and entities that Odanak was able to address a problem created entirely by outsiders. “We caught over 100 people with fake cards,” Obomsawin says in “The Pretendians.” Despite the attention paid to the issue of claimants, Taylor and the subjects of the documentary often struggled to get answers from those who claimed Indigenous nations. One segment focuses on Robert “Bob” Lovelacea professor at Queen’s University who claims to be Cherokee from the United States and has since identified as Algonquin in Canada. Lianna Constantino, citizen of Cherokee Nation and co-founder and director of Tribal Alliance Against Fraud, attempts to question Lovelace about his shifting claims. As seen in ‘The Pretendians’, she even travels from the United States to the university campus in Ontario to speak to him directly – but receives no response. In the interview, Taylor said his documentary team also tried to reach Lovelace, a former head of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, a group that is not considered legitimate by other Algonquin governments. His team didn’t have much luck either. “We’ve been trying to reach him for about six months,” Taylor told Indianz.Com. “We tried to reach him while we were there.” Taylor, however, wasn’t too surprised by the lack of responses from pretender figures. He recalled other recent high-profile cases, including that of Michael Latimera filmmaker who sued CBC for writing about his unverified claim to a First Nation, but later withdrew the lawsuit. Another teacher, Carrie Bourassa, recently quit his post after his claims as an Indigenous nation were called into question. “Most of them are hiding,” Taylor said of The Pretendians.

“The pretenders” will air on CBC at 9 p.m. ET on Friday as part of the The Passionate Eye TV Series. The documentary can also be broadcast on CBC Gem. CBC’s services are available to viewers and Internet users in Canada, so for now, people based in the United States won’t be able to watch “The Pretendians” easily. Taylor hopes the situation will change in the future. “I hope someone in the United States finds it, likes it, wants to buy it and stream it, and I hope everyone can see it,” he said.

Also by Drew Hayden Taylor

Identity Wars: What Makes an Indigenous Person Indigenous and How Do “Pretenders” Complicate It? (Radio-Canada, September 29, 2022)

Jessica C. Bell