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Nations and Nationalism 14 (2), 2008, 347–368. From nation to population: the racialisation of ‘Métis’ in the Canadian censusn CHRIS ANDERSEN Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta ABSTRACT. Between 1996 and 2001 the ‘Métis population’ of Canada skyrocketed from 204,000 to 292,000, an astonishing and demographically improbable increase of 43 per cent. Most puzzling about this ‘increase’ is not so much the unpersuasive explanations offered by statisticians and others but, more fundamentally, the underlying assumption that such a thing as a ‘Métis population’ exists at all. In contrast, I argue that such an idea constitutes an artifact of Canada’s racial/colonial episteme in which ‘the Métis’ – formerly an indigenous nation invaded and displaced in the Canadian nation-state’s westward expansion – have been reduced in public and administrative discourse to include any indigenous individual who identifies as Métis: reduced, in other words, to (part of) a race. The paper argues further that the authority of the Canadian census as a privileged forum of contemporary meaning-making in Canadian society is such that the lack of explicit Census categories to distinguish Métis Nation allegiance further naturalises a racialised construction of Métis at the expense of an indigenously national one. KEYWORDS: census; indigenous; Métis; nationalism; population; race. We are all familiar with the disconcerting effect of the proximity of extremes, or, quite simply, with the sudden vicinity of things that have no relation to each other; the mere act of enumeration that heaps them all together has a power of enchantment of its own (Foucault 1970: xvi). According to Statistics Canada in the five years between 1996 and 2001 Canada’s ‘Métis identity population’ skyrocketed from 204,000 to 292,000, an astonishing and demographically improbable1 increase of 43 per cent (Statistics Canada 2003a: 14). Statistics Canada2 attempted to explain this dubious increase by virtue of a heightened awareness3 of ‘Métis’ issues which led those not formally identifying as Métis to begin doing so, a phenomenon referred to as ‘ethnic mobility’.4 Likewise, in their analysis of the 2001 Census data, Guimond et al. (2004) underscored the apparent permeability of Métis This research was aided by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant. As well, in addition to the four anonymous reviewers, I would like to thank Rita Dhamoon, Ross Macmillan, Fiona Nicoll, Audra Simpson and James Williams for their helpful comments on earlier drafts, and my research assistant Alisha Petryshyn for her research and proofreading assistance. n r The author 2008. Journal compilation r ASEN/Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2008 348 Chris Andersen identity boundaries, suggesting that the term ‘cannot be associated with any specific language or ethnic origin’ but, rather, that it refers more generally to any ‘. . . cultural, linguistic and territorial mosaic within which [an Aboriginal] population has identified and developed an original culture. The sense of belonging to this culture has varied over time and in response to political and social events’ (2004: 62, emphasis added). Although perhaps scholarly in their own right, these explanations are nevertheless troubling for their failure to problematise the underlying, colonially inscribed premise grounding their analysis: namely, that such a thing as a singular, homogenous ‘Métis population’ exists at all. In contrast, this paper argues that these representations are necessarily anchored in a hierarchically organised colonial ‘order of things’ (see Foucault 1970; Stoler 1995) in which, through explicitly differential state policies used to manage different segments of ‘its’ indigenous populations, the term ‘Métis’ has been constituted according to racial rather than indigenous5 national constructions. In such an ordering, any (indigenous) individual who self-identifies as Métis is counted as such, regardless of the terms used by his or her ancestors to collectively self-identify. This paper is thus analytically structured to position the racialisation of census orderings, first, as a manifestation of Canada’s historical nation-state-building at the displacement of the Métis Nation’s and, second, as an index of the latter’s associated political powerlessness in contemporary Canadian society. The paper begins by positioning nationalism as an exclusionary and destructive form of political association (i.e. Marx 2003), with a particular emphasis on the Canadian state’s destruction of Métis national power in late nineteenth century western Canada. Part two details the concomitant ascendancy and symbolic legitimation (see Bourdieu 1992a and 1992b) of administrative ‘Indian/Canadian’ racial binaries which shaped the contours of Canadian citizenship (see Day 2000; Légaré 1995; Mackey 2002) and within which individuals like Métis, externally designated as ‘mixed blood’, were shoehorned into a growing Canadian state imaginary. We will see that in this ordering, ‘mixed ancestry’ rather than cultural distinctiveness came to be naturalised as a legitimate signifier for ‘Métis’, an ordering reflected in subsequent census classifications. Part three positions the census as a preeminent scientific-technical instrument through which a liberal nation-state like Canada identifies, classifies and manages citizens (those categorised as Aboriginal and otherwise) within its geo-political boundaries. In light of this, part three also seeks to make an intervention into common understandings about the role and power of official statistics in normalising what are in reality highly contested political constructions. Part four demonstrates empirically how, in the 2001 Census Canada questionnaire questions,6 Métis are produced as racialised objects rather than citizens contra Canadian citizenship. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion of the consequences of current constructions of ‘Métis’ in the census and also what a more ‘de-racialised’ categorisation might look like. It is, however, with the issue of Métis nationhood that we begin. r The author 2008. Journal compilation r ASEN/Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2008 Métis in the Canadian census 349 Part I: The Métis nation, then and now Nations are said to embody a form of collective cultural and political sentiment anchored in (perceptions of) common roots and territory (Anderson 1991), while nationalism encapsulates the associated cultural and political symbols, discourses, traditions and myths which anchor and (re)produce these perceptions of origins and commonality (see Gellner 1983; Hall 1995; Hobsbawm 1983). Such theories of nationalism link it to the imperatives of modernity and industrialisation and, as such, tend (arrogantly) to situate it exclusively within the confines of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century western and central European processes of modern liberal state-building and legitimation.7 Scholars have, however, amply demonstrated the requisite collective political self-consciousness, history and territorial boundaries of North American indigenous nations which long pre-date the arrival of Europeans and, later, colonialism (see Alfred 1995; RCAP 1996: vol. 1; Simpson 2000; Tully 1995). More specific to the Canadian context, if nations are imagined, Canada’s colonial history makes it clear that not all are imagined equally, nor did European or Euro-Canadian nationhood experiences extend to a respect for indigenous nationhood. Indeed, like all nation-state building (Marx 2003), colonial nation-state building was (and remains) overtly anchored in the differential institutionalisation of nation and citizenship imaginings which required and thus precipitated the attempted dispossession of indigenous nations and their preexisting forms of collective association and citizenship (see Alfred 1995; Day 2000; Moreton-Robinson 2003; Razack 2002; Simpson 2000). In so far as indigenous nations (are forced to) live inside the symbolic and geo-political boundaries of their ‘captor nations’ (Chartrand 1991), contemporary indigenous articulations of nationhood are always implicated in memories of invasion, attempted conquest and (re)settlement (Simpson 2000: 116). As such, the seemingly natural discursive linkage of ‘nation’ with ‘state’ (i.e. one8 nation 5 one state) needs to be understood in the context of the sustained campaigns of both physical and symbolic violence necessary to accord the term its legitimacy (see Corrigan and Sayer 1985: 15; Bourdieu 1992b: 112). One such example of violence in the name of state-building was the Canadian state’s invasion of the Métis Nation in the late nineteenth century territory now referred to as western Canada. Historians often trace the roots of so-called ‘proto-Métis’ to intermarriages between First Nations women and fur traders in the eighteenth-century Upper Great Lakes region of what is now Ontario (see Peterson 1985 for a flavour of this discussion). The birth of ‘the Métis’, however, is usually traced to the ‘Red River’ on the plains of what is now southern Manitoba. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s 1821 takeover of rival fur trading concerns and subsequent ‘systemization and regularization’ (Devine 2004: 111) of fur trade policy – and perhaps more importantly, Métis resistance to it – had, in the space of two generations, effectively rendered them an economic and demographic force in r The author 2008. Journal compilation r ASEN/Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2008 350 Chris Andersen the region. Throughout the mid-nineteenth century they engaged in a mixed economy of fur trade employment, independent trading, farming and buffalo hunting (Giraud 1986: vol. 2). Red River Métis collectively created, borrowed and combined elements to form a distinctive culture and lifestyle separate from both their Euro-Canadian and First Nations neighbours, including a new language, form of land tenure, laws, a distinctive form of dress, music, a national flag and, in 1869–70, distinctive political institutions. Indeed, by Canada’s formal establishment in 1867 the Métis constituted an indigenous nation of nearly 10,000 people possessing a history, culture, imagined territorial boundaries, national anthem and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of self-consciousness as Métis (Giraud 1986: vol. 2). With respect to asserting their distinctiveness in national form, their longstanding tensions with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) (see Bumstead 1999; Giraud 1986) were brought to a head by the HBC’s 1869 transfer of Rupertsland9 to the newly formed state of Canada. In its eagerness to open the ‘Canadian west’ to agricultural immigration from Ontario and Europe, the federal government did not bother consulting with, among other indigenous peoples of the region, the Métis. Indeed, Tough (1992) argues that despite the Métis’ and First Nations’ long-standing occupation, both the HBC and Canada treated the Rupertsland territory as terra nullius. Outraged, the Métis leader Louis Riel condemned the transaction: ‘[a]gain, on a late occasion [the HBC] tried to sell us. . . . A Company of strangers, living beyond the ocean, had the audacity to attempt to sell the people of the soil’ (Riel in Tough 1996: 7). Following the transfer, the Métis blocked access to official cartographers and colonial authorities, formed their own provisional government and drew up a list of demands to Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s Prime Minister at the time (Sprague 1988). In their ‘Declaration of the people of Rupert’s Land and the North-West’, John Bruce (President) and Louis Riel (Secretary) proclaimed in the name of the people of Rupert’s Land and the North-West,10 that we have, on the said 24th day of November, 1869 . . . established a Provisional Government, and hold it to be the only and lawful authority now in existence in Rupert’s Land and the NorthWest which claims the obedience and respect of the people; that, meanwhile, we hold ourselves in readiness to enter in such negotiations with the Canadian Government as may be favourable for the good government and prosperity of this people (in Oliver 1915: 906). This political activity forced the Canadian government to recognise a Métis interest in ‘their’ recently acquired land, and, albeit grudgingly, to recognise the legitimacy of their provisional government. It also gave rise to formal negotiations between the Canadian government and the Métis as a distinct people,11 which led to the creation of the Manitoba Act’s setting aside of 1.4 million acres of land for their collective possession (Tough 1996: 114–17). Dobbin (1981: 22) argues that this Act r The author 2008. Journal compilation r ASEN/Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2008 Métis in the Canadian census 351 gave the Métis the two elements they needed to ensure their national liberation: control over capital and a share of state power . . . [f]or the few short months in 1869–70 that the provisional government was in place the Métis people had enjoyed complete sovereignty and were, in fact, a nation in the full sense of the term. It was not to be, however. Subsequent Canadian policies opened the floodgates to settler immigration and officials turned a blind eye to irregularities in the Manitoba Act’s land implementation policies (Sprague 1988). Both events solidified previous discontent among Métis such that by 1885, the spectre of armed conflict again arose between Métis and the Canadian state. After the 1869–70 conflict, Louis Riel fled to the United States to avoid persecution but, upon the request of several respected Métis leaders, returned to Canada in 1884 to assist with Métis grievances. He formed a second provisional government to block Canadian expansion. Despite several small initial military victories under the leadership of another respected Métis leader, Gabriel Dumont, extensive internal division within the provisional government and the completion of a railway to the Red River area conspired to defeat the Métis at the 1885 Battle of Batoche (see Stanley 1960). Riel was charged with treason, hanged on 11 November 1885 and the subsequent influx of white settlers into the region precipitated a large-scale diaspora of Red River Métis (already begun following the mal-implementation of the Manitoba Act in 1870) into western and northern Canada, and the United States (see Ens 1996; Sprague 1988). Dobbin (1981: 23) suggests that ‘[t]he dispersal of the Métis from Red River spelled the eventual disintegration of Métis nationalism as a force in the North West’. And thus ‘the Métis’, as a collective political alternative to the Canadian state, faded into political obscurity. Though their defeat at the Battle of Batoche marked the end of Métis political power in western Canada, nearly a century later their descendants incorporated the Métis National Council (MNC) as the ‘voice for the Métis Nation’ during the political turmoil following the 1982 Constitution Act (see Sawchuk 1998). In drawing the boundaries of ‘Métis’ citizenship in Canadian society, the MNC did not purport to represent just any individual who selfidentified as ‘Métis’ but, rather, only those self-identifying with the distinctive history, culture and memory of the Métis Nation and Homeland. Two decades later at the 2002 annual general assembly, the MNC finally defined the term ‘Métis’ to reflect these boundaries (which were, for reasons I suggest below, only partially successful): ‘Métis means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry, is distinct from other Aboriginal Peoples and is accepted by the Métis Nation’.12 In this context, ‘Historic Métis Nation’ means the Aboriginal people then known as Métis or HalfBreeds who resided in Historic Métis Nation Homeland; ‘Historic Métis Nation Homeland’ means the area of land in west central North America used and occupied as the traditional territory of the Métis or Half-Breeds as they were then known . . . r The author 2008. Journal compilation r ASEN/Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2008 352 Chris Andersen Many Métis continue to hold an allegiance to these historical events, territories and consciousness, whether specifically at Red River or as part of the geographically and historically more diffuse ‘Métis Homeland’. Nationhood and its associated nationalism is, however, a winding road, and ‘the Métis’ appear differently depending upon one’s temporal and geographical location along the journey (see Dobbin 1981; Sawchuk 1998). This is no different for contemporary Métis than for many contemporary national configurations and recollections.13 What is clear, though, is that Métis nationalism continues to endure – if in sentiment rather than actual political power – in the cracks and interstices of Canada’s unitary claims to a ‘tolerant’ nationhood (see Mackey 2002). As discussed next, Canadian citizenship is strongly tethered to powerful and seemingly natural conceptions of race which granted certain citizenship rights to (some) Métis as ‘white’ or classified them as ‘status Indians’ (often based additionally on lifestyle criteria), all the while marginalising their distinctiveness as Me´tis. In doing so, they naturalised in legal and administrative discourse a racial legibility of Métis as merely denoting indigenous people living outside of treaty and/or off-reserve, rather than signifying allegiance to a geo-politically situated nationhood contra that of the Canadian state. The following section explores this in further detail. Part II: Métis-as-mixed: racial essentialism writ indigenous Canadians continue to think about and position race as though it was ‘real’, an essentialisation which has important consequences for how ‘Métis’ is imagined racially rather than nationally. Canadians often shy away from talking about race, though, preferring to use the term ethnicity, itself a relatively recent invention in Canadian official discourse (Day 2000: 171–6). However, Young (1995) reminds those who wish to distinguish teleologically between race, ethnicity and culture that historically, designations of race were always rooted in hierarchical perceptions about culture, and vice versa, such that a movement away from ‘race’ to ‘ethnicity’ or ‘culture’ does not really constitute the kind of break it is often accorded (also see Backhouse 1999: 3–5). In other words, whether speaking about ‘race’, ‘ethnicity’ or ‘culture’, all share in common a differentiatedness from whitestream, Euro-Canadian normativity (see Denis 1997; Légaré 1995). In any event, race’s ‘realness’ stems from its symbolic power, a term used by Pierre Bourdieu (1992a and 1992b) to indicate the set of fundamental, pre-reflective assumptions that social agents engage in by the mere fact of taking the world for granted, of accepting the world as it is, and of finding it natural . . . being born into a social world, we accept a whole range of postulates, axioms, which go without saying and require no inculcating . . . [o]f all forms of ‘hidden persuasion,’ the most implacable is the one exerted, quite simply by the order of things (Bourdieu 1992b: 168, emphasis in original). r The author 2008. Journal compilation r ASEN/Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2008 Métis in the Canadian census 353 Virtually all enduring forms of power in contemporary liberal-democratic societies require legitimacy – i.e. they must justify the source of their power (Swartz 1997: 88–9; also see Rose 1999). This is primarily an …
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