These remarks were delivered before a reading co-sponsored by the Office of the Piluwitahasuwin, the UNBSJ Faculty of Arts, the Lorenzo Society, and the Departments of Humanities and Languages/History and Politics. This event featured a respondent’s panel with Amanda Reid, Elder Miigam’agan, and Emma Hassencahl-Perley.
I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Darryl Leroux to campus and to Saint John. Saint John, or Menahkwesk, is, we know, a traditional meeting place. There were so many nations gathered here in Menahkwesk when Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1604 that he couldn’t tell whose territory this was. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to honor the legacy of this land as a place where many nations have been gathering for thousands of years, seeking effective ways of being together and sharing space.
Dr. Leroux is a professor in the department of Social Justice and Community Studies at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. His book, Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity, was published by the University of Manitoba Press in September of this year. It deals with a troubling social phenomenon in which white Settler Canadian people in places like Quebec and Atlantic Canada are systematically shifting into Indigenous identities and organizing themselves in ways that, he shows, actually oppose the rights and interests of Indigenous people and nations.
Dr Leroux’s work on this subject has been controversial. As you can imagine, he is considered a threat and an enemy by those whose claims to Indigenous identity he challenges in his scholarship. He is the only academic I know who has required security personnel at some of his lectures. I have feared for his safety! Thankfully, that is not the case here today, but undeniably, Dr Leroux’s work has been a major catalyst for a sensitive conversation that many people simply don’t want to have.
This book has also found a lot of support among Indigenous academics and communities, which is something that Amanda Reid, Elder Miigam’agan, and Emma Hassencahl-Perley will speak to shortly. The Mi’kmaw legal scholar Pam Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, says, “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.” Brenda MacDougall, Chair in Métis Research at the University of Ottawa, says, “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.”
And so we are pleased to welcome Darryl today to this meeting place, this place where we are still very much in the process of finding more empathetic, meaningful, and intentional ways of sharing space. Settler Canadians are not always good at sharing, and we do not always make the time for difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable conversations – conversations that might actually change our behaviours or help us do a better job of honoring historical agreements. And so we are grateful for work that helps us better honor and protect the legacy of meeting on this land with respect and care for one another. Please join me in welcoming Darryl Leroux to campus.