It seems like an easy enough question. For most First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people this is a question that we have come to expect from new faces that also belong to these communities.
Who claims you?
This question once made me stammer out the word Pikwakanagan and it took memory games to help me remember the proper way to share the name of the community on my status card.
Eventually, I would become known to some people from my ancestral community and I am proud to claim my mother and grandfather's name Sarazin, his mother's name Buckshot, her mother's name Lemure, and her mother's name Pessindiwate, and her mother's name Whiteduck.
Today, I am proud to know the names of 14 generations of my Algonquin grandmothers.
It is not knowledge I always possessed and their names are part of my ceremonies and the guidance I know is with me, through everything on this journey.
Where do you come from?
A question that was infinitely harder for me to answer as I later learned that my life had been formed in transit, never living more than five years in one place. Two years here, one year there, oh-time to move again. I became vague in my response and told people I had grown up between Thunder Bay, Montreal and Ottawa. I didn't care to explain all the small towns I had grown familiar with in my one, two and five year stints. All of the small towns in Ontario like South Gillies, Manitouwadge, Caramat, Winchester, Mattawa, Russell.
These places didn't remember me and some I tried to forget.
It was easier to explain my life when I said I was a city girl. My time in cities had consisted of bouncing from one parent's home in Thunder Bay, to the other's in Ottawa.
In Thunder Bay I attended high school for grade eleven and managed to pick up an English credit for grade 12.
Who are you?
It's a question I haven't always known how to answer and when I did, there seemed to be intricacies that I wasn't aware of. There were teachings I was missing and it showed.
The first time I met someone else from my community, it was in Toronto and she was not impressed. She taught me that I couldn't say I was 'from Pikwakanagan' because I had never lived there. She was harsh and she was right.
I was from so many places and nowhere, all at once. If you are supposed to answer the question of who are you by acknowledging the place that you are from, I didn't know where to start.
Eventually, I would answer this question by moving back to where my mother's family was from.
Generations of my grandparents' relatives have been married and buried where I too was married, and one day will be buried.
Who is your family?
When I worked at KAIROS Canada, this question was posed to me by other Indigenous people I encountered.
"Who is your mother?" An Inuk Elder asked. She wouldn't know my Algonquin mother, but I answered the question anyway, as I had learned to do, without hesitation. When she asked me again a few hours later, I felt annoyed but answered again. Over and over this woman interrogated me and I found myself wondering at her motivation.
There are many raceshifters who have found success and acceptance in faithful spaces. When I think back, I am happy to know this question is being asked by these Elders, with insistence and relentlessness.
It doesn't matter what compels someone to ask, it is my responsibility to always answer and I do, each and every time.
This is accountability is a teaching I carry and share.
These are the questions I ask when someone presents themselves as First Nations, Inuit, or Metis and express interest in working with me. And I also expect an answer. If someone wishes to occupy space as an Indigenous person, they should have no problem answering questions. A person should have no issue with me asking my contacts from the community you claim to belong to, in order to confirm you are who you say you are.
Today, I found myself reflecting on the ways I have practiced accountability and the moments where collaborators on my path have not practiced this same value.
Visit this archive to learn more about me and my journey, the works and collaborations I've enjoyed being a part of and birthing into life.
Chrystal 'Waban' Toop Archive
My pen name is Chrystal Waban and I am a member of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation.