Race Shifters

Race-shifters: white people who identify as Indigenous

Race-shifters: white people who identify as Indigenous
Sportsman and Indigenous guides (carrying snowshoes), with game in winter. Gabe Atwin far left, ca. 1875. Image from the Provincial Archives of NB.

The number of people across Canada who self-identify as Indigenous is growing rapidly. Some of that growth can be explained by the Indigenous children of the Sixties Scoop and residential school survivors re-discovering or accepting their Indigenous identities. However an entirely different group of Canadians has emerged. “Race-shifters” are white people with no or a small amount of Indigenous ancestry who identify as Indigenous.

Race-shifters live in every province, mostly in communities with large populations of French ancestry. In this province, for example, in 1996 and 2016, the population of New Brunswick was roughly the same. However in the 1996 census, only 950 people self-identified as Métis, but in the 2016 census that number jumped to 10,200. How is this possible?

The confusion includes the misconception that anyone with Indigenous ancestry can call themselves Métis. On the contrary, “Métis” has a specific definition in Canadian law. In 2003 the Supreme Court Powley decision described a Métis person as “one who self-identifies, has an ancestral connection to a historic Métis community, and is accepted by that community.” Anyone can self-identify as “Métis” when answering a census question, but not everyone of them is a member of the historic Métis Nation that originated in the Red River Valley of Manitoba.

Darryl Leroux has been exploring the race-shifting phenomenon for more than two decades. The social scientist from St. Mary’s University was in Fredericton Nov. 20 to speak about the process he has called “white settler revisionism,” a new wave of colonialism and to launch his new book, Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity published by the University of Manitoba Press.

His book, engaging with critical theories from Indigenous studies and genealogy studies, is based on his virtual ethnography research on social media forums. Leroux analyzes how white power and white settler colonialism gets “reconfigured into white settler indigeneity.”

The motivations of some race-shifters can be perverse. In Quebec for example, a group of white supremacists created a “Métis” group to increase their access to hunting and fishing territory. The first action of this new “Metis” group was to file for an injunction against a local Indigenous land claim. In his book, Leroux analyzes this kind of race-shifting as anti-indigenous politics. The largest self-identified “Métis” organization in Quebec, the Metis Nation of the Rising Sun, claims to have about 15,000 members.

In other instances, the white people claiming Indigenous identity are not trying to also claim Indigenous rights, they simply “want to avoid being white by adopting other identities,” Leroux explained. Many of these people have family stories going back generations about an Indigenous ancestor. “They are interpreting what they were told in the past to shape what they want to believe about themselves today,” he said.

As an example, Leroux described the “Mothers of Acadia Mitochondrial DNA Project” that claims to be about finding the truth but in reality is finding a way to confirm Indigenous identity.

Darryl Leroux at the Fredericton launch of his new book, Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity, at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick on Nov. 20, 2019. Photo by Susan O’Donnell
For his book, Leroux analysed five online forums hosting discussions on many different genealogy topics, including white people exploring their Indigenous ancestry. In Canada, the phenomenon is most common among people with French ancestry who base their self-identification on an ancestor born more than 300 years ago. More than four million people today could create a family tree that would include one of three particular Indigenous women from the 16th century. What does that mean for them?

According to Leroux, probably 75% of French descendants in Canada have a small amount of Indigenous ancestry however, crucially, that does not make them Indigenous. In fact, he says, most French-heritage race-shifters have more English ancestry than Indigenous ancestry but they are not making the claim that they are English.

Most Canadian race-shifters live in Quebec but the percentage of the population claiming Indigenous identity is larger in Nova Scotia. Although the number of race-shifters has grown significantly in New Brunswick during the last two decades, Leroux pointed out that the percentage of race-shifters in the New Brunswick population is less than in neighbouring Nova Scotia, a fact he believes might be related to the stronger Acadian identity in this province. With a strong cultural identity, there is less incentive to seek out and adopt other identities.

However even in New Brunswick, the number of race-shifters has become a nuisance for some First Nations people in the province. It is more of a problem north of Moncton, in Miramichi and especially around Bathurst, he said. The race-shifters are “looking for Mi’kmaq people to confirm their identity, which can be very offensive.”

The website Race-Shifting created by Leroux with University of New Brunswick graduate student Stephanie Pettigrew has mapped hundreds of groups across Canada and court cases fought – and lost – by race-shifting groups claiming to have Indigenous rights.

The website shows the locations of, and information about, the five active organizations in New Brunswick: the “Communauté Wik-Wam-Sun-Oté” near Edmundston, the “Canadian Métis Council – Intertribal /Métis Genealogical Centre of Canada,” based in Oxbow NB near Grand Falls, the “Conseil Autochtone de la Côte-Est/Tribu Muis,” in Laplante, NB on the Baie des Chaleurs, the “East Coast First People Alliance/Alliance du premier peuple de la Côte-Est,” in Lameque and the “Metis Nation of Saint John,” in that city.

Leroux’s work has been praised by well-known Indigenous scholars, including Mi’kmaq scholar Pam Palmater, a professor at Ryerson University from Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. In her review, Palmater wrote that Leroux’s book is “a brave, original piece of scholarship,” that “exposes the extent to which white settler colonialism undermines Indigenous rights through the theft of Indigenous identity.” Palmater adds that the book is “a real wake-up call.”

Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board and a member of the RAVEN project.

Tags: colonialismDarryl LerouxMetisrace-shiftingSusan O’Donnellwhite supremacy
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Home Environment
Action on glyphosate spraying: a new bill in the new Legislature
by Susan O’Donnell November 21, 2019 Reading Time: 4min read
Action on glyphosate spraying: a new bill in the new Legislature
Landscape of the Restigouche River. Photo by Brian Atkinson from the Images of New Brunswick photo bank.

Stopping the spraying of glyphosate on Crown (public) lands and waters stands out among the dozens of other pressing environmental issues in New Brunswick. The activist movement to stop spraying the poison has united a broad spectrum of groups and organizations, from hunting and fishing associations to Indigenous protectors of lands and waters.

A petition by the largest activist group on the issue, Stop Spraying New Brunswick (SSNB), has been signed by more than 34,000 citizens. New Brunswickers have organized dozens of public protests over the years demanding an end to glyphosate spraying, including on May Day this year in Saint John outside Irving buildings and most recently on Nov. 19 outside the New Brunswick Legislature, as part of a rally in support of the biologist Rod Cumberland.

As reported in numerous NB Media Co-op stories over the past decade, current forest management practices focus on creating and maintaining large-scale softwood tree plantations in a way that primarily benefits corporate owners and shareholders. The practices require the poison glyphosate to be sprayed to kill off other plant species to make the tree plantations more profitable. The poison harms ecosystems and animals and other species in forests and waterways.

These harmful forestry management practices have been supported by successive Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments. Governments have not only ignored the widespread public concerns about glyphosate spraying but also continued to approve licenses and the use of public funds by forestry corporations to spray the poison on Crown lands. SSNB reported on its website that a freedom of information request found that in 2017 alone, $2,860,000 in public funds were spent on glyphosate spraying in the province.

On Nov. 20, the day after the new Legislature opened this week, leader of the Green Party David Coon tabled a bill to end the practice on Crown lands. The Act to Amend the Crown Lands and Forests Act creates a new section of the Act that bans the aerial spraying of herbicides on Crown land and makes it an offense punishable with a fine of up to $200,000.

The bill also defines, for the first time, a herbicide: “a chemical agent or other product or substance registered under the Pest Control Products Act (Canada) that is manufactured, represented or used as a means of destroying, preventing, controlling or mitigating weeds or other plant life.” This clear definition will ensure that not only glyphosate but also all poisons will be included in the ban.

The Green Party bill has two purposes. In addition to the ban on glyphosate spraying, it ensures that New Brunswick mills purchase more wood from private woodlots and that they are fairly compensated.

In a media release about the proposed bill, David Coon noted that the provincial Auditor General recommended in 2015 that private woodlot owners should have fair access to the wood market but the government did not follow the recommendation. “This bill will remedy that by requiring private wood to be purchased through the wood marketing boards and ensuring that private wood makes up a third of the wood consumed by the mills,” says Coon.

Requiring mills to purchase wood from private woodlots will help sustain the economies of rural communities. Coon points out that woodlot owners, “like farmers and fishermen, are essential to the viability of rural economies, but they need to be able to make a reasonable living.”

The previous week, on Nov. 13, SSNB announced that David Coon, Megan Mitton and Kevin Arseneau, the three Green Party MLAs, had signed a pledge committing the politicians to ”take concrete action towards the banning of herbicide spraying on public lands in New Brunswick.” The pledge included raising awareness of the issue, drafting, tabling and debating the bill in the Legislature and working to gain support of the bill among MLAs. Gerald Bourque, leader of KISS party NB also signed the pledge in support of SSNB. No other MLAs or parties in the Legislature have signed the SSNB pledge.

The Green Party is now committed to moving its Act to Amend the Crown Lands and Forests Act through the slow legislative process. Legislation introduced by the opposition parties has only a small window of time to proceed: a few hours every Thursday afternoon when the Legislature is in session. The Official Opposition, the Liberal Party, can take most of the time slots on Thursday afternoons, leaving third parties like the Green Party with little time.

It will be only in January or later in 2020 before David Coon will have the opportunity to give his bill Second Reading, the most important stage in the passage of a bill. At this stage, Coon will present the rationale for his bill and debate its merits with other MLAs. If a majority of MLAs vote in support of the bill, it will pass to Committee for a more detailed review and debate. If it passes that stage and Third Reading, it will move to the final stage, Royal Assent. At that point, the bill becomes law.

David Coon’s bill specifies that it will come into force July 1, 2020, to ensure that it will be in place before the next round of spraying. However that will only happen if a majority of MLAs vote for the bill. In the current minority government situation, that means that the three Green Party MLAs, all the Liberal MLAs, and two of the three People’s Alliance MLAs must support it. If the Liberals support it but the People’s Alliance do not, the bill will not pass.

Susan O’Donnell is the research lead for the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick and a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board.


Life is like a bunch of roses. Some sparkle like raindrops. Some fade when there's no sun. Some just fade away in time. Some dance in many colors. Some drop with hanging wings. Some make you fall in love. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Life you can be sure of, you will not get out ALIVE.(sorry about that)

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