Been reading about Morris Blanchard, who goes by the Ojibway name Onagottay. He’s a Canadian artist who claims to be Anishinaabe and a survivor of the Sixties Scoop. For the uninitiated, Anishinaabe is a group representing indigenous populations of North America which include the Ojibway, Cree, Algonquin, etc. The Sixties Scoop was an initiative of the Canadian government of taking Indigenous children and assigning them white foster parents in order to integrate them into white society, remove Indigenous influence, and weaken the claims of land rights of indigenous communities in the future.
Unfortunately, despite being a celebrated First Nations artist and an “elder” teaching Ojibway in a local language program, it would appear that Blanchard is totally Caucasian. His brother and his ex-wife both claim that his autobiography of surviving the Sixties Scoop and living in the bush is all fiction. His brother says that their ancestry is Norweigan, English, and French. Now, like many Canadians, there’s a likelihood that there might be some First Nations in his bloodline, but not to the extent that Blanchard has carved and sold his persona.
Now, one can admire his visual works absent his misrepresentations, but it’s offensive to think that this artist has primarily used a First Nations story to make a career of himself, even being employed by Queen’s University teaching Indigenous language and culture. It’s one thing to steal and disrespect First Nations by misappropriating their culture, which I still think is oddly called “cultural appropriation.” But it’s another thing to steal the suffering minorities and claim it as your own. I find it more offensive than a thousand people wearing an Indian headdress as a fashion statement. He is actively stealing the history, suffering, and wisdom from other survivors.
He makes interesting visual works. Let him do that. I am fully on board with admiring works of art absent the vile character of the artist. That’s why I can still look at works of Paul Gauguin or occasionally watch a Woody Allen film. Blanchard can be just like Kirby Sattler, an artist who paints inaccurate realistic portraits of Native Americans. But just like Kirby Sattler, he must own up to his own history and say that he is an outsider admiring the beauty and culture of the First Nations, not claim to be First Nations himself.
I remember back in university. One of my first friends was First Nations. We hung out and met a local elder who was very friendly with us. He even invited me to a sweat lodge. I didn’t realize in the beginning that he mistook me for being First Nations as well, probably due to my complexion. I had to sheepishly admit that I wasn’t First Nations when he asked me what tribe I was from. Graciously, he still maintained that I’m welcome to the sweat lodge and visit his community.
Apparently, Blanchard would’ve gone along with the mistake and happily passed as First Nations throughout his university life.