June marks Indigenous History Month, an opportunity to learn about the unique cultures, traditions and experiences of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. It's a time to honour the stories, achievements, and resilience of Indigenous Peoples, who have lived on this land since time immemorial and whose presence continues to impact our evolving country.
A member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and Jewish, Magnolia Perron had much to say about what it means to have a dual identity and what this month means to her.
Perron’s journey with her Indigenous identity is complex. Due to the laws at the time, her grandmother was forced to give up her native status when she married Perron’s grandfather. This was standard when a native person married a non-native person. Years later she was able to reclaim her status and that impacted Perron’s father and Perron directly. It meant they could claim status and join their indigenous community.
“Being Indigenous is quite political. Who can claim status and live on the reserve has changed over the years. While my Indigenous grandmother had to give up her status when she married a non-native man, a native man marrying a non-native woman will confer his status upon that woman. I think it’s interesting because it is very similar in Judaism. In many Jewish circles, it’s the women through whom status is passed. In both cultures, women have such important roles in childbearing and passing down our cultures and our teachings.”
Perron is proud to be Mohawk and Jewish and sees how her nieces, who still live on the reserve, embrace and are very proud of their Indigenous identity. They see no reason to hide their identity like family of early generations did. It’s an outcome of the reconciliation process and for the larger Canadian community this month is an opportunity to learn and to actively make contributions towards reconciliation.
For the past three years, Perron has been living in Ottawa and working at the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA), an indigenous organization that represents a network of indigenous owned and controlled financial institutions across Canada.
“NACCA does developmental lending to First Nations and 18 Inuit businesses and entrepreneurs, by providing them with loans, grants and business support services, including capacity building initiatives and training for those in the network,” says Perron, who explains she came to this work after many years of exploring her Indigenous identity.
Perron uses this month to reflect on what it means to be Indigenous and how it’s her responsibility to give back to her community. She loves the work she does with NACCA, “I know I am in a position where I have a voice and I can use that voice to try to influence and support my community.”
In addition, Perron explains that during this month there are things that the Jewish community can do to show support. She mentions that it’s a great time to read a novel written by an Indigenous person, attend an event hosted by an Indigenous organization, or buy products from Indigenous owned businesses. “It’s the small things we can do that make a big difference.”
Perron concludes, “We are moving ahead, and we are progressing. It's great to talk about those successes, but we can't go ahead without acknowledging and understanding the past and having allies that are going to support us in the future.”
To learn more about Indigenous history and culture, Perron recommends the following resources:
• The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land and Rebuilding the Economy by Arthur Manual and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson
• The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King
• 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph
• The River is in Us by Elizabeth Hoover
• Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
• Grounded Authority: The Algonquins of Barriere Lake Against the State by Shiri Pasternak
• The Break by Katherena Vermette
• Nibi’s Water Song & Smile So Big by Sunshine Tenasco
• Together We Drum, Our Hearts Beat as One by Willie Poll
Shop Indigenous (Local):
• Beandigen Café: beandigen
• The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business has a Certified Aboriginal Business program so you can always check their directory for businesses.
If you are looking for speakers, you can contact the International Indigenous Speakers Bureau for assistance.