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The pretendian problem

Flimmaker Jeff Bear joins the show to discuss the issue of non-Natives claiming Indigenous ancestry for financial gain. Plus national correspondent Kolby KickingWoman has more details behind his story on Hank Aaron that is bringing out some history that many people might have missed.
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First Nation filmmakers are now pushing for new legislation in Canada to penalize people who pretend to be Indigenous in order to access grants, awards and jobs intended for Indigenous people. There’s a long history of non-Natives assuming a tribal identity...everything from using red face in a Hollywood film, to the antics of the Boston Tea Party. Jeff Bear is a seasoned journalist who makes documentary films. He’s Maliseet and one of his most recent films is, “Samaqan: Water Stories.” It’s about the power of rivers. He also has produced a new series "Petroglyphs to Pixels." Jeff Bear joins us today to discuss Indian Country's pretend Indian problem.

The passing of Hank Aaron is bringing out some history that many people might not know about. National correspondent. Kolby KickingWoman’s story, “Hammering Hank’s big fan,” tells the story of Levi Walker. KickingWoman joins the newscast with some details behind his story.

A slice of our Indigenous world 

  • A new study, with the first ever national data, surveyed American Indians and Alaska Natives from 46 states regarding their knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • The Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in New Town, North Dakota, is now reaching more tribal citizens to get them vaccinated. 

  • Colorado is awarding $27 million dollars in educational grants to 19 programs aimed at helping students in communities hit hard by the pandemic and that includes one tribe. 

  • During this pandemic it’s no secret things have been different. People are finding new ways to come together, especially online. 

  • In a small warehouse near a busy intersection in Seattle’s industrial district the company “ Eighth Generation” is making Native-designed wool blankets and other contemporary products.

You can more details on all of these stories at the top of today's newscast.

Some quotes from today's show

Jeff Bear:

"This has a long history in our country going back to the creative arts. We have a fellow named Joseph Boyden who has written some successful books. He was the star of the Canadian mainstream media for many years as a spokesman. He even appeared in front of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, our examination of residential schools here. And he basically claimed to be Métis but he couldn't identify that more than the word Métis and he was outted by the literary community." 

"They were quite upset that he took the identity and basically really loved the spotlight. He danced in front of the cameras and he basically appeared in radio shows, television, magazines, newspapers. When they found out he was Métis it happened just before Christmas, a couple of years ago. And the fallout was incredible, because he took a big fall when he couldn't prove his identity. More recently a woman by the name of Michelle Latimer claimed to have had ties to Métis as well." 

"And she identified herself as being a Métis from Kitigan Zibi. CBC journalist Jorge Barrera uncovered the story after Jeff Barnaby, a Mi'kmaq filmmaker had written to a number of people after the Toronto International film festival where the media, the CBC in particular, fawned all over her and claimed she was leading the new generation of filmmakers into a very new world. It's discovered since that she has absolutely no ties to Kitigan Zibi. Jorge talked to some elders up there and discovered this unruly fact. And so basically she's taken a fall too. This is not unlike the situation in America where Ward Churchill falsely claimed to be of Native ancestry."

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Kolby KickingWoman:

"Levi Walker turns out was the Atlanta Braves mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa from 1969 to 1985. Hank Aaron passed last Friday, January 22nd and it was just on social media. There was a lot of highlights of his playing career going on, especially his 715th home run that broke Babe Ruth’s home run record at the time. As he passed home plate, there were his teammates there, his mother and father. 

"And then I saw that this Native looking guy in regalia, and after a bunch of research about tracking Levi Walker down, I believe he's 79 now, still living in Georgia and still remembers those days fondly and was very happy to take the call and remember Hank. One of the things he felt when he went into the Braves organization, he went in full regalia he said. And before he became the mascot, there were a couple of white men playing Native as he put it.

"He said they were wearing mismatched clothes and it just didn't sit right with them. So he went in and said if you want to be authentic, I'm your guy. And he was their guy for almost two decades. He wasn't a fan of the Washington NFL team and was happy to see that that's being changed. But as far as Warriors, Indians, Braves, that’s something that he thinks aren't as offensive and doesn't mind seeing them staying around. Of course the Cleveland Indians have announced that they're changing their name. And we'll see about the Warriors, Blackhawks, and Braves."

(Read more: Hammering Hank’s big fan)

Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. 

Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. For hot sports takes and too many Lakers tweets, follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email -

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