I was watching a recent episode of Enquête, Radio-Canada’s weekly newsmagazine, in which two self-proclaimed medicine men who make a lot of money in Europe teaching “Indigenous health and medicines” were being investigated. One of them wants people to call him “Mushum”. Marcel Grondin claims to be from Mashteuiatsh, but in fact he hails from downtown Quebec City. He also says that he has a psychology degree from Harvard University, another claim debunked by journalists. In his presentations, Grondin talks about his 14 grandchildren, even though he doesn’t have children. He also steals pictures of actual Indigenous kids pretending they’re his grandchildren. Europeans pay good money to have him speak to them or “heal” them.
Another fraud investigated by Enquête involves a French-Canadian man from Saskatchewan, Luc Bourgault, who calls himself “Blue Eagle”. He claims that his ancestry was revealed to him in a dream. His story is enough for Europeans who pay him to perform “shamanistic practices” to believe he’s an actual Indigenous person. Both men also sell sketchy natural products they claim will heal people.
All I could think about when watching this episode was: “WTF?” For centuries we’ve been told we couldn’t be Indigenous and they tried to assimilate or eliminate us, and now they want to be us? An insult. This investigation came soon after Montreal city councillor Marie-Josée Parent stepped down from the Reconciliation portfolio, after Mohawk-Innu historian Eric Pouliot-Thisdale proved that she did not have Mi’kmaq ancestry on her father’s side as she had claimed for years.
Many said that we should be gentler with these people as they are “allies” and are just trying to help. The problem is, these people make a living off their false claims or get government funding for their projects. They take space that is meant for actual Indigenous folks to thrive in. In a Journal de Montréal column, Mario Dumont pushed the theory that the spike in race-shifting cases is due to some left-wing conspiracy to marginalize themselves so they can be shielded from criticism. I think that people claim false ancestry because they lack spirituality, purpose or personality.
How do we prevent more cases like these self-proclaimed shamans who organize Native-themed retreats? Indigenous tourism organizations need to address the problem and better promote their outlets. As for people who claim false ancestry, we need to stop enabling them. A lot of Natives have protected Parent and her sister André-Yanne because they’ve known them for years. They might have done good things for a very limited circle of people in Montreal, but claiming false ancestry is just morally wrong.
As former Pessamit chief Raphaël Picard recently wrote: “Nothing that is happening in the urban Indigenous jet set of Montreal has an impact on our lives in the communities.”
We’re going to have to be firm about who we claim and who we don’t claim as one of our own.