In the August edition of Rolling Stone, Justin Beiber charmed the world by making an offhand comment about his alleged 'Indian-ness'.
Although Beiber spared the world a commentary on how he is a descendent of an Cherokee princess, or expressed his position on identity politics over the lack of Indigenous actors in the Twilight movie franchise, he did chime in, “I’m actually part Indian. I think Inuit or something? I’m enough percent that in Canada I can get free gas.”
Unpacking this statement can you in many different directions.
He does use the world “Indian” but thank the sky he doesn’t use the word “Eskimo.”
He likens the identity of “Indian-ness” with the premise of stereotypical entitlement, referencing the contentious blood quantum or blood quota system.
He also feels that First Nations community members deserve a piece of the natural resources pie often extracted from Indigenous territory; sometimes with disastrous ecological consequences.
I wonder if he ever sits back and equates his ‘Indian-ness’-life experience at a net worth of over $100 million dollars (US) with the poverty of rez life; we’ll never know. It’s actually unclear what exactly prompted the comment, to the point that it is presented in the Rolling Stones interview in parentheses.
Poor Beibs, way to step into the moose-shit there!
Luckily, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples has offered to help the young Canadian singer trace his alleged First Nations or Inuit ancestry in an act of kindness and perhaps paternalism since Beiber is only 18 years old, giving him the benefit of the doubt.
We can also pity Beiber for growing up in the Canadian school system that teaches a whole bunch of dangerous stereotypes and sheer nonsense in history class about First Nations culture. For example, our joyful Thanksgiving Day celebrations could have darker roots than taught in mainstream culture.
According to Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating & Empire Building, “The original Thanksgiving was marked by prayer and thanks for the untimely deaths of most of the Wampanoag Tribe due to smallpox contracted from earlier European visitors. Thus when the Pilgrims arrived they found the fields already cleared and planted, and they called them their own.”
But Beiber seems as blissful as the rest of Canada regarding First Nations history. Mainstream thinking posits: ‘I mean who wouldn’t want a free blanket from a good Christian soldier? I mean, don’t ‘Indians’ like free stuff’, as Beibs seems to assert.
This said, National Chief Betty Ann Lavallee said in a statement commenting on the free-gas-entitlement assumption, “These kinds of remarks are another example of what Aboriginal Peoples in Canada struggle with every day… It promotes the misconception that we are somehow getting a free ride. This simply is not the case and we are concerned that many people may believe what he said.”
Truth is, there is no provision for free gas equated to driving up to the pump in braids, blaring pow wow music and looking for the nearest 49, or whatever Beiber was thinking. (Was he thinking?)
If Beiber was curious and ever thinking of driving through northern Ontario on an epic Smoke Signals quest, all he’d have to do is Google the Ministry of Northern Affairs website to find out that, “In Ontario, there is a tax of 14.7 cents per litre on gasoline. First Nations people with a gas card do not have to pay this tax if they buy gasoline for personal use from an authorized service station on a reserve.”
So Beiber, if you have a gas card, that just means NO TAX, not FREE GAS.
DListed, a celebrity-ridiculing site that exists for just this sort of moment, unleashes a string of digs, and concludes with the thought that Bieber “also probably thinks he doesn’t have to open his own mail because he’s a Pieces [sic].” (Bieber’s astrological sign is Pisces.)
PopGoesTheNews points out: “Adding insult to Bieber’s ignorance, if he did indeed have Inuit ancestry, he would not be entitled to a Status Card since the Inuit are not covered by the Indian Act.”
Torso and Oblong delves into the curious chain of logic vocalized by Bieber — and so many others — who’ve been told they have Native heritage: “Invariably, the conversation then moves onto the perceived bonanza of mythical scholarships that would become available to them if they just had the documented evidence that demonstrated this ancestry. Accompanying this is the rough grumbling that their damned White genetic heritage is now a liability for getting ahead.”
All I know is that I don’t want to be around to see Beiber’s reaction when he finds out that being ‘Indian’ also does not entitle him to free Tim Horton’s coffee.