Two city-dwellers talk relationships and reveal the significance and difficulty of keeping bloodlines when it comes to finding a fellow Indigenous partner
Story by Jessica Cheung
When Kelly Hashemi first met her Iranian husband, Mohammad, she didn’t think the difference in culture was an issue. When her marriage ended in divorce, her perspective changed.
Hashemi is Ojibwe and originally from Peguis First Nations. She said that from now on, she would only be with a First Nations man.
“With my partner right now, we’ve been together for five years and he’s Aboriginal and we can get right down to the relationship part. We didn’t have to spend months explaining ourselves,” Hashemi said.
Shadrak Gobért, or Shak, is a 23-year old who, in an ideal world, would like to end up with a First Nations woman.
Gobért’s mother is from Frog Lake First Nation while his father is non-Indigenous. Aside from looming pressures from his family, Shak really does want to find a partner who is Indigenous.
If only he could.
“For instance, my father’s white, my mother’s Indigenous and she’d say ‘Shak, please find an Indigenous girl.’ And I’m like mom (a) you’re a hypocrite, you had me with a white guy and (b) it’s not like they’re running around everywhere.”
For Indigenous people who find themselves in urban centres, the possibility of finding a partner from another culture is much greater. But how strong is the inclination to keep bloodlines? Hashemi and Gobért’s stories reveal their personal experiences and perspectives into what it’s like to look for a partner who is also Indigenous.
Hashemi was married to an Iranian man. She was also part of the Sixties Scoop, one of many Indigenous children who were taken from their biological families and adopted primarily into white, middle-class families in the 1960s and into the 1980s.
“I didn’t really have my identity at that time,” she said. But she found an identity with Mohammad. He had a rich Iranian culture with ancestors that could be traced back for centuries, something Kelly never had but yearned for. Even though she adopted his culture for herself, a space was left empty.
“I realized that I was missing something, even though I had all of this, what I was looking for, it still wasn’t mine,” Hashemi said. So she went searching but what she found didn’t include Mohammad and it put a strain on their relationship, which ultimately ended in divorce.
Click to hear Hashemi speak about finding a connection to her First Nations community:
Hashemi has been dating Allan, an Indigenous man, for five years and she said they just get each other. It’s almost like they speak their own language. “If something happens, let’s say, some form of discrimination happens to you, I can actually go home and tell him and he’ll totally get it. He will be there for me. Or he’s already had shared experiences that are similar,” Hashemi said.
Click to hear Hashemi speak about her current relationship with Allan:
For Gobért, it’s harder to date someone outside of his culture because of the hardships that Indigenous people have, and still, face. “It’s difficult because of the stigma that exists and kind of trying to break that and explain why this happens, it takes a long time.”
As a young man, bringing a girl home to his family is hard enough but with an Indigenous partner, he believes the transition would be much smoother. “My family’s like very big proponents of promoting the good side and the future of our community so bringing someone home that has no comprehension of that, they’d probably be like ‘come on Shak, really? What are you doing?’” he said.
Click to hear Gobért speak about why he’d rather date an Indigenous person:
Hashemi has two children with her ex-husband, Mohammad. They look ethnically ambiguous, Hashemi said, and that has caused unwanted attention towards them, attention that she often has to deal with as well.
She spoke about the numerous questions she receives on her ethnicity throughout her everyday life and mentions, in particular, that she can’t get into a cab without being asked about her background. “There’s obviously something curious about me to make every single taxi driver want to engage in that conversation. Lots of times I welcome it, but other times it’s just like, ‘Why can’t I just go somewhere without being asked all of these questions?’”
Hashemi is worried that her children will get it even worse. “If I’m tired and I’m used to doing it, how are my children (going to deal with it)?”
“They who obviously look different, because they do have that Middle Eastern look. But then their eyes look Native and they do act Aboriginal in some ways. It really opens them up to being bugged almost,” she added.
Being mixed-race also poses challenges in terms of conflicting cultures.
Gobért shares the experience of being mixed-race though said he looks white. “It still happens all the time. People just, they look at me and they go you’re white. When I tell them I’m Indigenous, some people will obviously go ‘what? Are you sure?’” he said.
Gobért has long felt the struggle of having to convince others of his culture. “That was one thing growing up. Almost being like I had to convince people or almost feeling like I had to defend my culture in a way,” he said.
After moving to Toronto, Gobért’s mother remarried another Indigenous man and they had another son. He had the distinctive experience of watching his little half-brother grow up in a cohesive First Nations household and he noticed that the education of Indigenous culture was much more immersive for his brother than it was for him.
“For my younger brother, I saw him growing up. He’s 13 now. He knows just as much as me, if not even more and he’s so young because he’s had that influence his whole life. So, seeing him grow up in that, I’m like yeah that’s something that I want my kids to have,” he said.
Click to hear Gobért speak about his experiences growing up in comparison with his little brother’s childhood:
Indian Status under the Indian Act can be a factor when trying to find a partner. The Indian Act is a consolidation of laws regarding Indigenous peoples in which the Canadian federal government is able to administer Indian Status to eligible Indigenous people as outlined in Section 6 of the act. Status Indians under the Indian Act are granted certain benefits. For example, Status Indians are eligible for certain tax exemptions on reserves but are required to pay regular taxes while off the reserve, which debunks the myth that Indigenous people don’t pay taxes.
Both Hashemi and Gobért are Status Indians under the law, but will their kids be?
While Hashemi uses her legal benefits, like many others, she thinks the Indian Act is not an accurate way to identify who is Indigenous and who is not. “I have my Indian Status. I don’t believe in it. It’s not accurate at all because there is a lot of people that I’ve met over the years in my life, women that are not even Aboriginal but married an Aboriginal and received status. Their descendants would’ve gotten status, too. It’s a benefits card. Small benefits, that’s it,” said Hashemi.
But she said she hasn’t always viewed status like this. When Hashemi first got her Status card, she said it was like verification for her, a confirmation that she was Indigenous.
Click to hear Hashemi talk about her struggle with the designation of Indian status:
Gobért has Indian Status but he is categorized as a 6(2) Indian under the Indian Act. This means that his children won’t have status unless Gobért has children with another Status Indian. The Indian Act splits registered Indians into two categories and the categories determine whether the children of the Status Indians will have Status.
Watch this video for more details on status and the Indian Act:
Gobért has found the benefits of being a Status Indian helpful in funding his education and he would like his kids to have the same opportunity. It’s important to note that not every Status Indian automatically receives funding for post-secondary education. An amount is allocated annually to a First Nations community specifically for post-secondary education and its members must apply for funding since most amounts cannot fund all its members.
But as much as Gobért mentioned this certain benefit as one of the reasons he would like to find an Indigenous partner, he also struggles with what the Indian Act and status mean to his community.
Click to hear Gobért’s perspective on Indian Status:
The issue of keeping bloodlines within indigenous cultures is not the be all and end all, Hashemi said. Being with someone from a different Indigenous group or clan can also pose a different set of difficulties.
Her current partner, Allan, is from Oneida Nation of the Thames. He is Iroquois and Mohawk. She said that his cultural traditions are quite different from her own. “He comes from a matriarchal clan. The grandmothers they make all the decisions. The women are the boss in his community. It’s strange being the head of the house for me,” she said.
The desire to keep bloodlines within Indigenous communities is not an easy process. There are many factors that would encourage someone to lean in or push away from finding an Indigenous partner.
As Hashemi recounted, there are still differences between cultural groups or clans that can have a major impact on a relationship. But one thing is for sure, with issues of Indian status and the pressures on many communities, there is a lot at stake.
Email Jessica Cheung at email@example.com