Joseph Boyden. Image via Getty.

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This is how sympathetic columnists have characterized questions regarding the ethnic heritage of Canadian writer Joseph Boyden: a “lynching,” a punishment, and a misguided attempt by “activist communities.” For at least a decade, Boyden has claimed that he is of Indigenous descent. He has subsequently built his career writing about First Nations history and culture, positioning himself has an authority on Indigenous issues; as The Walrus painted him recently, “[Boyden] has Anishinabe ancestry, and his novels are credited with bringing Indigenous experiences to a mainstream Canadian audience.” But a recent investigation, prompted in part by Boyden’s vigorous defense of fellow writer Stephen Galloway, alleges that for years, Boyden has either misled the public about his heritage or, at best, vastly overinflated his ancestral relationship with various First Nations tribes.

Boyden’s literary success owes a great debt to his identity claims, as his novels and novella are presented as offering authentic narrations of Indigenous life and perspectives. Though Boyden has been criticized for rehashing old stereotypes about native people, his three novels trace the saga of a Cree family and are told from the perspective of his Indigenous characters. His first novel, Three Day Road, published a decade ago, was the inaugural winner of McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award. For years, he has given paid lectures on Indigenous issues, filling “seats reserved for native voices,” as Vice Canada’s Steven Goetz described it. [continue reading]