Translated from CBC Radio [Original Article HERE]
Genealogy researchers question the Aboriginal ancestry of Councilor Marie-Josée Parent, “the first Aboriginal elected official in the City of Montreal,” who claims to be a “Metis” of Mi’kmaq and Acadian descent. This accusation is categorically denied by the politician, who has decided to withdraw from the reconciliation file entrusted to her by the mayor last year.
Elected in November 2017 under the banner of Team Coderre, the city councilor in the borough of Verdun joined the ranks of the Montreal Project party this year.
In August 2018, she was entrusted with the issue of reconciliation with indigenous peoples by joining the executive committee of Valérie Plante's administration. Reconciliation has always been one of her priorities when she entered politics, she told Radio-Canada in an interview.
Parent, who worked before her election in various Montreal Aboriginal cultural organizations, has always said publicly that her mother is Acadian and her father Mi’kmaq. “I was raised in this culture, with these values and this vision of the world,” she told La Presse when she was elected two years ago.
However, genealogy researcher Éric Pouliot-Thisdale found no indigenous ancestry in her father’s lineage. The former contributor to Kahnawake's The Eastern Door recently researched the family tree of Parent to the earliest ancestors of France using data from public archives. According to his research, one of her father’s ancestors, Michel Haché-Gallant (1663-1737), had been the subject of rumors about an alleged Métis ancestry. But this information has been denied by parish registers, Thisdale says.
"You see a form of opportunism in all of this, and it's very obvious," says the Innu and Mohawk-born historian, who says he is acting for the public good. "The idea wasn't to point the finger at a particular person, but it's one example among others of people or organizations in Montreal that are providing services to Aboriginal people by calling themselves Aboriginal and are not.”
Researcher Dominique Ritchot also separately researched Parent’s family tree - the maternal and paternal lineages. Although she found no aboriginal ancestry on the paternal side, she found a Mi’kmaq ancestor on the maternal side, in the previous 12th generation.
"Lots of Quebecers say they have a Native American grandmother. And often you go back in line and realize that it's either not true, or it's in the 12th generation," says Ritchot who is a coordinator at the French Canadian Genealogical Society. Ritchot recalls that in Quebec, the civil registry "is complete from 1621 to 2019." Original baptism or marriage certificates, military documents... "All documents are public, nothing is hidden. You have to be extremely unlucky to be unable to identify someone who has set foot in New France.”
Parent believes that the findings of the two genealogy researchers are "inaccurate." Parent said, "There are elements in the family tree that don't fit with what you have as a document," without wanting to go into detail about what is wrong with Ritchot and Thisdale’s findings. Parent did acknowledge that does not know which community her family comes from, nor does she have a status card.
In her defense, Parent stated that the review of her ancestry constitutes a "form of genealogical violence that is not part of traditional practices". She continued, "Our identities to me and my sister go beyond a family tree," she says.
Marie-Josée's sister, André-Yanne Parent, has also worked for various organizations that support Aboriginal communities, including Youth Fusion and DestiNATIONS. She tried her luck in municipal politics in 2013.
In the wake of the accusations, the 36-year-old Parent said she had made the decision to withdraw from the reconciliation file.
"My intention was never to offend anyone," Parent said, also announcing that she has chosen not to "publicly identify" as Aboriginal. However, she will remain a city councilor.
The issue of self-identification is particularly sensitive in Quebec and the Maritime provinces, where the number of people calling themselves Aboriginal or Métis has exploded in the latest Statistics Canada censuses.
"Sometimes it's stories that happen in the family or there's a founding myth in an Acadian or Quebec population," says Darryl Leroux, a professor at St Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, who has written extensively on the issue of "self-indigenization”. He estimates that about 200,000 people identify as Métis in Quebec and the Maritimes, a figure that has only grown since various Supreme Court decisions, including Aboriginal rights.
In Winnipeg, the self-proclaimed Huron-Wendat identity of a city councilor, Sherri Rollins, was questioned last year by Aboriginal people and genealogists. They found that she was not a member of any Aboriginal community.