Even God needed a writer.

Peter Cox

Joseph Boyden: Who Are You, Really?

“I’m kind of confused by the question... I think that’s very much a White construct”

Without a doubt, it was our worst-ever show.  We never had a guest walk out on us before; the shitstorm that followed saw us branded all over the Internet as racially-insensitive bigots.  The author’s publicist swore never to work within us again, and insinuated that he’d try to pull us off the air.

All this happened because widely-feted Canadian novelist Joseph Boyden (Giller Prize, Member of the Order of Canada, etc) walked out of the studio when invited by host Ian Winn to discuss his First Nation origins.  We thought at the time – and still do – that it was a direct but fair question, given Boyden’s close association with First Nation matters.

As it turns out, we were the first to publicly raise the issue of Mr. Boyden’s origins, now given fresh impetus by an Aboriginal Peoples Television Network investigation by award-winning reporter Jorge Barrera.

In a case redolent of Rachel Dolezal, the American president of a N.A.A.C.P. chapter and university instructor in African-American studies who was subsequently revealed to be a white woman passing herself off as black, Barrera’s painstaking investigation raises significant questions.

The article concludes that Boyden’s indigenous heritage “has been an ever shifting, evolving thing. Over the years, Boyden has variously claimed his family’s roots extended to the Métis, Mi’kmaq, Ojibway and Nipmuc peoples.”

In another article, Montreal writer Robert Jago makes clear his own misgivings about Boyden.  “Boyden is very prominent”, says Jago, “and a darling of Non-Native Canada. When he takes on a topic of importance to First Nations people, he drowns out other indigenous voices.”  Jago says he is only bringing into the open “what a lot of us Natives have been saying about Joseph Boyden privately, that we question his Native identity.”

“It appears that Mr. Boyden has not been forthcoming about his indigenous identity, benefiting from a crafted ambiguity” says Hayden King, who himself traces his First Nations ancestry back through seven generations. “Mr. Boyden is just the latest”, he adds.  “Last year prolific scholar Andrea Smith’s claims to Cherokee ancestry were debunked. Before Ms. Smith were academics Susan Taffe Reed and Ward Churchill, writers Margaret Seltzer and Archie Belaney (Grey Owl), actors Espera Oscar de Corti (Iron Eyes Cody), Johnny Depp and so on. There is a long tradition of playing Indian.”

You can hear the entire unedited Litopia After Dark above, including the pre-show and Ian and Peter’s thoughts after the walk-out.  The video of the show was posted to Youtube, but removed after many hostile comments.

“The comments were deeply unpleasant”, says producer Peter Cox.  “Ian and I both felt under serious attack for so much as daring to ask Boyden to talk about his ancestry.  At one point, Boyden even claimed that he didn’t understand the concept… that it was very much a “White construct”.  Yet his reputation is based to some extent on being an authentic voice.  How is it wrong to ask him to talk about this?”

One good thing came of the abortive show, though.  Ian and Peter were so concerned by the allegations of racial insensitivity that they invited Dr. Leo Killsback, professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University and citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, onto a subsequent show to learn more.

“And that”, says Cox, “was one of the best shows we’ve ever produced.”

Photo by Camille Gévaudan

Highlights from the Shop

Masterclass

MASTERCLASS with Peter Cox

Ignite Your Writing With This One-On-One Intensive

Also in this series

Susan Greenfield - Baroness of the Brain

Susan Greenfield – Baroness of the Brain

Love Her or Loathe Her, Just Don’t Ignore What This Top Scientist Is Saying About Your Brain

For The Love of Film

Three Authors, Three Film Buffs, Two Directors And A Memory Of Jam...

The Icelandic Book Flood

From Havana To Reykjavík, It’s Raining Books... Muy Caliente!

The Year’s Midnight

The World's Whole Sap Is Sunk

Money, Medicine & Marijuana

The Highs And Lows Of Legal Weed

Of Headscarves & Hymens: A Candid Conversation With Mona Eltahawy

Bruised, Defiant – Just Don’t Try Rescuing Her

The Hard Conversation

Enough With The Bombing. Let’s Talk About Peace In The Middle East

Good Grief

What Does Grief Tell Us? Simply, That We Should Be Nicer To Each Other

France A La Mod – or, A Beer in Provence

Every Englishman Secretly Dreams Of Living In France. That's When The Nightmare Begins.

The Viral Mind of Susan Blackmore

What Is Consciousness? Not What You Think

Beki Adam – Top Gear Mutineer

Forget About Clown Clarkson. This Lady Is The Real Top Gear Rebel

Inside The Waugh Zone

Evelyn Waugh’s grand-daughter talks Hollywood, hookers and her new novel, Honeyville

The Litopia After Dark Xmas Family Murder Show!

Banned By The Vatican! Damned By Berlusconi For Moral Turpitude! Humped By DSK! Here At Last!

Attack of the Tax Resistors

Would You Buy A Second-hand War On Terror From This Man?

The Cosmic Trigger

Robert Anton Wilson’s Cult Classic Becomes A Play on Fnords
Mal Peet

The World According to Mal Peet

Thank You For The Beating, Sir! May I Have Another?
Three Faces of War –The Lady

Three Faces of War –The English Lady

Lindsey Hilsum, Our Woman in Damascus
Three Faces of War – Very Special Forces

Three Faces of War – Very Special Forces

It Takes Heroism To Fight A War. But Even More Courage Not To.
Three Faces of War – The Assassin

Three Faces of War – The Assassin

What Really Happened In Sarajevo On That June Day A Hundred Years Ago
The Greatest Escape

The Greatest Escape

You May Think You Know About World War Two… But You Don’t.

Ukraine, Crimea & World War III

Step Away From The Red Button, Vladimir

The Redskin Word

"All We Wanted Was To Be Left Alone..."

The World’s Deadliest Country

Welcome To The Land Where Time Goes Backwards

Wilde About Barbie

No tears please, it's a waste of good suffering

The Next Mass Extinction Event

This Is Not A Bedtime Story. This Is An Asteroid Headed Right For Us.

The Trouble with Trains

They Stab It With Their Steely Knives, But They Just Can't Kill The Beast

Everything Is Under Control

Out of these troubled times a New World Order can emerge

The Love of Money

We Have Exalted Making Money To Be The Only Thing That Has Any Value

Voulez Vous Cartoonez Avec Moi, Ce Soir?

Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach

Sex and the Bipolar Explorer

There was once a Cypriot banker...

Bullets On The Brain

Getting the Story at Gunpoint - the Life and Times of David Holthouse

The Slog: Exposing Weapons of Mass Distraction

His mission - to expose Distraction, Distortion and Deception

The Causes of the First World War

Our boys will be home by Christmas, won't they?

Litvinenko: Murder Most Foul

"May God forgive you for what you have done..."

Fighting For Libraries

Are they worth saving? How do we save them?

Rhett Butler: Giving A Danum

Named after an iconic movie character, in real-life he's more like Indiana Jones!
Waterstones James Daunt with Russell Norman

Russell Norman: Book of the Year

He's beaten Hilary Mantel, Artemis Cooper, Robert Macfarlane & Simon Garfield to win Book of the Year!

One-on-One with Geoff Dyer

Get to know one of the finest writers in the world today
One-on-One: Jane Austen Special

One-on-One: Jane Austen Special

We're all crazy about Jane!

Litopia’s Xmas Office Party with Professor Elemental

"What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day"

Celebrate The Apocalypse with Pippa Middleton!

How can you enjoy the End without Twinkies?

Lonesome Tonight?

Was the Earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

When was Britain's finest year?

The Secret Desires of Women

She's a libertine - but not a slut

All Hallows’ Eve

God lives on a planet near the star Kolob

The Zelig of American History

Zelig's problem is that he has absolutely no identity he can call his own

The Spirit Molecule

Not so much of a drug, more a vehicle that gets you to a place

Buccaneers

The first pilot to fly under the Eiffel Tower

Teledildonics

The Samuel Pepys of the internet