There must be an aboriginal guy out there with the same name as me.
That's my initial reaction to an invitation I receive in the mail to participate in a Statistics Canada survey on the living standards of native Canadians.
And in fact there is an Aboriginal guy with my name. Me. But it takes the disembodied voice of the StatsCan official to convince me of the fact. "Why are you sending this to me?" I ask the polished voice on the other end of the phone line.
After all, I've never identified myself as Aboriginal. Sure, my paternal grandmother was half Mohawk, born on Tyendinaga near Deseronto. But what am I doing on this list?
The voice tells me I must have filled a line or ticked a box in the last general census claiming First Nation ancestry. Lineage, maybe, but certainly not knowledge. My grandmother died before I was born, and my father rarely spoke of her.
That, of course, was in keeping with his time. Indian blood was something to be hidden in "white" families, which isn't to say that my father was necessarily ashamed or intentionally hiding things.
Perhaps he knew only marginally more than he let on, but in truth, growing up in Scarborough in the 60s and 70s, one had no cause to ask or think about one's bloodline, Aboriginal or otherwise.
Scarborough at that time was singular for the way its concrete and strip malls swallowed one's roots and spit out something new and homogenous. So when the just-built junior high behind our house was named Techumseh, I just thought it weird the dude had only one name.
After we moved to another part of the area, I would daily walk past another school named after Pauline Johnson, who, like my grandmother, was half Mohawk. Reminders of my ancestry were at once nowhere and everywhere.
But I never stopped to consider how the vast history of injustice heaped upon North American Aboriginal peoples may have affected my own family history specifically. Although I haven't ignored native justice issues as a journalist or songwriter, they haven't been on my radar consistently. And when they have been, I've approached them as a white Euro-Canadian activist of British descent.
So I'm jolted by the StatsCan survey, and I can't ignore the irony that here, after centuries of systemic cultural genocide presided over by the government of Canada, an official of that same government is now reminding me of my lineage.
One could say - one like Tyendinaga activist Shawn Brant perhaps - that finally it's safe for Canada to tell me I'm Aboriginal because the reprogramming over generations is finally complete.
I, like countless thousands with similar stories, pose no threat - not as Indians anyway. I self-identify with the dominant culture. Hell, I even pay my taxes more or less on time.
But I'm suspicious of the survey, too. I'm not living like Donald Trump, but I'll certainly skew the stats, won't I? Consider some of the questions: Does your home have a flush toilet? Electricity? A stove for cooking? Wow, what's next? Questions about diphtheria and small pox? Well, no, but there are several about diabetes.
Looked at a different way, info on how well I speak my traditional language, how often I hunt, fish or gather wild plants and berries could simply be used to gauge the effectiveness of the historic project to beat the Indianness out of the Indians. "Oh, look here, this Cash fellow still collects berries and wild plants. We're obviously not through with him yet."
Indeed. My grandmother, born Marjorie Hampton in 1902, may have collected wild plants and berries. Maybe, but I'm more confident that her mother, a full-blooded Mohawk, did. In fact, the odds are high that my Iroquois roots in Canada can be traced right back to Joseph Brant and John Deserontyou, the Mohawk warriors who brought a handful of families to the area in 1784.
After they fought for the British in the American Revolution and lost most of their land in New York State in the process, the British Crown granted the Mohawks, who were United Empire Loyalists, about 92,000 acres on the shores of the Bay of Quinte as compensation.
(This is becoming a bit much to digest all in one sitting. The Mohawk thing I vaguely knew about, but being United Empire Loyalists - that's something else altogether.)
The fact that Tyendinaga is the new flashpoint of unresolved native land claims (over the last 200 years those 92,0000 acres have shrunk to just 18,000) is timely, to say the least. Deseronto is no longer just a road sign on the 401 that I quietly acknowledge every time I pass by on my way to and from a gig in Kingston or Ottawa.
The initial shock of having someone else identify me as native gives way to something more deeply disquieting: the elephant in the room of my own family history is the same elephant in the room of the Canadian family.
There's no telling what injustice, abuse, violence and pain are buried here and what its effects on the psyche are and have been. The secret is revealing itself even though I've done nothing to coax it from the shadows.
But from the shadows it comes, not just for me but for the whole Canadian family.