July 22, 2012

Justin Bieber thinks he's Native

This story has been going around the Internet for a few days:

Canadian Pop Star Justin Bieber Believes He’s Indian Enough to Get Free GasIn the August issue of Rolling Stone, pop star Justin Bieber reveals that he believes he has Native heritage. The claim is not a central part of the article—indeed, it’s a comment so brief the writer has it in parentheses:

He’s wearing a Chicago Blackhawks cap (“I’m actually part Indian,” he says—“I think Inuit or something? I’m enough percent that in Canada I can get free gas”), a blue short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts that hang all the way off his butt.

The “free gas” misconception is a common one, and stems from a policy described on Ontario’s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs website:

In Ontario, there is a tax of 14.7 cents per litre on gasoline. First Nations people with a gas card do not have to pay this tax if they buy gasoline for personal use from an authorized service station on a reserve.
And:The Onion AV Club raises the point that ignorance from a person as famous as Bieber can be dangerous because legions of fans are likely to believe (or Beliebe as they say) whatever comes out of his mouth—sarcastically speculating that “tens of service stations could be getting ripped off across the Great White North, just because this recent high school graduate doesn’t know his own heritage.”

PopGoesTheNews points out: “Adding insult to Bieber’s ignorance, if he did indeed have Inuit ancestry, he would not be entitled to a Status Card since the Inuit are not covered by the Indian Act.”

Torso and Oblong delves into the curious chain of logic vocalized by Bieber—and so many others—who’ve been told they have Native heritage: “Invariably, the conversation then moves onto the perceived bonanza of mythical scholarships that would become available to them if they just had the documented evidence that demonstrated this ancestry. Accompanying this is the rough grumbling that their damned White genetic heritage is now a liability for getting ahead.”

And that’s perhaps the most worthwhile thing to ponder here. It’s possible that Bieber really has Indigenous heritage, and it’s clear he doesn’t know much about Native people—and neither of those things is inherently important to the average reader of Rolling Stone or ICTMN. What might matter, or ought to matter, to both readerships is that Bieber is an 18-year-old with an estimated net worth of over $100 million, and yet even to him the concept of “Indian or Inuit” is closely tied to the concept of “free gas.”
“Part Indian” (or is it Inuit?) Justin Bieber faces online backlash over “free gas” claim

By Jorge BarreraThe comment was quickly picked up by several blogs and ignited mocking reaction from many online.

“Omfg Justin Bieber!! Wow. I didn’t like him already, now this makes me so angry!!” wrote Kat Partridge, on APTN National News’ Facebook page.

“WTF man…what an arse…like really,” wrote Ray Hudson.

“Can someone ask him where all the free is? I would like to know! Lol,” wrote Shevon Maggie.

“Well wow. First off it’s not free gas and second, the boy doesn’t know that status cards are only for status First Nations. Maybe he’ll change his heritage next month,” wrote Brandy Franklin.

Ellen Gabriel, who recently ran for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, also jumped in the fray, calling on Bieber to apologize and urged her online supporters to Tweet the young pop star.

“I Tweeted young Mr. Bieber today to have him apologize to all Aboriginal peoples for his ill-informed comments,” wrote Gabriel, who rose to prominence as a calming voice during the 1990 Oka crisis which put her home community of Kanesatake under the international spotlight. “(It) just promotes another kind of stereotype which we all know are based on myth and racism.”

Cree-Metis hip hop artist Joey Stylez tried to spy the silver lining in the controversy saying Bieber’s comments reflected a wider pop cultural trend that seemed to equate Indigenous culture with cool.

“It’s also kind of cool at the same time. Everyone is associating being hip and cool with being Native American right now. Johnny Depp just got adopted by a tribe down south,” said Stylez, in a phone interview from Saskatoon. “I think we’re being recognized in pop culture as the ones with the most swag.”

But if Bieber really believed he has Indigenous heritage, he should also realize it comes with responsibility, said Stylez.

“If you are Native American you should be doing other stuff like going back to the reserves where there are Third World conditions and taking the bad stuff, not only the cool stuff,” said Stylez, who is working on a new album and short film both titled Feather and Rosary. “I think it’s inappropriate how he said it. He could have said it better and known actually what he’s talking about.”
Comment:  For his stereotypical claim that Natives get free stuff, Bieber earns a Stereotype of the Month nomination.

For more on Native identity questions, see Is Elizabeth Warren Native? and Khloe Kardashian Thinks She's Native.


Anonymous said...

Also, inuit is the plural form of inuk, "true man" (as opposed to shapeshifters).

I know, political correctness. (Hilariously, it comes from linguistic relativity, which uses as its main support the apocryphal story about Eskimo words for snow, making political correctness itself racist.)

Rob said...

Right, but isn't "Inuit" also the adjectival form? Isn't it correct to say, "I am an Inuk" but "I am Inuit" (ethnically)?

If my understanding is correct, I don't think Bieber got that part wrong.