On Joseph Boyden

My thoughts on Joseph Boyden, for whatever it may be worth.

Canadian writer Joseph Boyden in September 2010. Photo Cred: Camille Gévaudan

Canadian writer Joseph Boyden in September 2010. Photo Cred: Camille Gévaudan

I first heard about Boyden during my interview with Frank C. Busch about Frank’s novel, Grey Eyes. Boyden had blurbed Frank’s book and Frank said Boyden was “a hero of [his]” and recommended Boyden’s The Orenda. My introduction to Boyden was from a Native author I respect and appreciate.

Recently, Boyden has faced great scrutiny over whether or not he is truly indigenous; whether his claims to a tribal community bear any weight. This controversy isn’t new since there have been many questioning Boyden’s claims for years, but this time the critique of Boyden gained steam and began a news cycle that saw many rise up to defend and to critique Boyden’s claims to an indigenous history.

Boyden himself responded to his critics with a tweet that did little to quell the storm.

Over the short while that I’ve been attempting to write about indigenous literature and culture, I’ve included Boyden in some posts and referred to him as an indigenous author even though I knew of the rumblings that said he wasn’t who he claimed to be. My only litmus test of who to include as a native author is who is and who isn’t accepted within native literature. That is, our indigenous literary community still accepted him as one of us, however tentatively, until the recent news made Boyden a leper in the community.

There has been plenty of time for Boyden to give a more hearty response about his identity, but he hasn’t. Busch is sticking with Boyden and arguing for his inclusion as indigenous. Busch has stated the attack on Boyden has been a “witch hunt,” of which I can see aspects manifesting in some tweets or comments completely deriding Boyden and his career.

There have, however, been critics of Boyden who are making room for him to return possibly as an indigenous author but most likely as an ally who is willing to learn. Both Aaron Paquette and Ryan McMahon have made statements that are inclusive towards Boyden while still acknowledging the harm his actions have wrought.

I’ll never join in destroying a person. Many Boyden detractors have turned petty towards him and his defenders, attacking Busch and others with personal insults rather than sticking to facts about Boyden. The same can be said from the pro-Boyden crowd. This isn’t the way we should be.

Overall, these are appropriate questions being asked. The critiques of Boyden have been important and I hope the discussion continues with him involved.

News of Boyden in the U.S. is scant, even with the latest uproar. We don’t hear much of him and he isn’t as celebrated here as he is in Canada. As such, I feel somewhat like an outsider looking in for insight because I don’t have much knowledge of him or his work. I’ve waited to see how this would play out; how Boyden would respond. He hasn’t yet responded with much, and I’m unsure of even how he should respond. For now and from what I’ve seen, I am choosing to not include Boyden as an indigenous author until better discussions are had and we can settle some of his contradictions.