04/19/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Looking for First Nations love: Indigenous dating life 'complex'

For the last eight years, I’ve given a lot of careful thought to my dating life, and not just in just the typical way that you would expect of a millennial. I’m a First Nations woman, and the issues of dating and marriage are complex for me.

As I get closer to having a family, I have a clear trajectory ahead of me.

I want to have children with a status Indian man, preferably one who is connected to his culture, and someone who has over 25% blood quantum.

It’s a tall order, I know.

Just so we are on the same page, I use the word “Indian” because I’m making reference to the Indian Act in Canadian law, not because I like or approve of the word.

Indian status and bloodlines

I was born to a First Nations (Tsilhqot’in) man and to a non-First Nations woman. At the time of their marriage, the Canadian government was issuing Indian status to women who married native men, so my mother became "Indian" with all of the rights and benefits when she married my father.

I am thus considered to be a “full blood” Indian, also known as R(1) status. This means that even if I married a white guy, my children will have Indian status and be considered “50% First Nations,” also known as R(2) despite that fact that their actual blood quantum will be 25%.

On Thursday there was a Federal Court ruling that would extend status to Métis. While this sounds promising, this decision will likely be appealed and be sent to the Supreme Court, so the dating pool hasn’t quite widened for me just yet.

This blood quantum stuff is complex, and leaves me vulnerable as it’s difficult to discuss, especially in polite conversation.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has been thinking of this. I’ve talked to many native people who are also struggling with the same issues.

“It’s absolutely vital for us to actively be thinking of keeping our bloodline strong, within all aspects of our life,” said artist Sarain Fox (Ojibwa from Batchewana First Nation).

“That means only dating native, and it means making the decision to only have children with another indigenous person. I think these are things we have an obligation to consider.”

While I am thankful that my children would retain their rights as status Indians, if I didn’t marry an Indian, my grandchildren would not have status — unless they married another status Indian. It would be hypocritical of me to pressure them to marry First Nations only, if I myself didn’t feel it was important enough to make that decision now.

Having status for my children is important because I grew up separate from my First Nations culture and family, and wasn’t rooted in the teachings, way of life and pride.

While I know that having a status card doesn’t grant that, it does make me feel like I’m grounded because I’m tied to my First Nations band (Tsi Del Del First Nation) and not disenfranchised.

Cherylanne James is Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) of Chippewa of Rama First Nation. Her mother was reinstated Indian status after the amended the existing law with Bill C-31, which affected Indian women who married non-Indians, who were then reinstated and granted Indian status after their disenfranchisement.

“Being able to acknowledge I am indigenous, having a card with a number on it, as awful as it is, it solidifies the fact that I am native,” James said. 

As exemplified by James, for some people it was their mother’s and grandmother’s decisions to marry non-native that have created lasting impacts and legacies surrounding Indian status.

“Within the last few generations alone, there was a conscious decision made by my mother and all of her siblings to have children with and marry non-native people. So I saw this was like almost a deliberate attempt at assimilating themselves,” said Noelle Ewing (Scottish/Mississauga, Ojibwa from Scugog Island First Nation).

“So that was a decision that I chose to go against and not to force myself to be with somebody simply just because they're native, but to really embrace that, to have native babies, as a means to reverse that.”

Having status comes with certain benefits like band membership, potential access to funding for post-secondary education (differs from band to band), health care, and the ability to hunt, fish, trap and gather on public lands. There are also possible tax exemptions, but those are way more narrow than you might think.

Bonus: The Jay Treaty

Another common misconception of having a status card is that you are able to go work in the United States freely under the Jay Treaty, when in fact blood quantum is the verification factor when heading south of the border.

A First Nations person can present approved identification alongside a letter from their band office proving that they are above the 50% quantum level to be eligible to have a Creation of Record so that they may eventually get a Green Card.

So you don’t need an Indian status card issued from the government to go live, work, study or retire in the United States, but that privilege won’t be there for my children, if I decided to marry a non-status man.

Although I’m considered to be 100 per cent Indian by the Canadian government because my non-First Nations mother was granted Indian status, I am still only at a 50 per cent blood quantum.

Confusing stuff. I hope you are staying with me here.

Cultural preservation

Like I said, I was raised outside of native culture. I was at a Toronto university across the country from my home territory when I discovered my cultural roots. My entire life I had felt ashamed to be First Nations and lacked the teachings, grounding, and pride that I later realized I was deeply missing.

I want a different life for my children, I want them to grow up strong and rooted in their culture and to be surrounded by a loving, traditional First Nations family. It’s something I now deem more important than being able to afford private school  for my kids. (Although that would be nice too).

“I think it’s about cultural preservation when you have that person that’s willing to also attend ceremony and learn about language, learn about native song, and dance, and the native creation story,” says Thosh Collins (Pima from Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Osage & Seneca/Cayuga).

While I value Indian status, cultural preservation is really at the crux of matters most for some.

“I’m not really concerned about affirmation from the government about who's an Indian,” said Shane Keepness (Saulteaux from Muscowpetung First Nation in Treaty Four territory), who has just completed his master's in indigenous governance from the University of Victoria.

“I'm more concerned about cultural relevance and the relationship and what we can offer to future children.”

There are others who found beauty in the alternatives.

Lawrence Santiago (Coushatta from Lousiana and Chamorro Indigenous from Guam) has recently married an Italian woman in Chicago and they have just become parents to a beautiful young girl.

“Preference is all that truly matters and it’s an individual choice,” said Santiago. “Do you feel a calling to continue your bloodline, to keep the culture and share it with other cultures? Act accordingly and be true to your search for love.”

My search for love has been a complex terrain to tread, but I feel that I’m now on the right path to ensure that my future generations are strong in their indigenous roots and grounding — even if that means I have to take longer to find love than most.