Jump to content

Joseph Boyden

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Joseph Boyden
Joseph Boyden at the Eden Mills Writers Festival in 2013
Boyden at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival in 2013
Born (1966-10-31) October 31, 1966 (age 57)[1]
Willowdale, North York, Ontario, Canada
Occupationprofessor, writing mentor, novelist and short story writer
Alma materBrebeuf College School; York University, University of New Orleans
Genrehistorical fiction, First Nations heritage and culture
Notable worksThree Day Road, Through Black Spruce, The Orenda

Joseph Boyden CM (born October 31, 1966) is a Canadian novelist and short story writer.[2][3] He is best known for writing about First Nations culture. Three Day Road, a novel about two Cree soldiers serving in the Canadian military during World War I, was inspired by Ojibwa Francis Pegahmagabow, the legendary First World War sniper. Joseph Boyden's second novel, Through Black Spruce, follows the story of Will, son of one of the characters in Three Day Road. The third novel in the Bird family trilogy was published in 2013 as The Orenda.

Life and career[edit]

Joseph Boyden grew up in Willowdale, North York, Ontario, and attended the Jesuit-run Brebeuf College School. The ninth of eleven children, he is the son of Blanche (Gosling) and Raymond Wilfrid Boyden,[4][3] a medical officer renowned for his bravery, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was the most highly decorated medical officer of World War II.[5]

Boyden studied humanities at York University and received an MFA in Fiction from the University of New Orleans in 1995. He was a professor in the Aboriginal Student Program at Northern College during 1995–1997. He taught at the University of New Orleans during 1998–2010, where he served as writer-in-residence. He was also a lecturer with the University of British Columbia's Creative Writing Program during 2013–2015.[6]

In 2014 Boyden accepted a commission from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to write a ballet about residential schools in Canada. His ballet Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation premiered in 2014 and travelled across the country.[7]

As a public speaker, Boyden regularly addressed Indigenous Canadian, environmental, and mental health issues.

Controversies surrounding genealogy and tribal affiliation[edit]

Joseph Boyden is primarily of Irish and Scottish ancestry. A number of Indigenous writers and researchers came forward to publicly state that Boyden did not have the right to speak on behalf of any Indigenous community because he was not a First Nations citizen and ultimately not Indigenous.[8]

Boyden’s claims to Indigenous heritage subsequently became the subject of public dispute when an APTN National News article, "Author Joseph Boyden's shape-shifting Indigenous identity" by Jorge Barrera,[3] was published December 23, 2016. Barrera's article investigates Boyden’s past claims of Mi'kmaq, and Métis ancestry as well as his current claims of being Nipmuc and Ojibway. Barrera brought to light facts surrounding Boyden’s uncle Earl Boyden, who went by the name "Injun Joe". Earl Boyden was an artist in Algonquin Park and was the subject of a 1956 Maclean's article titled, "The Double Life of Injun Joe", in which the author reports that he has no "Indian blood." Barrera's search of Boyden’s family tree could not locate any Indigenous ancestry. Boyden’s mother, who was briefly interviewed via telephone by Barrera, said that her son was researching her family's history.[9]

Boyden, who had refused an interview with APTN for the article, responded by Twitter on December 24. He stated that he admitted he'd called himself Métis, but only meant the term to mean mixed blood. He continued to assert his maternal Ojibway and paternal Nipmuc roots.[10]

Subsequently, Rebeka Tabobondung, editor of Muskrat Magazine, revealed Boyden had told her that he was from the Wasauksing First Nation. Tabobondung, who is from Wasauksing, followed up to find his family connection and could not. However, Boyden's family did own a private island near the community.[11]

Over the next weeks a series of Indigenous writers, activists and politicians including Wab Kinew,[12] Drew Hayden Taylor[13] Hayden King,[14] Ryan McMahon,[15] and others wrote about the controversy in national media. They asked on what basis Boyden felt he had expertise to represent issues if he was not Indigenous, and asked to whom he was accountable, as some of the positions he was presenting seemed out of line with ongoing work in Indigenous communities.[16][17]

On January 12, 2017, Boyden gave his first public interviews since the appearance of the APTN article. He personally selected the interviewers, who were both friends of his, Mark Medley of The Globe and Mail,[18] and Candy Palmater, a comedian who occasionally worked at CBC.[19] Boyden now admitted he had erroneously identified himself as Mi'kmaq in the past. He continued to identify as a "white kid with native roots", Ojibway on his mother's side and Nipmuc on his father's side. He denied that he had relied on his identity as an Indigenous person to popularize his books, and he stated he had only won one literary prize based on heritage and little money. He did, however, apologize for taking up too much of the "air space" and stated he would do less public speaking, thus allowing for Indigenous voices to be heard in the media.[19]

Reaction to the interviews was mixed.[20][21] Subsequent reports by Canadaland[22] and other researchers turned up inconsistencies in Boyden’s claims and failed to find any native ancestry in his background.

In an August 2, 2017 essay in Maclean's magazine,[2] Joseph Boyden stated that he had taken a DNA test which listed "Native American DNA". For Boyden’s critics, the results mean little, as broad DNA categories do not constitute membership to a nation.[23] According to First Nations genetics expert Kim Tallbear, DNA testing for Native ancestry as a racial category is not scientifically possible, and is often confused with DNA testing that confirms specific familial lineage.[24][25] Boyden’s ex-wife Amanda Boyden was asked about the DNA testing in a 2020 interview, and described the results as showing "a few drops of indigenous blood from... Greenland", and stated that Joseph "has no DNA that can be traced to the First Nations people in Canada or the Americas at large".[26]

The public revelations about Boyden’s roots threatened to impact the release of his new fiction novel. Ojibway filmmaker Lisa Meeches stepped forward to adopt Boyden as a spiritual sibling, saying she was motivated both by her brother's recent death and a desire to protect Boyden’s work.[27][28]

During the defence of a lawsuit, Boyden had provided a photocopy of his "status card", a document appearing to be an ID card for the Ontario Métis Aboriginal Association (also known as the Woodland Métis Tribe). Research by journalist Eric Andrew Gee led to the following comment in the 7 August 2017 issue of the Globe and Mail: "the OMAA ... is a complicated and in many ways troubled organization held in low esteem by some prominent Métis Canadians for its legal and financial misadventures over the years, and its lax membership policy that does not require any proof of Indigenous ancestry. Nor does the group provide "status cards" – Indian status can only be conferred by the federal government. The ID Joseph Boyden flourishes like a trump in his affidavit is little more than a piece of paper."[29][30]

One long-term result of this controversy is that the word pretendian became more widely used in Canada.[31]


In 2015 Boyden condemned Stephen Harper during the 2015 Canadian federal election, calling his politics "race-baiting" and "fear-mongering".[32]

Personal life[edit]

Boyden was married to author Amanda Boyden from 1995 to 2018.[33] In 2020, Amanda Boyden published a memoir, I Got the Dog, in which she wrote about the circumstances that brought on the end of their marriage.[34]

Boyden lives near Georgian Bay, Ontario with his wife Laura and their two sons. In 2019, Boyden wrote about coming home and finding new life in Georgian Bay Today magazine.[35] He is the co-creator of Sweetwater Writers Workshop in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada. Sweetwater Writers Workshop offers one-on-one mentorships, creative writing workshops and hosts retreats.[36]


Hononary doctorates and degrees[edit]

Institution Award Year Awarded
Nipissing University Honorary Doctor of Letters 2009[37]
Wilfrid Laurier University Honorary Doctor of Letters 2012[38][39]
Algoma University Honorary degree 2013[40]
Humber College Honorary degree 2013[41]
Trent University Honorary Doctor of Letters 2014[42]


Boyden was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013. He was on the board of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

On December 30, 2015, Boyden was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada "for his contributions as an author, who tells stories of our common heritage, and for his social engagement, notably in support of First Nations".[43]



Short stories[edit]

  • Born With a Tooth Toronto: Cormorant Books, 2001.


  • From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans: A Mixed Blood Highway. Edmonton: NeWest, 2008
  • Extraordinary Canadians: Louis Riel And Gabriel Dumont. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2010
  • Kwe: Standing With Our Sisters. (editor) Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2014. (An anthology with more than fifty contributors to raise awareness of the crisis facing Indigenous women in Canada, with all proceeds going to Amnesty International's No More Stolen Sisters campaign)


  1. ^ "The making of Joseph Boyden: Indigenous identity and a complicated history". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b "My name is Joseph Boyden". Macleans.ca. 2 August 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Barrera, Jorge (23 December 2016). "Author Joseph Boyden's shape-shifting Indigenous identity". APTN National News. Archived from the original on December 24, 2016.
  4. ^ "Author's claims questioned". 18 March 2017.
  5. ^ Author Profile: Joseph Boyden in Quill & Quire.
  6. ^ "Faculty: Joseph Boyden". Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  7. ^ "Joseph Boyden wades into 'very sacred' territory with residential school ballet". Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  8. ^ "Why I Question Joseph Boyden's Indigenous Ancestry". December 24, 2016.
  9. ^ "Joseph Boyden's statement about his indigenous roots doesn't address main controversy, academics sa". National Post. 2017-01-13. Retrieved 2018-09-07.
  10. ^ "Joseph Boyden Defends Indigenous Ancestry After APTN Investigation". HuffPost Canada. 25 December 2016.
  11. ^ "Joseph Boyden must take responsibility for misrepresenting heritage, says Indigenous writer". Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  12. ^ Kinew, Wab (3 January 2017). "There is room in our circle for Joseph Boyden". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  13. ^ Taylor, Drew Hayden (13 January 2017). "Can Joseph Boyden make amends with First Nations?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  14. ^ King, Hayden (28 December 2016). "Joseph Boyden, where are you from?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  15. ^ "What Colour Is Your Beadwork, Joseph Boyden?". Vice. 30 December 2016.
  16. ^ "Prominent authors face backlash over letter to UBC over Steven Galloway firing - Toronto Star". The Toronto Star. 16 November 2016. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  17. ^ "What it means to be Indigenous: Boyden raises difficult questions". 6 January 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  18. ^ "Boyden admits to mistakes, backs down as indigenous spokesperson". The Globe and Mail. 11 January 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  19. ^ a b "Joseph Boyden addresses his heritage in exclusive interview with Candy Palmater". Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  20. ^ "Reaction To Joseph Boyden's New Interviews - CANADALAND". 13 January 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  21. ^ Fontaine, Tim (12 January 2017). "Joseph Boyden's first interview 'a start' but it leaves unanswered questions". Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  22. ^ "Things Joseph Boyden Has Claimed To Be But Is Not - CANADALAND". 29 December 2016. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  23. ^ "Joseph Boyden Won't Find Indigenous Identity In A Test Tube Of Spit". CANADALAND. 2017-08-04. Retrieved 2017-08-12.
  24. ^ Miller, Matt. "A DNA test won’t explain Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry (You're not 28 percent Finnish, either)" Slate. June 29, 2016. Web. n. pag. Archived August 19, 2017 via the Wayback Machine. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  25. ^ Geddes, Linda. "There is no DNA test to prove you’re Native American." NewScientist. February 5, 2014. Web. n. pag. Archived March 15, 2017 via the Wayback Machine. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  26. ^ AC Jackson (15 October 2020). "Amanda Boyden's "I Got the Dog" Is a Fierce, Funny Account of Marriage to a Fraud". Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  27. ^ Robinson-Desjarlais, Shaneen (January 16, 2017). ""He has agreed to be my brother" Why Lisa Meeches is adopting Joseph Boyden".
  28. ^ "First Nations filmmaker in Manitoba adopting Joseph Boyden as her brother | CBC News".
  29. ^ "Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada". 25 May 2021.
  30. ^ "The making of Joseph Boyden". The Globe and Mail. 2017-11-12. Retrieved 2018-09-07.
  31. ^ Brunet, Jonah (2024-02-14). "The Great Pretenders: How two faux-Inuit sisters cashed in on a life of deception". Toronto Life. Retrieved 2024-02-27. The "pretendian" phenomenon in Canada can be traced back to at least the 1930s... But the term itself didn't gain traction in Canada until late 2016, when Indigenous journalists started pointing out the inconsistencies in bestselling author Joseph Boyden's proclaimed Indigenous roots. Today, it's used to broadly describe fakers who claim to be Indigenous but aren't.
  32. ^ Berger, Yael. "Author Joseph Boyden takes on Stephen Harper". Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  33. ^ Joseph Goodrich (26 January 2021). "Who Uses Their Ex-wife to Sell a Valentine's Day Writing Workshop?".
  34. ^ Laurie Gough (28 September 2020). "Rape, infidelity and the detonation of a marriage: Novelist Amanda Boyden's tumultuous life has led to new memoir". The National Post.
  35. ^ Boyden, Joseph (2019). "The Shortest Season" (PDF). Georgian Bay Today. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 July 2021.
  36. ^ "About Us". Sweet Water Writers Workshop. Retrieved 5 May 2024.
  37. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients | Nipissing University". Archived from the original on 2013-04-03. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
  38. ^ "Honorary Awards". Wilfrid Laurier University. Retrieved 5 May 2024.
  39. ^ Leonard, Allison (27 August 2012). "Over 400 graduates urged to be individuals". The Sputnik. Retrieved 5 May 2024.
  40. ^ "Algoma's Honorary Degree Recipient is Giller Prize Winning Author". Archived from the original on 2014-02-09.
  41. ^ Barnes, Kateryna (31 October 2013). "Joseph Boyden receives honorary degree from Humber". Humber News. Retrieved 5 May 2024.
  42. ^ "Trent University Announces Five Honorary Degree Recipients to be Recognized at 2014 Convocation Ceremonies". Trent University. 11 March 2014. Retrieved 5 May 2024.
  43. ^ General, The Office of the Secretary to the Governor. "The Governor General of Canada". Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  44. ^ "Joseph Boyden wins $50K Giller Prize Author vows to 'always write about the First Nations'". CBC News. November 11, 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-05.
  45. ^ "Boyden wins literature's Giller", The Globe and Mail, November 11, 2008.

Further reading[edit]