Transracial adoption is a difficult road travelled by well-meaning parents and children constantly looking for acceptance. In Yasmine Mathurin’s One of Ours, she follows Josiah Wilson, a young Haitian-born Canadian with Native status due to his adoptive father, Don. Josiah’s journey of acceptance in the Indigenous community and by himself is spurred by a human rights issue and the complicated relationships in his life.
As an orphan in Haiti brought into a Indigenous family, Josiah felt a deep connection with his Indigenous father’s family from the Heiltsuk First Nation. He lived happily with his black sister Mariah, also adopted from Haiti, and two other siblings born to his adoptive parents. Discovering a love for basketball spawned a great talent, and Josiah would go on play for the Heiltsuk Nation team in the Indigenous Basketball League. As a Black teen with Native status, the ruling members of the league took issue with this and referenced the Blood Quantum rule (you must have 1/8th of Native blood to be considered Indigenous) to back up their claim that he didn’t fit Native criteria. After playing for two years, Josiah was removed from the team. The whirlwind of racial profiling and media attention that follows also brings conflicted feelings over his adoption and his deep connection to the Heiltsuk Nation into play. Just by being born Black garners judgment and prejudice for Josiah, and his already tenuous identity is questioned in a community that has embraced him since he can remember. The scars of divorced parents, the impact of his loving Heiltsuk grandfather on his life, and just trying to exist is a struggle that leads him to isolation from personal growth and his family.
I came away from One of Ours, thinking that what we saw in Josiah was only the tip of the emotional iceberg. Processing a rejection from the one thing he loved because of who he is, navigating the history of his adoption, feeling betrayed by his very loving parents, and working out relationships with both them and his siblings is a lot to handle for a middle-aged adult, let alone a 21-year-old. His treatment isn’t unknown to the Indigenous community, and the claim to Indigenous identity is something that is heavily guarded, a piece of the culture that can still be colonized, so to speak, if left unprotected. As an outsider I can understand this, but seeing Josiah raised and embraced by the Indigenous community adds a new layer of complication that Mathurin presents delicately. She also captures the sensitive young man’s inner dialogue in a way that goes deeper than the few words he speaks. As an observer, she gains the trust of her subjects as she follows the family and Josiah, allowed access into the most painful parts of their relationships and the baby steps towards healing. What we’re left with is a glimmer of hope as Josiah works towards reconciliation with his family, his community and his inner turmoil.
See One of Ours streaming in Canada at Hot Docs until May 9.