Enculturation is the social and psychological process by which individuals learn about and relate to their traditional ethnic culture and identity. Enculturation is generally a lifelong learning experience in which cultural consciousness develops. However, it is, in many ways, a state of being rather than a process. Enculturation is measured by the extent to which individuals identify with their ethnic culture, feel a sense of pride in their cultural heritage, and participate in traditional cultural activities within their physical community. Enculturation is a more relevant measure of a person’s attachment to a culture and a community than ethnic identity. This is because enculturation requires ongoing processes that develop over time through factors such as kinship, learning and understanding norms and taboos, and from otherwise absorbing culture through deep connections. Ethnic identity, on the other hand, is a construct that may not necessarily include actual participation in culturally relevant activities or a connection to one's cultural heritage – such as a person who is more or less assimilated into general western society feeling a sense of ethnic pride in their French or Ukrainian heritage, even though they have no significant connection to these cultures or communities. Enculturation is especially important for indigenous people because of the numerous efforts to systematically and forcibly assimilate them or destroy their cultural processes throughout history (e.g. residential schools, relocation efforts, etc.). Other factors that have served to several the enculturation process include out marriage, purposeful assimilation, and adoptions.
It is important to note that enculturation is the primary psychologically factor in ethnic identity. Race, or simply having a measure of ‘blood’, while superficially important is an often a meaningless factor in comparison to enculturation. This is because simply having DNA – or possessing a measure of genetic ancestry – cannot make a person something that they are culturally not. A person who has lived their entire life as a Euro person has been enculturated into that identity. If they happen to find an ethnic anomaly in their family tree, or if they take a DNA test and find they have 4% Native DNA, this fact does not suddenly make them part of that culture. They might be able to add that found fact into their overall ethnic identity (i.e. their self-identified ethnic background), but without long-term connections to the culture, community, and other integral factors that normally come from natural enculturation it is illogical to make the broad claim to being a representative of that culture/ethnic community. A case in point is the admission of a self-proclaimed “Acadian Metis” elder, who stated in an interview that they had lived for decades identifying as French Acadian, but who learned through genealogical research that they had a long ago ancestor who was indigenous. When asked when they started to identify as Metis, this individual stated that they found out, “After I started doing research on it…That was just before I retired as I had more time”.
Can a person who spent (perhaps) 60+ years living as a European ever truly be part of, or have a valid claim to indigenous identity? Would a person who found out their distant ancestor was from Germany ever be able to be a German? It doesn’t seem possible given our understanding of the enculturation process – something that takes a lifetime and which is an ongoing process. That individual would have missed the cultural morals taught in childhood; could not have learned the social rituals that are acquired during adolescence; would lack the understanding of the ceremonies, beliefs, methods of social interactions, and (in essence) would operate like a floundering child within that culture and would never be accepted as a fully-actualized member of that culture and ethnic group.
The attempts to reconstruct the “eastern Metis” as a cultural community seems doomed to failure. Without an extant historical or contemporary cultural community, there can never be a functional constitution of a group that would ever be seen as a Nation or a people by an objective observer. This doesn’t mean that people who find out later in life that they have an indigenous ancestor should not be proud of that fact: they should. However, they cannot expect other indigenous people to welcome them with open arms, as their attempts at self-indigenization will almost certainly be viewed as illegitimate – because they lack the true indigenous ethnic experience that takes a lifetime to acquire. Attempts to make such claims cannot be expected to be left unopposed, as it is tantamount to cultural appropriation…or better yet enculturation appropriation.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities