In the August issue of Rolling Stone, pop star Justin Bieber reveals that he believes he has Native heritage. The claim is not a central part of the article — indeed, it’s a comment so brief the writer has it in parentheses:
He’s wearing a Chicago Blackhawks cap (“I’m actually part Indian,” he says—”I think Inuit or something? I’m enough percent that in Canada I can get free gas”), a blue short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts that hang all the way off his butt.
The “free gas” misconception is a common one, and stems from a policy described on Ontario’s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs website:
In Ontario, there is a tax of 14.7 cents per litre on gasoline. First Nations people with a gas card do not have to pay this tax if they buy gasoline for personal use from an authorized service station on a reserve.
It is perhaps a sign of greater awareness that Bieber, the most mainstream celebrity imaginable, is being razzed by mainstream press and bloggers over these comments.
DListed, a celebrity-ridiculing site that exists for just this sort of moment, unleashes a string of digs, and concludes with the thought that Bieber “also probably thinks he doesn’t have to open his own mail because he’s a Pieces [sic].” (Bieber’s astrological sign is Pisces.)
The Onion AV Club raises the point that ignorance from a person as famous as Bieber can be dangerous because legions of fans are likely to believe (or Beliebe as they say) whatever comes out of his mouth — sarcastically speculating that “tens of service stations could be getting ripped off across the Great White North, just because this recent high school graduate doesn’t know his own heritage.”
PopGoesTheNews points out: “Adding insult to Bieber’s ignorance, if he did indeed have Inuit ancestry, he would not be entitled to a Status Card since the Inuit are not covered by the Indian Act.”
Torso and Oblong delves into the curious chain of logic vocalized by Bieber — and so many others — who’ve been told they have Native heritage: “Invariably, the conversation then moves onto the perceived bonanza of mythical scholarships that would become available to them if they just had the documented evidence that demonstrated this ancestry. Accompanying this is the rough grumbling that their damned White genetic heritage is now a liability for getting ahead.”
And that’s perhaps the most worthwhile thing to ponder here. It’s possible that Bieber really has Indigenous heritage, and it’s clear he doesn’t know much about Native people — and neither of those things is inherently important to the average reader of Rolling Stone or ICTMN. What might matter, or ought to matter, to both readerships is that Bieber is an 18-year-old with an estimated net worth of over $100 million, and yet even to him the concept of “Indian or Inuit” is closely tied to the concept of “free gas.”