Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Claiming Indian Heritage
Does Not Make It So

(parts lovingly reprinted from the Native American Times, with permission
 from author, Tim Giago, copyright Unity South Dakota, 2012)

    There is a recurring problem in Indian country that has been a bother for many years. I hear Native Americans discussing it oftentimes with a lot of anger. It's a very touchy issue and some would even find it offensive, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed.
    The problem involves those people claiming to be Native American, although they are not enrolled with any particular tribe.

It IS a very touchy issue, readers; one that I am not fully comfortable talking about, but in starkest truth, it is the main reason the Local Malcontent bloggie exists, and why also, my presence here has been spotty at best  lately.  I am particular toward my people.  It's awkward to admit that; I'm not proud of it necessarily. I prefer being in the company of American Indians.  To me, white people talk way, way too much, and usually say very little. 

Every Indian nation in America has definite criteria for tribal membership.  The tribes have set these limits for a reason. Tribal members can vote, they can run for elective office, their numbers are included when the tribe plans its annual budget, and for those tribes with successful casinos that make per-capita payments to tribal members, proof of membership is critical.   ...  Tribal enrollment is highly valued in Indian country because it establishes the individual's ties to his or her Native nation.  And to put a rumor to rest, Natives do pay taxes.

Friends, I could tell you some wild tales of White people doing their damnest to convince me that they are part Choctaw or Cherokee.  The craziest one involved a guy over in Talihina, who moved there from Tucson, Arizona, but whose family comes from Michigan, who tried convincing me that because his jaw teeth and wisdom teeth were a certain angle in his jaw, he was Cherokee.  He wanted to show me his teeth to prove his "point(s)".  I was like, "uh, no, no that is alright."  Despite all the other myriad physical characteristics decrying his European-ness.  
Parrot Dick we called him...
And Leti and I do pay taxes. Much wompum.

The biggest problem is that of individuals claiming tribal status in order to secure highly desirable jobs.  Ward Churchill, a man who held key job positions at the University of Colorado, has never been able to prove tribal membership and yet he was given jobs that could have, and probably should have, gone to legitimate members of a state or federally recognized tribe.
The hubbub over recent articles accusing senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (Dem-Mass.) falsely claiming that her grandmother had Cherokee blood is not an uncommon occurrance.  My research leads me to the conclusion that Warren never used this claim for her own benefit in any way as did Churchill.  She has an (undocumented) smidgen of Cherokee blood and is apparently proud of it.  Native Americans have all heard non-Natives claim Cherokee blood.  It is not unusual to hear these individuals claim their grandmother was a Cherokee princess.  They almost never claim their ancestor was a Cherokee warrior.

Heh heh.
Excellent examples, Mr. Giago, but certainly not all there are out there.  The main point which I would add here, is that both Ward Churchill and Elizabeth Warren are liars, both of them using a false claim to an honorable race for purely personal advancement.  It is a claim which is spoken in a hope to impress, to improve their station, to enhance themselves.... all the while they wouldn't be caught in the middle of a reservation after dark, or in the mountains of Oklahoma, or the plains of the Black Hills.  Neither would tell the difference between bear meat and a popsicle.  
See, it's vastly more than owning a feather, or having a concho belt, or beads or artwork.  It's vastly more than a great granddaddy who was part Crow or Comanche.  
It is more like seeing the world a little tilted from the square, and at the same time, seeing it a little faster AND a little slower than other races see the world.  It cannot, and it should not be explained..., it should be left well enough alone, because being Indian transcends explanation.

The Very Best Way I Ever Heard, Being Indian Explained is:
"I don't understand your (white) world; and you cannot begin to comprehend my (Red) world."

I can tell you what I see, when together you and I see an eagle or the buffalo; to tell you what thrill, what rush, what upwelling in my spirit I'm feeling is impossible with simple words. You just had to be One with the eagle or buffalo.  Indians know what the crow or hawk is saying, what lessons the wolf is teaching us. It is best unspoken, because once begun, the explanation would take a lifetime.  And more words than necessary.  Natives say so much more with just the brief glance between brothers, than ten paragraphs with charts and lines. 
To me, to my family, to my Choctaw family, and to my larger Indian family, that is the part most sacred, most precious, too much so to be shared willy-nilly with anyone.

The surest proof of membership, and most tribal members know this without a doubt, is one's relationship to the tribe.  Everyone of us that is enrolled with a tribe can name our family members usually for several generations.  And more than that, our family lineage is known by the elders of the tribe.  They can name many of your family members, maybe even some that you do not know about.  Family ties run deep in Indian country.

(Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji, an Oglala Lakota, is President of Unity South Dakota.  He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the class of 1991.  His weekly column won the HL Mencken Award in 1985.  Giago was the founder and first president of the Native AmericanJournalists Assoc., and the founder of Indian Country Today.)


Jeffro said...

I've been more or less searching for what I want to say about your post for a day, and really haven't come up with much, but here goes.

I, of course, do not have any Indian ancestry that I know of. I am, however, part of a long line of farmers and stockmen (teachers, too!), and I certainly feel a kinship with the land and the animals there. Since my house burned down (dunno if you know about that or not), and I've moved to town, I find myself missing the prairie rather intensely. I miss the wide open spaces with the wind blowing. I miss the various birds singing - the upset pheasant, the mourning doves calling in the mornings or evenings, the mockingbird singing his little heart out. Even the raucous crow. I miss seeing the hawks patrolling the sky, or the owls peering intently from among the branches at night - just seeing their eyes reflect for a moment (they don't like you knowing they are there).

I feel a kinship with the soil, and it pains me to see crops, grass, trees and so on suffer during this drought.

So, when someone outside the sphere of life on the prairie tells us all how it's gonna be done because they've got a more intelligent plan, then I start to get upset. People who have no experience on a par with mine and about any other farmer/stockman, ignorant in the ways of the prairie and the animals, pretending to have all the solutions just plain fries my nuggets.

And my spiritual side was fed by my growing up in the Catholic Church - not the watered down version of today, but the Latin masses, the elderly aunts saying Rosaries every day at 2pm, and the feeling of connectedness that all the rituals and nuns whacking ya on the hands in Catechism can give ya!

So, while I'll never completely relate to what you feel as a member of the Indian community - and even perhaps think of me as an interloper (cuz historically I am!), I can catch a drift of your feelings.

So, be PO'd. You should be.

The Local Malcontent said...

I had no idea of the tragedy of your losing your home, Jeffro. When? I've gone to The Poor Farm tonight to search for the news, but no luck.
I am so sorry, and I feel your loss. Will you rebuild there?

About the post of mine here:
I'd said earlier on, that I have felt some pressure to blog on Defeating Obama this round in November.
I've taken out one-line-ads in The Native American Times, The Latimer County paper here, and Indian Country Times (home of Mr. Gaigo)for The Local Malcontent, to reach other Indians about the importance of defeating that SOB this fall, once and for all.
To reach young readers, middle aged Reservation residents, those in the swing states of New Mexico and Colorado, if I could.
Thus, Jeffro, I spoke up to that audience. The emotions I mentioned are real; the description of being Indian also. Pretty soon, in fact tomorrow, the fun begins, when those papers are distributed with my advert. in them.
Obama and the Dems must know that their pandering ways toward every minority group will FAIL, and fail miserably with Indians, who have heard this shit from politicians forever.
Enough IS enough.

Jeffro said...

It burned June 26, and this was my first post about it - I put up pictures later on.

And good luck with your endeavors - it's gonna take all of us to persevere.

Most Rev. Gregori said...

My grandmother was a Mohawk (No Cherokee there) but since I have had little to no real contact with the Mohawk Tribe, I rarely mention the fact I am part Mohawk, not out of shame, as I am proud as proud of my Mohawk ancestry as I am of my French, German, Lebanese and Italian heritage, but rather out of a sense of not wanting to insult the Mohawk nation, who like all Native Americans are a proud people. It was my mother who was half Mohawk, her father was Italian, and when she was growing up in New York City, her mother had assimilated so much into the Italian American community in NYC that she spoke perfect Italian and could out cook many real Italian women when it came to cooking Italian foods, so that my mother grew up with little to no knowledge of her Mohawk ancestry, she always said that she felt that was a real loss, and I have to agree.

My mother once told me and my siblings that, her father was an old Indian fighter and her mother was an old Indian. I hope no one finds that offensive, If so I apologize, as my mother never meant it to be, it was just her particular sense of humor, and she loved her mother deeply.