I recently received a comment on one of the posts I made back during Carnival. Molly's view is that I am not Native American and neither is anyone else who is not "100% Indian". I think what she wrote contained some very valid concerns and also some claims that reflect the ways in which NA cultures have been altered as a result of hundreds of years of oppression. I wanted to address it in a post because I don't think that I've ever really made it clear (on My Private Casbah) what my feelings are with regards to the competing claims about who is and isn't authentically Native American.
I use a couple of abbreviations that some might be unfamiliar with so here is an explanation of them:
NDN, NA=Native American
rez=Native American reservations
Fortunately for the majority of us NAs, you don't get to decide who is and isn't Native American. There is nothing that you can say that changes the fact that, like you, my ancestors were also NDNs. You may not like it, but it's still reality. If you're sick of this constant "bull" about who is and isn't NA, then why are you contributing to it? Did I bring this conversation to you or did you voluntarily come here and contribute to this conversation.
For me, there is no controversy. I have no one that I need to prove myself to. I have no desire to compete for scholarships that others need more than I do. My scholarships were merit-based. The reason you go to college on a NA scholarship isn't because our people have suffered genocide. It's because society is trying to make it seem as if these little bits and pieces of chump change are enough to compensate for the injustices that are still going on to this very day.
Do you understand the "divide and conquer" concept? Is it really me that makes you to have to compete for scholarships? If the government dealt justly with NA nations, would you be forced to rely on scholarships that you may or may not get depending on who else applies? Who created these concepts about some people being certain percentages of a particular ethnicity? Was it Native Americans or was it the government who sought to limit the number of NAs that they would acknowledge in order to weaken treaty agreements? Do you know the history of the blood quantum concept?
You may think that you could not be mistaken for any other ethnicity but you are quite wrong. What a person is interpreted as being depends more on where they are than what they look like. The features you describe are also found in MANY, MANY other ethnic groups. And we should also take note of the fact that there are many other folks who consider themselves "100% Indian" who have features that are a lot different from yours. Your features are not the same as the average Quechuan. Does this mean that one of you is not a Native American? Several of my family members have straight hair, straight noses and copper-colored skin. Does that mean they are more NA than me? Not necessarily.
You are not "the face" of many NA generations. You are just one face of many NA generations. We--those from different NA nations--have always had a variety of features. Your view of what a NA looks like seems to come from the idealized caricatures created by non-Native Americans. The idea that there is one certain NA look stems from the idea that we (all NDNs) are just the same. We are not. We are many separate groups spread out across two continents and the majority of us do not look anything like the classic "tv-indian". If you do, that's great! If you don't, that's still great! Either way, it doesn't prove that you are more or less NA than anyone else. You are certainly entitled to your opinion but opinions just don't trump facts.
By the way, this idea that the slavery of others can be considered "rent" is the very same one that Europeans used as their excuse for enslaving NAs. They took NA children away from their parents and put them in schools where they used them as slave labor in exchange for the indoctrination they were given along with room and board. I don't care if it was their school and their food. It didn't make their enslavement any more ethical or acceptable. My view is that it is an immoral thing to enslave anyone, regardless of any one's ethnicity. If you claim that it's justifiable to enslave another group, it is only a matter of time before someone says that it's justifiable to enslave the groups you belong to.
"You cry out what about the freedman who you enslaved.
This is simply a lie. You won't find any place I've ever made a statement close to this. Do you know why? It's because it's nothing I've ever said (or written). I understand that many groups have engaged in slavery throughout the millennia for various reasons. As is almost always the case in such situations, inter-ethnic marriages did take place (I don't use the word breed in reference to people because I find it rather demeaning, even if it is technically correct). You may be unhappy with the fact that most NA nations accepted the children of these unions as NAs (as they rightly should), but, as I said earlier, it doesn't change the facts. Is there any reason why other people should adopt your views about who acknowledge their heritage?
Given the near subsistence existence many NAs still experience, I can understand why you might be upset about having to compete with others that you don't consider to be "real Indians". Yet, in my opinion, the real tragedy is that any NA is stuck in a situation where education is only possible when and if some other group decides to throw them some scraps and bones in the form of scholarships that aren't even numerous enough for all NAs who reside on reservations. Of course, if rez NDNs weren't kept poor by a government that refuses to honor the hundreds of treaties it made, then folks might have the opportunity to expend more energy on obtaining some kind of meaningful reparations for the injustices suffered by both of our NA ancestors.
I won't ask why you're so upset and I don't consider you long-winded--certainly not in comparison to me, at least! Your anger is justified. You and other rez NDNs should, in my view, be the recipient of NA scholarships before any person who isn't experiencing the sort of economic hardships that you must deal with. At the same time, I am happy for anyone who doesn't just deny their NA ancestry because someone else wishes they would.
Sure, some people with "not too distant NA grandmothers" may not have the same experiences as you but then there is more than one way to be an authentic Native American. I have known plenty of rez NDNs who have made a concerted effort not to learn anything about their heritage. I have also known plenty of NDNs who never lived a day of their lives on a reservation but have devoted decades to the preservation of NA customs and traditions. Which one is more NA than the other? Is it determined by whatever you think? Is it determined by the racist and unscientific, European-created blood quantum nonsense? Is it determined by how economically advantaged or disadvantaged their family is? None of those things by themselves define NDNness and some of them don't contribute anything meaningful when trying to determine a valid definition for it, in my view.
Personally, I don't put any stock in percentage game because I've taken the time to figure out how it came about and how it was carried out. I think that at least part of the NDNness definition has to do with how much one really cares about the preservation of NA cultures and the hardships faced by those NDNs still alive today. I think that it also has to do with how much you know about your heritage. Of course, actual NA ancestry is part of it but that's something that can't be quantified. Culture, life, identity--it's just much more complex than any one government or individual can fully account for.