October 30, 2007

Are you a reeeeeeal "part" Injun?

A guest rant from Mike a.k.a. Pensmoke, a Christian hip hop artist and mixed-blood Tsalagi (Cherokee):Cherokee.

What do you think of when you hear the word? If you are a member of any other tribal nation you may laugh upon hearing the word. It may make you think of blonde-haired, blue-eyed wannabe Indians wearing turkey feathers at powwows. It may make you think of people asking you "Are you Indian?" and when you answer yes they reply that their great-great-great-grandma was a real "Cherokee princess."

I myself don't think I have ever met someone who was black, white, or other, that didn't claim to have some distant Cherokee ancestor. Growing up in the South, I would hear from the black folks the "I'm part Indian, that's why I got 'good hair'" legend. And of course the white people would boast about having high cheek bones and being tall due to their "Cherokee princess" ancestor.

It's a trip to me that the Cherokee people can be so "loved" and claimed and yet so hated at the same time by other Indians. We are hated on frequently. Many of the tribes out west say that the Cherokees are "fake Indians" or "paper Indians" because they have been mixing with the whites since the 1500s and have so many mixed-bloods in the tribe. Of course on the other side of things you have the non-Indians who regard the Cherokees as "magical" or "spiritual" and wise like a freakin' leprechaun or something.

Here is where I stand on the subject basically: If you are going to claim Cherokee ancestry at least try to learn the cultural heritage of the people. Don't go out and buy a dreamcatcher and a turkey feather warbonnet and go on websites and message boards saying "Mitakuye Oyasin" to everybody (which is Lakota, not Cherokee) and acting like some wise "medicine man" or how you think a "real Injun" would act. You look foolish.

Don't put on some Boy Scout-made "regalia" and go to a powwow making up your own "dance style" and looking like an idiot. If you want to learn, then learn things the right way. If I had a dime for every time someone told me they were "part" Indian I would be living in a mansion right now.

Like I said before, and many people have preached this until they are blue in the face too, Indians don't come in "parts." You are either an Indian or you are not. If you tell me you are "part" Indian I want to know some things. Are you enrolled with the tribe? (It don't matter to me because I am not either.) Where are your Indian ancestors from? What is your blood quantum? You know the language? The history and culture? The stories? If not, then we really don't have much to talk about on the subject of "Indianness," do we?

13 comments:

elizabeth said...

haha you're so right. I'm Navajo and when people tell me they are Cherokee i kind of look down on them because SOOO many people claim that they are 1/27th (or some ridiculous percentage )cherokee. But i totally agree with you. If someone claims to be indian they should at least practice the beliefs, not just say it's because of some physical attribute. I was in a Native Museum the other day and this white, blond hair, blue eyed couple came up to me and claimed to be Cherokee. then the husband grabbed her cheeks and said "that's were these high cheek bones come from" as if his wife was a horse or something! so that's why i have such a prejudice against people claiming to be Cherokee. But if you do practice the beliefs then i do believe that you are Cherokee or any other tribe. hopefully people will eventually learn to stop that nonsense but i highly doubt it.

Anonymous said...

So if you are by birth 100%Cherokee,Lakota, Iroquois, Kickapoo, Micmac, Ottawa, Winnebago, Chickasaw but don't practice the beliefs than you ARE NOT Cherekee, Lakota, Iroquois,Kickapoo,Micmac, Ottawa, Winnebago, Chickasaw, etc, etc...? It also seems that whites are pretty much sterotyped as unfeeling unthinking jerks. I know lots of people who are jerks and not because of race or religon. You can call whites stupid but maybe you should do something about that. Maybe they aren't stupid, maybe they were just never taught about the meaning behind what the commercial market has put out there. I tried to educate my children on many things and have tried to teach them not to hate or to accept what others place on them because of inbreed hate. They will always be hated for things that our ancestors did. I can not change what they did. I thought that if I just did the right thing by teaching my children to know better than to hate or sterotype and appreciate and embrace everyone's differences, that one day the world would get better. ( HOw nieve I have been!!!) I have seen no change at all since I was a kid. I give up at this point. Why should I try to educate my children on real history and culture when it won't change how people other than whites see us. I have stopped taking them to cultural events. We are looked at like what the heck are you doing here? I don't want my children to grow up with the same feelings of guilt and shame I did for what has happened with this country. I now know why various people hate each other...it is because nobody wants to extend a hand in friendship from either side. And so the circle of ignorance continues on both sides of the issue.

Anonymous said...

I believe that when nonwhite people say negative things about "White people" they are primarily talking about a political and consumer group. A person standing before me is a human being deserving of consideration and love unless they prove later to be other wise. But I admit to feeling very frustrated with "White culture." I sympathize and empathize with both Elizabeth and Anonymous. I am myself a mixblood, and I have struggled tremendously from it. It is true that you are either American Indian or your not. Or is it? I am Chickasaw because my mother is, and because it is the only thing that sounds like truth to me. There are five children all of us were raised with truth and tradition and not hatred, we were encouraged to try to understand. Only two of us are Indian, even the darkest one is White. My father is White, or Irish/Dutch when people ask him to be specific. And then we laugh at them don't we? Why? If Whites could go back to the culture they came here with(and I don't mean racism and imperialism here) maybe they wouldn't be so empty. They had to assimilate to become so. When Whites say they are "part Cherokee" to me (or another tribe, it is usually Cherokee) It seems they are trying to relate or trying to make me feel more comfortable. Neither is achieved. We are either seen in some romantic traditional way, or pitied (" I'm so sorry for what happened to your people"),or demonized for not being able to get our people together and pull ourselves out of poverty and alcoholism. The truth is so convoluted. I sometimes have empty conversations with people that are painful to have and I walk away thinking I just want to be with my tribe who believe the way I do. But not all of them do. I see videos of young full bloods who don't know anything about their culture and they are growing up on the Rez you know. I was talking to a Dine friend and he said to me that I get so angry at White culture because I love them, because I want them to understand so they can have that understanding too. That has really stuck in my mind. I married a mixblood, he doesn't feel Indian. And he was raised White. When people ask him what he is he say human. I like it when he says that, but he always looks sad like its because he doesn't know what to say. And how sad that my son Running Bird who came out looking so white, blond hair and everything has to deal with racism on both sides. And he sees his brothers don't have to deal with being mix because they are darker. Anonymous, it is sad to me that you are trying to teach your children about the different cultures here and feel judged. Keep teaching your children to love. And recognize also that American Indian people are still trying to recover themselves. Just look at the national statistics and compare that to Native Peoples statistics. Highest infant mortality rate, shortest life expectancy, ect. Give it time. Give Peace.

Rob said...

To Anonymous #1: I don't think Pensmoke was saying that you have to practice Indian beliefs to be an Indian. In fact, he laid out several qualifications that might make one an Indian:

"Are you enrolled with the tribe? ... Where are your Indian ancestors from? What is your blood quantum? You know the language? The history and culture? The stories?"

These are similar to the qualifications I laid out in "Actual Indian" Defined. Like Pensmoke, I also didn't say that you have to practice Indian beliefs to be an Indian.

As for educating whites (and others), that's what I'm trying to do with Newspaper Rock. I hope you and your children will keep reading.

Allysha said...

I understand where you are coming from, but there is one thing you have to understand. Some people are just mutts. Furthermore, Heritage is heritage whether or not the culture is a part of your life. When I say I have Cherokee ancestry, I mean it and I know it and I can tell you all about it because my family has done extensive genealogical research.

However, my family hasn't passed on any culture, because my great great grandfather didn't want to live on a reservation and tried to make sure as few people as possible knew he was Native American. I'm learning what I can, but it's kind of hard when you haven't been taught from birth.

When I tell people that I have Cherokee ancestry, I also tell them that I have Welsh, English, German, and French ancestry. I can tell you right now that none of my familial traditions have anything to do with what my family looks like or where they have lived in the distant past. Our traditions have origins in religion and where we live now. I know nothing of Welsh, German, English, or French culture and tradition in the same way that I know nothing of Native American culture and tradition. My family is simply a mixed hodgepodge of American soup.

Furthermore, I'm hearing a lot of "I hate when white, blonde haired, blue eyed girls say 'yadda, yadda, yadda.'" I have very fair skin, blonde hair and gray eyes. It's kind of harsh to criticize me for my coloring. I have an inverted breast bone, large earlobes, almond shaped eyes, lustrous smooth thick hair, second toes longer than my big toes and a big gap in between them, a slender, athletic figure, "shovel teeth", crooked pinkies and, yes, I even have high cheekbones. These physical features are all MEDICALLY and SCIENTIFICALLY considered indicative of Native American Heritage.

Five generations ago I have an ancestor that was the last of my ancestors to be completely immersed in Cherokee culture. I am proud to say that I am her descendant.

But, I'm not eligible to be associated with the tribe. My "percentage" of Cherokee "blood" (whatever that means, my blood have never been anyone else's blood)is EXTREMELY LOW.(How do we determine TRUE INHERITED percentage anyway, when which genes manifest themselves are randomly chosen by some biological configuration?)I was not taught the language or culture because four generations ago my ancestor, whose last name Turner because of his English father, chose to let half of his culture fade from his life.

Do you realize that quite often you are criticizing these people that know nothing about the culture of the people from which they claim to descend, when the reason they know nothing is the consequence of the choice of a distant ancestor? The reason many of these "white, blonde haired, blue eyed" people UNKNOWINGLY offend you by offering physical features as proof of their heritage is that it's all that they have left as proof of from whence they came. Would you deny a black person's their claim to African descent? I highly doubt it.

Additionally, am I not Welsh, German, French, or English because I do not practice their cultures?

Heritage is heritage, whether your individual families continue to practice the traditions and carry on the culture of their families long dead or not.

I have blonde hair.
I have skin SO WHITE it is transparent.
I have light gray eyes, fairer than any blue.
I AM OF CHEROKEE DESCENT.
My name is Allysha and you can contact me at aroth@bridgew.edu.

Allysha said...

Edit: When I say practice, I also mean "not knowledgeable" aka "completely ignorant"

Rob said...

For my response, Allysha, see Rob Doesn't Understand "Mutts"?

PeterAWilson said...

I used to hurt when I first heard the sarcastic comments about my heritage. Even though I never knew my 3rd fore father there is a bond that cannot be broken. I don't know what he believed if anything. If things were then like today people were more concerned with security, sex, and controling other people than a higher calling.

Conny said...

Additionally, am I not Welsh, German, French, or English because I do not practice their cultures?

I was born and raised in Germany and lived there for 38 years before I moved to the States. I wouldn't consider anybody German who doesn't speak German as his or her mother language - but that's just me.

elizabeth said...

Allysha: um...duh u can say a person of african descent is not african pretty easily actually, because they are not. and i'm pretty sure a person from africa would also deny them that identity. true they might have a common ancestor but that doesn't make them the same people.

it takes more than just learning about a group of people to claim the ethnicity. I know the german language and i've learned about the culture and history, yet i cannot claim to be german. that would just be ridiculous.

and i'm not discriminating against white people. nothing in my first post discriminates them, the people i was annoyed with just happened to be white. that doesn't mean i put that on all white people. Most of my friends are white people and though they had irish, dutch, german, or whatever ancestors they don't say they are those people. they just say they are americans.

Rob said...

I consider myself a German American, Conny and Elizabeth, even though I don't speak the language or know much about the culture. People can transmit their beliefs and values without this cultural background, although it certainly helps.

omahamegs said...

I'm always curious when people are labeled - regardless of the reason. Your comments focused on genes/ being Indian (or, Native American; or, from a specific tribe).

I am interested because I am 'Deaf' and associate myself with the Deaf community - not because I am totally without any hearing but because signed language is easier for me to understand (I have a hearing comprehension problem, too.) And by adopting that label MANY other stereotypes are applied to me.

It was not until my son was of age in the Boy Scouts to be introduced to (and came home ready to make regalia) that we took time to learn about the tribes in our area (Omaha/Lincoln, NE). It was as Rob said, we weren't educated.

As a teacher I eschewed the trite (and, to me, offensive) feathers and drums to encapsulate the whole of Native Americans but did not make an effort to learn more, either. Laziness on my part, but also it is difficult to enter and learn about another (closed) culture and community.

That was a lot, I'm sorry. I just thought it was such an interesting perspective and thoughts I wanted to join in. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you mostly about Indian heritage and quantum. but it is one thing to claim heritage and a totally different to claim "I am an Indian" but with that being said. it is also considered rude to ask someone what their degree of indian blood is and we are asked by our family on the the rez ( Eastern band of Cherrokees Nc) not to answer.