January 29, 2008

Who's an Indian again?

Tim Giago:  Claiming Indian status to get aheadA recent article in the journalism blog of Richard Prince about a gay Native American that had just been named editor and vice president of the Arizona Republic newspaper brought immediate questions to my mind.

The man named Randy Lovely said, “I don’t want to overstate or understate my Native American heritage. Both of my parents are of Cherokee origins and my family comes from East Tennessee. I am not a member of the tribe.” If not, why should it be announced that he is openly gay and a Native American? Whether he is gay or not is not the question. The question is that at some time in his application for the job he must have listed himself as Native American. If he admits that he is not enrolled as a Cherokee, why would he do that?

There are many reasons why an individual may claim Indian heritage and yet not be enrolled. Maybe they do not meet the criteria demanded by the tribe, or maybe they just have not bothered to find out how one can become enrolled in the tribe in which they claim membership. But surely most people can see that it is extremely important to all legally enrolled members of tribes that there be a distinction.

I have heard some people claiming Indian heritage say that they did not want to be insulted by going through the Bureau of Indian Affair’s criteria for tribal membership and it just goes to show their lack of knowledge about the process. It is the Indian nations that determine membership, not the BIA.

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