Native Americans often complain they are swamped by "American Indian Princess syndrome," because every white person wants native DNA in their past. In a world of minority grants, scholarships and Indian gambling rights, any debate over DNA and race could easily also become an argument over resources.
And proving you have Indian blood doesn't prove you belong to a particular tribe. So this quest for cash is basically futile.
It continues partly because of the fallacious op/ed articles and fictional stories about wannabes who manage to open casinos. Despite the huge regulatory structures designed to prevent such an occurrence. The media perpetuates the stereotype that many tribes and Indians are greedy phonies. That if you're clever and conniving enough, you can find a loophole or backdoor and get yourself declared an Indian.
In reality, this doesn't and can't happen. Even in the questionable cases, the feds recognize people with some ties to an Indian culture or history. I'd be amazed if a non-Indian with nothing except newly-discovered DNA has ever "become" an Indian.
So if the quest for cash is futile, what's really going on here? Macon D. continues:
These are the white searchers (sometimes called "pretendians") who hope to fill up a certain emptiness in their bleached-out, whitened identity, but want little part of actual, ongoing Native American struggles. Many of them will never go to a reservation to experience the results of white genocidal practices, even if they do find Native American blood in their DNA. They're rarely willing to fight for treaty rights, nor help with such contemporary problems as compulsory sterilization or substance abuse. Indeed, they're rarely willing to even acknowledge these problems, or do much of anything else that goes beyond vague, sentimental ideas of supposedly authentic Indian-ness.
Among other things, it explains the existence of organizations such as the Y-Indian Guides and the Boy Scouts' Tribe of Mic-O-Say. It also explains the fanatical dedication to Indian team names and mascots. And many other cases of wannabe-ism--e.g., entertainers, fashion models, and party-goers who dress up as Indians.
Some comments on the original posting:
Anyway, here's my two-cents as to why (some) whites families like this myth:
1) The romanticism of stories like Pocahontas. It makes them think their ancestors were some courageous adventurers.
2) Positive stereotypes about Native-Americans: Noble, spiritual, good warriors, in touch with the earth, etc... (Most) white people in the U.S. really don't know about their heritage. It's understandable since simply saying "I'm white" is enough to get make you "normal" and give you access to the privileges that whiteness entails. I think it gives them a sense of coming from somewhere.
I would also like to note a couple more things. First, I find it curious that, at least from my experience, they usually use a low fraction like "I'm 1/8 Cherokee." I don't think that's a coincidence. It's like saying, "I'm not boring and generic, I'm 'mystical' and have a 'savage' side, but, not too much, I'm still white."
Finally, does anyone else feel that this trend is much stronger in white women?
Many wannabe Native Americans are in it for the prostitution of Native religion. There's cash in that, much cash. You just start calling yourself by an obviously made-up Indian name and charge hundreds for weekend seminars. Everyone who attends the seminar then becomes a "shaman" and can spread similar crap information to anyone else who wants to "be a shaman," etc.
But there are a few ways to cash in:
1) You can become a professional "Indian" academic or writer a la Ward Churchill. You can make money writing books, giving speeches, attending conferences, and so forth. Liberal-skewing institutions such as colleges will be glad to hire you without checking your credentials too closely.
One of these non-Indian Indians is discovered every couple of years. There aren't many of them because it's difficult to pull off. Churchill has spent his entire adult life acting like an angry Indian activist, for instance. Few people can match his singleminded dedication.
2) You can become a "Native" actor a la Johnny Depp, Taylor Lautner, or Tinsel Korey. You become a "go-to" person for Native roles. You get the emotional and financial payoff from being a Hollywood player while real Native actors scrounge for work.
3) You can become a New Age mystic, healer, or shaman. This is probably the easiest route because there are so many gullible customers. Academic and acting jobs are hard to come by, but there's always room for another "plastic shaman" with a funny name and made-up ceremonies.
For more on the subject, see Lots of Possible Indians and Defining Who's an Indian.
P.S. In case reader Stephen doesn't understand this posting either, the title refers to "stuff many white people do," not "stuff all white people do." As I said in Educating Stephen About Generalizations, everyone knows what a generalization is--except Stephen.