September 04, 2009

Stuff white people do:  Indians

stuff white people do:  claim they have native american bloodSome of the white Americans who take DNA tests or search census and birth records for Native American ancestry do so in the hopes of claiming financial benefits. As Harris writes,

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.
I don't think many tribes are letting in wannabes with a tiny fraction of Indian blood these days. Maybe no tribe is.

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:It's also clear that most white people looking for Native American ancestry are hoping to establish a more romanticized connection to Indian-ness. A connection based in, and stuck in, the past, much more so than the present.

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.
Bingo! We have a winner! I'd say this is an excellent summary of what's going on.

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.

Readers respond

Some comments on the original posting:cdwriteme said...

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?

PixieCorpse said...

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.
Good point, PixieCorpse. When I claimed it's nearly impossible to cash in on becoming an Indian, I meant a real, recognized Indian. The path from discovering Indian DNA to enrolling in a federally-recognized tribe and receiving treaty-based benefits is basically nonexistent.

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.


Stephen said...

"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."

Oh I don't have a problem with the title, the 'stuff white people do' blog however is highly racist, for example:

"If you're in an area of your city/state/province that is predominantly populated by PoC and, as a white person, you get harassed because of your skin color, it's still not racism"

I think someone's in dire of a dictionary, note the prejudice in claiming prejudice against a race doesn't count.

"The fact is, even though they're the majority population in that area, they still lack the institutional power. They don't have their own special PoC-dominated police force for that area."

Actually quite a few cities have police forces with a majority of minority officers, LA is an example:

Stephen said...

But wait it gets better:


"Do white people who work against racism and whiteness, and who object to their trained adoption of common white habits and tendencies, hate themselves?"

Quite a few do, Wise for example (who David Horowitz correctly described as 'self-flagellating') has made excuses for and downplayed the bigotry of Farrakhan and Wright and has written garbage that wreaks of self hatred. For example:

"The seeds of pure evil planted deep in every one of us [white people] by our culture."

"Whites almost instinctively assume every other white person in the room thinks just the way they do, and proceed to cut loose with any number of racial diatribes: about ‘those people’ on welfare; ‘those people’ coming across the border; ‘those people’ who will shoot you at the drop of a hat."

(Subsitute black for white and you have a stormfront post.)

"I think this term has become a cliché among those who object to anti-racist white people."

Cute opinion, however he ignores the fact that it perfectly describes people like Wise.

"Objecting to racism, and thus to whiteness, is thereby characterized as the absurdity of beating up oneself."

Claiming that 'whiteness' and racism go hand in hand is just as bigoted as saying that stupidity and 'blackness' are one and the same.

"The U.S. functions in part under the auspices of a 400-year-old system of whiteness"

Except that the US has a history of discriminating against whites; discrimination against Jews for example. I think it's safe to say that 'stuff white people do' isn't exactly the greatest source, but at least you aren't using CAIR propaganda anymore.

Anonymous said...

The blogger "cdwriteme" makes a valid point on the notion that these "trends" are indeed more common place in white women. Speaking from personal experience, I lived in Utah for a good 12 years of my young life(and yes we all know UT is very "white") and have came across numerous white women so mesmerized and intrigued with anything associated w/ "Native". There's also more evidence of this on the internet too. There was a lot of white women on one of those Native dating sites "searching for their warriors." Etc..etc.
Did I ever mentioned having 3 white female inmate "penpals" who are so into this "Native" thing? They ask me questions about Native cultures all the time, dying to meet me when they get out.


Anonymous said...

Also, I like that faux indian poster of Ward Churchill, but where's is David A. Yeagley's poster?


Anonymous said...

OK I have a question. What would you say to me a white who may or may not have any "Indian Blood" and has no intention of finding out. I am someone who sees Indian culture as being a better way and do care about the causes, rights and struggles that are faced daily. I do feel a strong pull towards the past, I might even romanticize it a bit, but are there not Indians doing the same thing? Wanting to go back to the "old ways". I find myself ashamed to be white, ashamed of the history of my own race. I want to do more but am afraid to get lumped in with the Whites that have great aunts who were Indian princesses. Would I be given a chance to show myself as someone different? Someone who cares about people and knows and understands that he will never be an Indian but carries respect for them.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read. I guess I have the potential to be precisely the white stereotype you're talking about. Maybe this will help. I have no idea what "tribe" or "nation" I belong to. And I haven't really been looking to find out. I'm not into mysticism or shamanism or any "isms" outside capitalism. I don't want any cash. I don't want to be "recognized." I just want to be accepted as what I am.

White folk act like I have some secret to the universe. They also like to comment on my "Indian Cheekbones" (whatever the fuck that means) and my "naturally" black hair. Red folk treat me like I am some "pretendian" who's trying to parlay some dalliance a white ancestor had with some "Cherokee" guy 200 years ago into an invitation to the tribal council or whatever it's called.

Look dude, I can't help who got together and banged me out. Some of them were white and some of them were not. My Dad's family is very "NDN." My Mom's family hopped off the boat straight from Ireland. I guess that makes me exactly what you don't like.

Call me what you want and think of me as you will. Just don't think for one second that I'm going to make my heritage more than it is by trying to get some stupid ID card. By the same token, I am not going to deny it simply because I'm not "FBI."

If it makes any difference to you, when people start talking about how great "native culture" is, the first thing I say is "have you ever actually been to a reservation?" Last summer the wife of one of my coworkers found out that I was "pretendian" and she proceeded to tell me all about how wonderful the culture is. She then said her goal was to someday go to an actual reservation so she could see it in person. It took all I could do not to laugh in her face. I told her of the one reservation I had visited enough to be familiar with; The Onondaga. When she heard how "un-Indian" it really was she started crying. She was entirely ridiculous but that's beside the point.

The point I suppose is that not all of us "pretendians" or whatever it is you refer to us as are looking to cash in or start a new religion. Some of us are just proud of who we are. my Dad's family rose out of poverty to make a pretty good life for themselves here in Ohio. The fact that they were "NDN" is no more important than the fact that my Mom's family was Irish. They are my family and the "NDN" heritage is part of who we are. I like that so sue me.

I'm also aware of all the problems you mentioned. Show me what I can do and I'll be happy to contribute. You can email me at