By Juan Forero
With his fellow Cofan listening, Randy Borman gave a speech celebrating the latest accomplishment for a native people intent on taking back their vast ancestral lands. He spoke flawless Cofan, and no one dwelled on his unusual background: an American born to missionaries who grew up to become the Cofan's most prominent, influential leader.
The blue-eyed, gray-haired Borman, 54, is described by those who know him as an energetic, almost frenetic administrator who over 30 years has helped spearhead the revival of a people buffeted by encroaching settlers and oil companies.
Along the way, he has won respect for his ability to hunt monkeys with a blowgun and spend weeks trudging through an unforgiving jungle.
Borman's success also proves that non-Indians can understand Indians well enough to become indistinguishable from them. There's no magical, mystical DNA or soul that makes one an Indian, as Russell Bates once claimed. If you live, act, and think like an Indian for much of your life, Indians may well accept you as one.
Note that I'm not talking about New Agers or wannabes who pretend to be Indians on weekends. Not even if they wear buckskins and live in a teepee full-time--as some European hobbyists may do. I'm talking about someone who faces the same hardship and oppression--who literally slogs through mud--as an Indian. That leaves everyone but a person like Borman out.
For more on the subject, see Are Pure White Indians Possible? and "Actual Indian" Defined.