November 01, 2010

Powwow dance excludes unregistered Indian

An unregistered Indian describes what happened when she tried to dance at a Chickahominy powwow for registered Indians only.

Being a black Indian at a Chickahominy pow wow

By Shonda Buchanan[T]he angry man, and the other two flanking me, one in regalia with patient, sad eyes, and the other in street clothes, yellowish skin and dark sunglasses, made me suddenly realize that this was an Indian shake down.

“Didn’t you see our signs?”

“Where I come from,” I touched my heart in earnest, “everyone can dance during intertribal.”

“No,” he said. “You cannot.”

“Who are your council people?” I said. I could feel my chest tightening, and the tears came. “What are your names?” They said their names but in the heat and frustration, their names fell away.

“We are the council,” Tall Dark Sunglasses Yellow Skin said. “He’s on the council. I’m on the council. These are just our rules.”

“But those rules were set up by a white government that wanted to count and classify Indians. You’re holding me to the same standard?”

“This is what we do because the government tells us to,” Dark Sunglasses said.

“Wait.” I said. “You’re saying the government is here counting the Indians dancing in that circle?”

“Look,” Mr. Gruff Brown Skin said. “Everyone in that circle has registered and has their cards.”

None of my friends had tribal enrollment cards either. Were these Virginia Indians racist? Was I carded because I was the most visibly black, despite being adorned in a buckskin dress?

I felt my heart moving up into my mouth, swallowing the feeling that women from the tribe should have approached me, not men. Yet to be fair, I saw these council members’ point. I understand how this could be as frustrating for them as it was for me, an unknown woman who didn’t register as a dancer in their circle. Their fight to maintain their Indianness, to them, is on one level a way of protecting their heritage and culture, but on another level, it is highly exclusionary of those who are Indian without cards: black, white, Mexican.
Some comments on this column:SC said yesterday at 5:17 AM

Those who are close to our Creator never behave that way. It says a lot about them.

PlainsNative said yesterday at 4:29 AM

Why is this Chickahominy tribe on the east coast having a powwow anyway? If they are so traditional they should really ban these powwows from their area and go back to whatever it is their ancestors used to do in the first place. I bet these guys have sweat lodges and are probably trying to get a sundance going and they probably think this makes them traditional. It doesn't. It makes them misguided and foolish.

risingsun-phillips said yesterday at 11:32 PM

I've lived on the East Coast for 27 years. When I first came here there were hardly any Native Americans. Now everywhere I look there are Natives or "Natives" trying to prove their "indian-ness" to the government. Yes a lot of them have a "verbal" history but no documentation. I was always told if they look black then they are black. In order to be recognized as a Native American you have to be able to prove your affiliation with a federally recognized tribe. I am a "card carrying" Native American and very proud to be one. If you can not prove your blood line, then sorry you will not be accepted as an Indian. That is just the way it is and it will probably stay that way. Get over it, and accept your own ethnic background. The African American heritage is just as rich with history, and traditions. Be glad of who you are, quit trying to take something that is not yours to take.

Quite One said yesterday at 8:01 PM

Welcome to the politics of the powwow arena. A lot of powwows are requesting for verification with enrollment cards. Why? Perhaps to keep out the “hobbyists,” the born again NDNs, wannabe NDNs, the white skinned NDNs, black skinned NDNs, and the NDNs of Latin America, out of the powwow arena. Stick to your own tribal culture, stomp dances and green corn ceremonies.

Winnebago Indian said yesterday at 7:59 PM

The Sioux people have a saying: "Mitakouye Oyasin. All my relatives. I would never prevent you from participating. We are all related.

Kish Beh said yesterday at 7:33 PM

Oh yes I am tired of the "I'm more NDN than you" BS. I have to say that I am two tribes and adopted into a third. My daughter is of three tribes and cannot "register" for none of them. Not even blood to declare for any. We are proud of our ancestry. We can trace my family and have photos. It is not right to deny a proud Native American. Whether or not they are mixed.

you find trouble if you look for it said yesterday at 7:16 PM

If you read the rules of the "powwow" they clearly state dancers must have a tribal ID. I would think since the author has a PhD in English she would be fully aware of the implications of her dancing without providing a tribal ID and was just trying to start trouble. The organizers of the powwow seem to be a rogue group of Indians that must have an issue with non tribal members coming to powwows. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with the author being black but her not following the rules. Both sides seem to have some identity issues.

Lupa said yesterday at 5:27 PM

Yeah, all that's well and good but are those claiming NDN blood willing to go to a reservation and experience the results of white genocidal policies. Usually, these Johnny come latelys are not willing to fight for treaty rights, nor help with historical trauma that results in the most important issues as domestic violence, substance abuse, the overwhelming poverty and unemployment that is part of reservation life. They don't seem to want to know that part of being NDN, or do much of anything else that goes beyond vague, sentimental ideas of being NDN and just play dress up.
Comment:  PlainsNative makes a good point about why the Chickahominy are holding a Plains-style powwow. True, it's a pan-Indian event, but sometimes it's a substitute for developing one's unique heritage. Don't hold a powwow to proclaim your "Indian-ness" when you could be working on your own culture instead.

Irony department: The Chickahominy may have CDIB cards proving their Indian blood--which is what we mean by registration. But they're not federally recognized, although they're trying to earn that status. Another tribe could hold a powwow allowing only enrolled Indians of federally recognized tribes. That would leave the Chickahominy out.

Of course, the Chickahominy shouldn't have singled her out because of her black skin. That's called racial profiling. If you're going to insist on cards, check everyone's card, not just the people who don't look "Indian."

The main issue

On to the main issue: whether to let Buchanan in. Buchanan may say she understands the tribe's position, but it's not clear that she really does. Alas, I'll have to side with the Chickahominy over her on this point.

I think Quite One and Lupa have the best arguments. Would any tribe accept me if I walked in and said my great-great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess? Then why should they accept Buchanan? Because she's more sincere than I am? Not a good basis to make decisions on.

Buchanan says she's assistant professor in the Department of English at Hampton University, of North Carolina and Mississippi Choctaw Indian ancestry. Okay, so go live and work with those Indians for a decade or two. Prove your interest in their lives and lifestyles. Then humbly ask if you can participate in an intertribal dance without a card and someone may say yes.

That's roughly what Tony Hillerman did before writing his Leaphorn/Chee mysteries. He proved his interest in his Navajo neighbors and earned their respect over time. He didn't just start writing about Indians because he felt it in his blood or whatever.

PlainsNative's statement about the Chickahominy applies to Buchanan too. If you feel the need to participate in a vision quest, sweat lodge, or powwow, what does that say about you? That you don't belong unless you look and act like a stereotypical Indian? I know many Indians who (probably) haven't been within miles of these "Indian" things, but they don't doubt their identity. They don't feel the need to dance to prove themselves.

For more on the subject, see my postings on black Indians and identity.


Burt said...

There have been non-native military officers; celebrities; natives from other tribes; foreigners and even a Custer impersonator at pow-wows dancing. And although most of these people were probably invited and considered guests of these dances, I have a hard time seeing natives being discriminatory or prejudiced against anyone at a time when native sovereignty is always being challenged by every level of non-native government and industry in existence. Why open your dances to the public if they are “ceremonials” or for card carrying members only, especially when you throw the word “intertribal” around as if it’s a flag to wave for brown skinned Indians only?

The Chickahominy have a right to their preferred participants, but that exclusiveness makes for less communal spirit and more hobbyists wannabe types in itself. I still have trouble with the concept of paying cover charges at indoor pow-wows, but the property rental has to be paid and cleaning up Indian tacos can be messy. I was raised going to free outdoor dances where anyone could dance as long as they dressed in a proper manner and if you sing at the drum, you must also dress appropriately.

I disagree with you on your siding with the tribe though. A legitimate dance has an arena director, security or sometimes a whip man to keep protocol with the dancers, but I do not get the impression these guys were very civil or using proper means in keeping this woman from desecrating their event. There is a big difference between a ceremony and a pow-wow.

Pow-wows today are largely driven by money. Although it is important to retain the songs and dances, I see that even those two elements are up for grabs. Don’t get me wrong. Like anyone else, I enjoy the contest singing and dancing.

What I do not like is when natives pit themselves against other natives and get into this whole blood quantum thing the federal government and some Indians adopt as who is, and who is not native. CDIB’s are not some reward or badge of honor.

Shut the gates and do not allow outsiders, tourists included, into your sacred dances!

dmarks said...

"True, it's a pan-Indian event, but sometimes it's a substitute for developing one's own culture. Tribes should hold powwows only after they've established their own cultural practices."

So, a tribe is not worthy unless it has its own distinctive cultural practices? Not sure your wording was the best on this one.


Burt said: "I still have trouble with the concept of paying cover charges at indoor pow-wows"

I've been to an outdoor pow-wow with a cover charge. Is this supposed to be less likely or more likely than an indoor one with charges?

Rob said...

No one's talking about religious ceremonies. The event was an intertribal dance at a Chickahominy powwow.

I agree the powwow officials should've been more considerate. And Buchanan sounds like enough of an Indian that they could've let her in. But based on what...a feeling?

If wannabes with no Indian blood say the same things Buchanan said, should the powwow let them in too? How exactly do you exclude non-Indians but include borderline cases like Buchanan? That's the key question here.

P.S. I trust you realize I'm taking the tribe's side only in the sense of who was technically right. I'm not saying the tribal officials handled the incident well or that Buchanan was wrong to be upset.

Burt said...

I only mentioned ceremonies because those are the only events I have been to that have rules and protocol to follow.

Its neither here nor there about the cover charges and indoor/outdoor events, I only stated my experiences growing up in the pow-wow circuit (my dad sung) and we traveled alot. From the Stanford pow-wow, Gathering of Nations; Denver March, Red Earth and all over Oklahoma. That was the 1970s. In the 80s, I went to a pow-wow on the Washington DC mall and our group danced.

And as for letting wannabes in, what do natives consider Anthropoligist with cash that "pay" their way into the culture and earn their doctorates this way? Guests?

All I am saying is most dances seem inclusive and not exclusive. Now is not the time to be racial or prejudiced against ANYONE that wants to learn native culture, unless it is not a public setting.

Where do we draw the line? Hollywood sure gets away with everything. Everyone from Walker Texas Ranger to sitcoms and MTV exploit and "use" native culture in worse ways. I do not see the threat of this Ms Buchanan compared to the rest of a bastard nation that rolls in the money for tourism and entertainment.

Rob said...

P.S. I think my point was clear, DMarks, but I'll reword it just for you.

Anonymous said...

There are more holes in this woman's story than in a piece of swiss cheese. First and foremost the Chickahominy have every right to set "their" own rules concerning "their" powwow. This woman obviously has violated their rules in the past, hence the confrontation with Tribal members in the powwow arena. It looks to me that she has been banned because of repeated violations and probably trying to muscle her way into the grand entry and the dance competitions without a Tribal card. She herself has admitted that she can't prove any Indian ancestry and in my opinion came there looking for a fight and got one.

Her flagrant disrespect and cry baby attitude is a typical wannabe response and she even takes it a step further by writing an opinion piece in that rag of a newspaper ICT. Well I have to say that she is getting a well deserved smack down and good for the Chickahominy for sticking to their guns and keeping out the wannabe riff raff.


Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Charles Trimble:  Racism should be behind us all in Indian Country

In the November 3, 2010, issue of Indian Country Today I read a very interesting and moving column by Dr Shonda Buchanan, whose ancestry includes Choctaw, titled “Being a Black Indian at a Chickahominy Pow Wow.” She tells of an interesting custom or regulation at the Chickahominy Pow-Wow that allows only persons carrying a “tribal card” to participate in the dances.

Not having such a card as she danced, three Indian men, presumably of the Chickahominy Tribe, very rudely accosted Ms Buchanan, and the circumstances she describes suggest racism rather than merely tribal pow-wow rules or custom.

There is, to be sure, much racism in Indian country, mostly against Blacks, although it is also against whites and mixed bloods of marginal Indian blood quantum. There is also discrimination against members of non federally-recognized tribal groups, and this is often based on Negroid features of some of their members.

Some of the racism against mixed-bloods on the part of full-bloods or traditionalists is more resentment than anything--resentment over mixed-bloods getting the lions share of opportunities set aside for Indians generally. Racism against Blacks lingers from portrayal of Blacks in movies and books.

Anonymous said...

1.)The original indians were also black depending on which tribe you came from. If you look at Sequoia, Osceola, Major Ridge, and many other prominent Native American leaders, you will know they are all mixed blood Native Americans.
@.) People of the americas have been described by explorers as copper colored, people of india, and those of resembling that of ethiopia depending on region the explorers landed.
3.) It seems to me this woman was more native than so called natives by european standards and descriptions. And if that does not matter to you (their standard that is) then the card issue is irrelevant seeing that it was the us government ( founded on a eurocentric principle) that made the card issue in the first place.
4>) The Dawes roll has been known to seperate mother, daughter, father ,and son, and also leave off people and erase who they felt. People who were once on there would go back 30 years later and find out their name had been deleted.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when a check is slipped in the pockets of a few greedy natives while the decent and true natives get overlooked. Casinos and money of pow wows and playing jim crow is not the true native american way. This is as if these two men were playing racial profiling and yet what would happen if they walked into an all white european ball and were turned away because they had european ancestry. This is a sham and a low blow.
Bobby Mackinaw

Craftynativecreoleme said...

This "wannab" crap bothers me. I was raised in native American culture and in an afrcan american environment. I look mixed but will he perceived as black by many. I don't wannabe native. I am native and black. I know a guy who cannot dance or sale at pow wow because he is not registered. He took a genetic test and is 98% native American. But I guess he is a wannabe claiming he is native.

Craftynativecreoleme said...

The reason why the blood quantum thing gets thrown around is for example a woman who has a great great great grandfather that is native married to a Jewish nan who gets to go to college for free because he is married to a "native" woman who describes herself as the whitest white person she knows. On the other hand. I know this Apache guy who took a genetic test and us 98% native American and cannot get a bus card.

Craftynativecreoleme said...

Cultural background and genetic test should be considered. I grew up culturally native more than a lot of card carrying natives who no nothing if their heritage. But because I have black blood also and no card my native background will not be acknowledged or I will he called a wannabe. I was raised native and African American. I will be taking a genetic test soon and hiring a genealogists. Not just to prove my native blood but to see all my ancestry. But that test will not change me culturally or take away the the things I learned.