On Being Onkwe:honwe: Thoughts About Rachel Dolezal
By Charles "Rain" Black
Now we see the same sort of behavior on the part of Rachel Dolezal. Much as with all the descendants of “Cherokee Princesses” who want to co-opt Native culture, she has decided on her own to be something she isn't--being black--never asking if her actions would offend those who have to deal with being black from even before they are born. That is the nature of modern American society, to be so wrapped up in rights and what “I want” that any sense of responsibility and what others want becomes secondary, or completely unimportant.
The situation with Rachel Donezal is bigger than just one woman unable to cope honestly with her family situation. It's about an entire society that has become so Narcissistic that people feel entitled to choose to be and do things that dishonor other people, yet claim they are doing so to honor them. The declaration is “If this is what I want to do to honor you, then you damn well better feel honored!” or be considered ungrateful or even prejudiced. Our society now too easily forgives or justifies people who do things without any regard for the impact their actions have on others.
Whether it's Rachel Donezal pretending to be black, or fashion models wearing war bonnets, such actions cannot be justified if the people groups directly involved in the representation of race or culture are not consulted and give their permission ahead of time. That is the real issue, not her personal rights to express her identity. Basic courtesy requires that those you are going to attempt to honor be consulted on the matter and give their approval. Rachel Donezal didn't do this.
By Kevin B. Blackistone
I donned a T-shirt, sweatshirt or cap emblazoned with some image and nickname of my hometown football team and cheered it on. In the beginning, it was a gold-and-white spear and arrowhead festooned with a single feather. Then it became a burgundy R with a circle around it and a pair of white-and-burgundy feathers dangling down the back. Finally, the R gave way to the silhouette of a dark-skinned man with feathers cascading from his scalp.
He was an “American Indian,” as we’ve come to call the original and native people of the Americas. And the feathers, the golden spear and arrowhead, the paint that some who sat in RFK Stadium near Dad and me streaked on their faces, the headdresses that a few fans wore and nicknames they gave themselves, such as a guy who went by “Chief Zee,” were all that concocted Native American’s property—or his people’s.
We stole it. That’s called cultural appropriation. It’s misapplication. It’s misuse. It’s a callous disregard of the sensibilities of others who are not us.
That’s what too many of us continue to do in and around Washington, D.C., with native peoples’ culture, all for our selfish purpose as football fans. It’s the same as Dolezal—who Monday resigned her presidency of the Spokane, Wash., NAACP after her claim of being black was disproved by her white biological parents—stealing chunks of black American culture for her gain.
By Mary Annette Pember
“Playing Indian” is so common that most Native peoples have grown inured to the cringe-inducing spectacle of white folks doing ungainly dances at hobby powwows all over the world. Not all participants at these events claim Native ancestry – many just want to be Indian for a day.
There are more and more individuals and groups, however, claiming Native heritage in order to reap benefits, either professional or monetary. Many of these imposters also present themselves to the general public as authorities and spokespeople for Native peoples. These practices are a line in the sand for some Native people like Ben Barnes, Second Chief for the Shawnee tribe of Oklahoma and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO). He and representatives from other Oklahoma tribes are joining together and taking action.
Barnes and leaders from the three federally recognized Shawnee tribal governments all located in Oklahoma (the Shawnee, Absentee Shawnee and Eastern Band Shawnee, as well as the Miami tribe), traveled to Illinois in May to oppose a state bill that would have conferred state tribal recognition to the Vinyard Indian Settlement. The group, located in Herod, Illinois, claims to be Shawnee.
George Strack, THPO for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma described the group as hobbyists.
By Ruth Hopkins
When Pretendians seek to adopt Native identity to appear more exotic, or for some other perceived benefit, yet lack a genuine claim to Native heritage, their actions are little more than an extension of manifest destiny and colonial conquest – you could even call it racial identity theft. Sacred objects like warbonnets and peace pipes, and even the sexuality of Native women, are treated like the spoils of war, free for the taking.
Besides being descended from and related by blood to one of the more than 566 tribal nations recognized by the US government, Natives today agree that blood quantum is not the sole determinate of Native identity: kinship is key, because no true Native is an island. We have grandparents and cousins, blood roots and homelands. Pretendians lack kinship ties to tribal people.
Pretendians also have not lived through the systemic oppression that actual Native people face on a daily basis. They lack connections to reservations or urban Native communities who battle the effects of historical trauma. Pretendians aren’t the survivors of genocide; rather, it was their colonial ancestors who set up housekeeping on stolen lands built over the corpses of our dead, and Pretendians have benefitted from it. Insisting on inclusion when unqualified just exploits the people that Pretendians seek to imitate.
For more on the subject, see Churchill, Depp, Warren, and Dolezal and Making Sense of Rachel Dolezal.