February 08, 2010

Debating Carrie Underwood

I posted Questions About Carrie Underwood on Facebook's NativeCelebs page, where I'm an administrator. This led to a series of misunderstandings about the question of who's an Indian. You can read the discussion here if you're a Facebook member:

Questions about Carrie Underwood

But the key comments are the ones I posted toward the end:

When I try to distinguish Indians from non-Indians, the complaint that I "don't understand" often comes up. For instance:

Rob shouldn't judge Natives

Determining Indians = waste of time?

Rob doesn't understand "mutts"?

But I'll continue to assert that I do understand. From what I've seen, Natives tend to be inclusive--not turning away people because of their "mixed blood." But welcoming someone into the community isn't the same as making the person an official tribal member. From what I've seen, Indians are not handing out the label "Indian" to anyone who wants it--e.g., anyone with an ounce of "Indian blood."

And rightly so, I'd say. "Indian" status confers several advantages: treaty rights and benefits, casino payments, hiring preferences, etc. The real "road to a bad place" is when an organization such as Haskell University can't distinguish between Vine Deloria Jr., Ward Churchill, Johnny Depp, Taylor Lautner, Carrie Underwood, Tinsel Korey, and Sister Wolf Moon and her New Age crystals. When anyone can claim to be an Indian without meeting some criteria, then everyone and no one becomes an Indian. Then we reach a point where "Indian" ceases to have meaning and we're all just Americans.

P.S. In the above list, I'd call only Deloria an Indian. If they were all actors, I'd include only him in NativeCelebs.

This is the kind of determination we have to make as administrators. We can't and shouldn't include everyone who wants to be on the site or it will become meaningless. We have to distinguish Indians from non-Indians by some criteria or every Tom, Dick, and Iron Eyes Cody will continue taking jobs from real Indians.

The debate continues

Someone named Margaret elaborated on a statement she posted earlier:"When we begin to sort people by their blood line and assign or deny them certain rights accordingly, we are on a road to a bad place."

The above statement is supported by indisputable historical fact and I stand by those words.

Examples: Nazi Germany, slavery in early U.S., attempted extermination of Indians in the U.S. and Canada, denial of voting rights to non-whites and racial segregation in the U.S., ... the list can go on and on. Historically, governments have proven untrustworthy when wielding the power to determine which races get what rights.
The question was whether we should try to distinguish between Indians and non-Indians. I say yes, we should, for the reasons I listed. If your answer is no, explain how we distinguish between Wes Studi, Adam Beach, and Brother Sky Eagle the New Ager who claims to be an Indian.

In the examples you gave, the so-called sorting into groups isn't what caused the problems. The assignment and denial of rights is what caused the problems. You can identify people by race, religion, ethnicity, or culture without harming their rights in the slightest. We're doing that right now in the 2010 Census.

As NativeCelebs administrators, we don't have the power to deny people their government-based rights. We do have the power to distinguish between Indians and non-Indians if the facts and evidence are available. So again, should we try to distinguish people such as Carrie Underwood: yes or no?

As I've indicated, I disagree with the attitude that ethnicity doesn't matter because we're all Americans. I'm clear that we shouldn't discriminate based on ethnicity, but I'm also clear that we should acknowledge ethnic groups and their traditions. We're not (all) Americans of a single ethnicity and culture, we're Americans of many ethnicities and cultures.

People have every right to sort themselves into different ethnic and cultural groups. This sorting adds to the multicultural richness of our country and causes no harm except to those who believe whites should rule. It absolutely does not lead to any kind of "bad place."

For more on the subject, see Defining Who's an Indian.

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