June 21, 2010

White man leads Indian tribe

'Gringo chief' Randy Borman helps Ecuador's Cofan Indians survive, thrive

By Juan ForeroOn a recent day, the man known as the Gringo Chief wore a traditional black smock and a necklace strung with jaguar and wild boar's teeth, perfectly suitable for the Cofan Indian ceremony marking the acquisition of yet another slice of rain forest.

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.
Comment:  This is an excellent example of what it means to be "Indian." As the US Supreme Court ruled, as most Indians understand it, tribal membership is a political or cultural decision. The tribe's choice determines who gets to be a member, not someone's biology. A tribe is perfectly free to expel a full-blooded member and admit a white person instead.

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. It seems the discussion of whether white people can be Indian parallels discussions in re-constructionist pre-Christian European folkways whether non-europeans can be of those folkways. The solution they've reached is very similar. That if a person is accepted into a clan, kindred, or tribe and adopts their ways, it is the tribe's business who is or is not one of them.