The Silence of Our Friends

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Who is an NDN? and Other Oddities in Native American Politics

I think I better warn you that I don't know where I am going with this. Ah hell, when do I ever know where I am going when I sit down to write? I was once told by a friend that I am a stream of consciousness writer, which reminds me of that fuckhead TRex telling POC that they are useless crappy writers unless they write in a linear fashion. I guess he will never be a fan. *sigh* It also reminds me of belledame222. Which probably will horrify her that I think of her hot on the heels of thinking of the biggest racist/sexist asshat in the lefty blogosphere, but no, it's not that. It's the way she multiple posts her comments. I think that is also stream of consciousness, you can see the way her mind is working by following one connection after the other, and I like that about her.

The reason I don't know where I am going with this is because Native American politics are extremely confusing, our identity is extremely confusing, especially the farther east you go in Canada/US. I imagine it is similar for our brothers and sisters in Mexico/Central & South America, but I can't speak to that and will step off the soapbox to let them have their say, if they wish. I am Wabanaki, which means People of the Dawn, you can't get much farther east than that. The eastern tribes are the first to come into contact with the Europeans, we're some of the most mixed race you will find and the most colonized. We've lost alot of our language and culture to those Europeans. Some of this is simply adaptation, but also residential schools or other ways of beating the "savage" out of us.

That sets the stage for what I am going to say next. Over at The Primary Contradiction there is an interesting and heated exchange going on between Yolanda and Pony, but what really interested me was something BrownFemiPower said:
I think that metis is a contested identity, just as mestiza (what I am) is. I am native too, mixed with white and from mexico and all that comes together to make una mestiza. And a Mestiza is very much a contested identity within native/chicana circles, in ways that mestis identities are as well. the largest arguement that native peoples (in canada, the U.S. AND latin america) have about mestizas and metis is that the “native” part of the identity is a generalized” identity. That it completly over writes a tribal identity.

This is true, even in Canada. Pony is also correct that the Canadian government does recognize Metis as a legitimate people and culture...but that there is the problem. Many native communities do not. They are so far and away from the original native cultures and people that they sometimes are not recognized as "real" NDNs, but they sometimes are. Part of the argument is why should we let the white Canadian government tell us who and who is not an Indian? Another part is the new agers and part time Indians. In the US these are the white people with a great great great great grandmother who was a Cherokee princess. We've got similar white people in Canada too and they generally identify as Metis. So you can see why someone who identifies as Metis would immediately get the suspicious looks from someone who is Native American in Canada.

Another problem we have is sorting out who is and who isn't Native American within our own communities. My mother is a rez born and raised Maliseet, but she made the mistake of marrying my white father and lost her status. During this time if any white woman married a Maliseet she would officially be Maliseet too. This was official Canadian policy according to the Indian Act until 1985. If you want to see the patriarchy in action, both in Canada and on the rez, read this excerpt on Sandra Lovelace, a Maliseet woman who was instrumental in getting the Indian Act changed and who also happens to be a very good friend and distant cousin. As you can see there were alot of Native American men who were resistant to the change, I think alot of it was fear of their wives and children losing their status (this did not happen) and the fact that on reservations there was/is EXTREME poverty, which means there already isn't enough resources to go around and the fear was, how would they handle the influx of native women and their families returning? But what you don't know is that there were alot of men who wanted this change too, remember, it is their granddaughers, daughters, and sisters who became persona non grata. I don't recall alot of sexism on my reservation when I was there, I really don't remember anyone treating me like I am less than the men or treating any women around me like that. I think it is still there only because it is harder as a woman to be elected to the council, but there may be other factors to that too. I notice the social butterflies tend to get elected be they man or woman, and sometimes using a popularity contest to elect your chief or councillors is pretty stupid, yeah, we've had some doozies.

There are some loopholes to the Indian Act/tribal law even now. For example, I have status as do my sisters, but since we all married white guys none of our children do. But there is a really big weird loophole, if I had married a Native American man from another tribe and he also happened to be second generation, our children would still likely lose their status. I better explain something else, part of the change was that Canada now gives more or less guidelines and the tribes themselves are free to make some adjustments in deciding their own citizenship. My kids could possibly get their status now if we moved back to the rez and lived there a year or two, the council would have to vote on it, and there are third generation kids who do have their status this way. On the other hand I understand that some tribes were matriarchal (actually so were the Wabanaki but as far as I know none of the rez's did it the way I am about to explain) and they have decided to continue that tradition. So in my hypothetical I could have married a man from one of these tribes and our children would lose their status because of the matriarchal lineage being broken on his side and because with my people I'm second generation. So neither tribe would recognize them. Sounds stupid since they would have more native blood than I, a status NDN has, eh? I told you it's complicated.

And we haven't even gotten to the United States and those peoples and the way Washington DC sorts them all out or how they sort themselves all out. I don't actually know enough about it to give you the run down, but I do know it's more fucked up than Canada, if you can imagine that. I bet we could get steam erupting from MB's (my Abenaki sista) ears on the recognition, or rather lack of it, of the Abenaki people in the US. By the way, the Wabanaki are the Maliseet, Abenaki, Mi'kmaq (Micmac), Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot. The Wabanaki is a confederacy like the Iroquois.

I'll leave this for now since I think I've given the multitudes who read this blog enough to chew on. Multitudes I tell ya!

10 comment(s):

i try not to spend TOO much time worrying bout what others claim...but i have to say i know what you mean by "Another part is the new agers and part time Indians. In the US these are the white people with a great great great great grandmother who was a Cherokee princess."

I hate how some people get to have double privilege by being seen as completely white, thinking completely white, identifying completely white, furthering the Western White agenda, and BEing completely white by all inarguably present characteristics...yet continue—at only choice moments—to claim a Native American Great-Great-Great Grandaddy so they can also be part of the cool "Indigenous" set.

I don't dwell on it. But I certainly don't respect it.

By Anonymous Nezua Limon Xolagrafik-Jonez, at 12/31/2006 10:36 AM  

Hey, I'm a multitude!

Happy new year, all...

By Anonymous Jenny from the Blog, at 12/31/2006 2:28 PM  

Nezua, I don't think you can worry about it too much since there are alot of people who do have native heritage in their background somewhere down the line. But there are a few tip offs, and the Cherokee princess thing is one of them, or their spirit guide is NA, or they were told in a dream, or they want to sell 'authentic' Indian something or other based on that very distant ancestor, or they are asking what they can 'get' for being Indian, scholarships, casino money, etc.

I'm much more respectful to the ones who are simply trying to fill out a genealogy chart or connect and learn a few things from someone who happens to be from the people their distant relative is from. And then there are the ones who have a real connection to their people with the history and customs, and know who they are.

I think it's pretty much the same for any people. I'm sure you want what is best for latino people instead of thinking, "Hmmm, what can I get by claiming I am latino?" That's also when you know you got the authentic real deal, someone who cares about the people.

Happy New Year Jenny! You're more than a multitude, you're a henchman...er woman! We must sit down soon to iron out our plans for the blogosheric takeover!

By Blogger Donna, at 12/31/2006 4:16 PM  

Donna, our childrens' status issues are so bizarre, aren't they? Here I am, 3/8ths by blood (grandfather was full, grandmother 1/2), and documented, which is significantly more than many New England Indians, but I'm essentially not an Indian according to the federal government. Now, the state of Massachusetts recognized me, as they gave me a full-paid fellowship, specifically, the Sylvia Foreman Third World Scholarship, available only to indigenous and colonized peoples, but my own state can't even accept that the 5K+ Abenakis who still reside in Maine didn't emigrate from Canada, to which we supposedly fled during the last Abenaki War (1724, blah, blah.)

Yikes, you did get me started, didn't you?

Now, my spouse, as I've mentioned before, only just found out that he's fully enrollable, though not in the tribe in which he was raised believing his family belonged. He's Dawes Rolls Cherokee, with full lineal descent from an ancestor born on the Trail of Tears. So my kids, while raised overwhelmingly as Abenaki, and my spouse, identifying happily as a the relocated husband in a matrilocal household, now find that if they want to be recognized by this federal government, they all become Cherokee. Of course, I could relatively easily follow some of my ancestors and remove to Odanak, one of two Abenaki reserves in Quebec, but, you know, I want my own state to recognize that my family has freakin' been here since Verrazano tried to step off the boat and got mooned instead.

By Anonymous MB, at 12/31/2006 11:17 PM  

I don't actually know enough about it to give you the run down, but I do know it's more fucked up than Canada, if you can imagine that..

from what I can see (having read your post, and having spent the last three years in native studies at the university and organizing with native feminists), it sounds like natives in both countries have to deal with a lot of the same crap--but that canadian form of governance was not based on specific forms of genocide from the beginning, but perhaps more on trading and "intergration"? In other words, there was never any political need for white people in the u.s. to intergrate with native peoples, so they formed their whole system of governance on genocide--and from that perspective (the group having genocide committed against them) there's not too much room to negotiate from. Whereas it seems like in canda, the goal was not so much genocide, but control? which means that there might be more room in the form of governance to negotiate from? I don't know...I know that this idea played out in mexico--that it wasn't so much about killing as many natives as possible (because native peoples were used as a resource by colonial powers), but about finding ways to gain control of the land without pissing off bleeding heart preists who needed natives to convert in order to make themselves relevent. so that sort of shakiness in the actual purpose of MExico (outpost, NOT nation), eventually would lead to the situation where native peoples were able to reclaim a lot of their land and even hold control over a lot of their land.

anyway, i don't know where I'm going with this (stream of consciousness!) so I'll stop here...but thanks for writing this!

By Blogger brownfemipower, at 1/01/2007 12:49 PM  

I knew I would get you started MB, because I would be damned angry if I were Abenaki in the US. The thing that really gets me is that it's all politics, not about doing the right thing. It's like they ask themselves, hmmm how many white people will be upset if we do the right thing? And if the answer is negligible they'll do it, otherwise, tough!

You're right BFP, the US expected to kill us all off, drive us off into the Pacific, or assimilate. On the other hand, I think that Canada wanted some sort of apartheid. Keep us all corralled and out of the way, although they tried their hand at assimilation too.

By Blogger Donna, at 1/01/2007 10:31 PM  

This is fascinating, Donna. I know in the US these distinctions mean cash money because of the distribution of casino profits.

Happy New Year to you, and I'm glad I found your blog.

By Anonymous op99, at 1/02/2007 11:07 AM  

You know, I kinda get depressed when I come back (to one of my now favorite blogs, but then, I'm Wabanaki-biased), and see so few comments on this post, particularly in regards to your many other excellent, but non-Indian-specific, posts.

Our issues are just so far off the radar, aren't they? It's not even as if NDNs are dissed - we essentially don't exist, except in history books. The fact that the Left wouldn't be stressing over Senator Tim Johnson's medical outcome, as he wouldn't have been elected without the vote from the Rosebud or Ridge, both of which went overwhelmingly for D's, doesn't even register. But even with in the PoC hierarchy, our issues are low man on the totem pole. Sigh.

Most white Ds don't understand when I say that while Abramoff was a rat and crook, he was, on Indian issues, an honest crook. He said nasty things and derided his Indian clients to his lobbyist peers, but when it came down to issues of tribal sovereignty (such as tribal police,) Abramoff actually "got it", and fought tooth and nail against the anti-sovereignty crowd (which, unfortunately, includes far too many Democrats.)

Anyway, I'm just ranting now.

By Anonymous MB, at 1/05/2007 12:04 AM  

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there are only a few comments, because not many know about the issues. I know when I read something I'm hearing about the first time I tend not to comment, because just saying, "that was interesting" seems trite but I don't have much more to say. All we can do is continue to make our readers aware and hopefully it spreads out from there. At least I know people read, and I'd probably have more readers if I had more time to update too!

By Blogger Donna, at 1/10/2007 12:23 AM  

Donna, I have to tell you I never knew how skilled you were at 'round-ups'. Good job and thanks for the Native update, interesting.

By Blogger HopeSpringsATurtle, at 1/12/2007 8:19 AM  

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