Thursday, July 19, 2018


Parallel to watching the US news, I'm receiving Tweets from Western and Northern indigenous people because I'm friends with some of them.  Mostly Adrian Jawort, Sterling Holy White Mountain, and the Tailfeathers guys.  They can write, they take fabulous photos, and they are real.  But as you probably know, running your eyes through Twitter means having to discard a lot of trash, lint, and weird stuff.  Today there was a real estate ad for a big house in Missoula  !!??  Often people beg for money -- with good cause.

The breakdown into tribal warfare -- ya did/ya didn't -- over some nonsense issue that deserves exploration and understanding -- shows up in ways that are almost funny.  One among these peripheral First Nations coteries is obsession over skin color.  I don't mean the whole thing about being called "red" which they are not, unless badly sunburned, but about how dark one is and what it means.  White people have made "dark" a stigma, so indigenous people have countered to make it an indication of "blood quantum" (though skin color is not about blood -- nor is blood quantum about blood) but about inheritance of melatonin (a molecule) and exposure to sun.)  At base it is about markers for social standing.  "Indians" take dark skin to be good, pure identity as an "Indian," and assume that white people hate dark, though in summer white people hurry to the beach in hopes of getting dark.

For young "Indians" the subject quickly turns into a binary: dark is good, white is bad.  Choose sides.  Complex and molecular cell features are brushed aside, not understood anyway, just more of the mumbo-jumbo those snooty scientists are always going on about.  

So I tried to break up the deadlock a bit by introducing poetry.  "Of all the skin colors possible, the sun-warmed fawn with hints of lavender that many indigenous people inherit is one I love the most.  It looks so well with shell white and turquoise blue-green.  Also, copper, gold and silver.  And crimson."

This was quickly labeled unintelligible since it didn't fit the binary dark/light.  But also it was a refusal to confront the real significance of skin color specifically among indigenous people.  Esp. among young women who live off-rez.  They took offence that they expressed in junior high contempt terms.

"Bloodlines, Odyssey of a Native Daughter" by Janet Campbell Hale, a descendant of Dr. John McLoughlin who was a ruling white man with an indigenous wife, Ms Hale tells her story of a girl persecuted by her own mother for being "dark."  Her mother wanted to "pass" as white but if the girl were around, she couldn't hide the truth.  It's a harsh story, but not unique.

People here, with perfect confidence that they are telling the truth, believe it is absolutely true that "Indians" get free money and "get out of jail free" cards simply because they are enrolled.  People who are members of families that include many people of many mixes will also claim that those with a certain "blood quantum" -- a fancied fraction figured out by descent rather than a laboratory blood test for genomes -- have unjustified and arbitrary advantages over those who are a small fraction of whatever the tribe sets as the boundary.  (The US government realized a long time ago that setting this boundary is sort of like walking in front of a firing squad, no matter how stringent or generous the percentage might be.)

From the other side, indigenous people will explain with all seriousness that white people have a major advantage, like stable families, access to money and college degrees.  To them poor whites with alcoholism, unknown families, and inability to read just don't exist.  Even satisfactory white people can be rejected and thrown out because they have an "advantage."  They are unfair.  

When whites write books about "Indians", there is an outcry to try to suppress whites from doing such a thing.  The "Indians" don't think of writing their own books.  If they do, they rewrite the same old "myths and legends" that were defined by white people centuries ago, when they could be writing mysteries, sci-fi, or some new genre they invented.

The truth is unimaginable because it is about the time when European immigrants were faced with the problem of what to "do" with the people they were displacing, since now that they were pushed off a place where they knew what to do and how to survive, they were going to need humanitarian help.  At first there was lots of room, so they were just pushed to the West.  We no longer think that way -- at least most of us.

"European Americans passed "Indian Blood law" or blood quantum law to regulate who would be classified as Native American. The first such law was passed in 1705 in the Colony of Virginia, to define Native Americans and to restrict the civil rights of people who were half or more Native American.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, the US government believed tribal members had to be defined, for the purposes of federal benefits or annuities paid under treaties resulting from land cessions.
Many Native American tribes did not use blood quantum law until the government introduced the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Some tribes, such as the Navajo Nation, did not adopt the type of written constitution suggested in that law until the 1950s."  (from Wikipedia, so I don't know who said it.)

Now we know so much more about law and so much that complicates the subject of the genome, like outrage and indignation from African-origin people whose skin color was used as the brand of slavery, that the whole concept needs to be junked.  The idea in the beginning was that indigenous people would naturally want to be educated and white, so after they got to the great-grand stage, they'd just drop the subject.  That was before the tribe became a corporation and "blood quantum" was a sign of enrollment, shares in the company, and thus entitled to a share of any profits  At first there were no profits, but now there are, and everyone wants "in."

So now the problem is way beyond skin color, whether scientific, poetic or statistical.   What is the new criterion for being enrolled, a corporate share-holder?  Can it be inherited?  Can it be seen by a casual observer? -- Or if not, how else can it be documented?  Should it be living on the rez?  (About half of enrolled Blackfeet on the American side live OFF the reservation -- not counting the members of the Nation who live in Canada.)  If what is at stake is not money but culture, which culture?  (Remember that frybread, glass beads, and jingles (snoose can lids) are all white intrusions.)

If the People themselves don't figure this out, it may be imposed by bureaucrats or simply be frayed away by time.  Even what seems so innocent as the PanIndian movement is a threat to those who want sovereignty without quite defining what that means.

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