Friday, April 12, 2019


People have always moved from one place to another, maybe because of crop failure, or maybe too much success has created crowding, or maybe because of climate change.  Nothing so far has been as species-smashing as the one we're expecting in the future of the anthropocene, but then again, think of all the hominid rough draft species that came before "us." Their species are gone.  Except it turns out that the Neandertals and the Denisovans and maybe others have left traces of their reproductions in us.

Every time the people of one culture/ecosystem moved to some place where they had not been known, the two sides-- those who are moving in where the people were different and those who found the different immigrants uncomfortable because they challenged the status quo -- developed the concept of "race."  That is, an idea that people who had been divided from the rest of the world long enough to develop a different "look," a different language, a different way of eating, enough to be spotted on sight or when they talked belonged to an "Other" race.  The idea of "nation" softened it a bit, proposing patriotism to show that they were still humans, not animals as the pseudo-aristocrats claim, forgetting that all humans are animals.

Maybe in reaction, the idea grew strong that all humans are morally equal. That in some countries, being a citizen is more important than being anything else except possibly having a soul.  Not during World War II when Germans and Japanese were still considered subhuman, but soon afterwards when the world -- the whole planet -- was rebuilding, Peoples of every race and nation were considered valid and even respected.

Caught in an earlier time, the indigenous of North America split in half, so that some became thought of as benign children of nature and some became fiendish people of a different race.  Native American people have been pinioned and burdened by the arbitrary concept of "race," which was bureaucratized when the lists of "tribes," loose imitations of nations, were made up in order to give them recompense in food, shelter, and whatever else the treaties stipulated before they degenerated into mere agreements.

These lists were based on provenance, descent, which was described as "blood" because blood was treated as though it were the germinal fluid. (In Canada, only semen, so indigenous mothers didn't count.)  This bureaucratic and unscientific practice of "belonging" according to percentage of blood, has continued because the idea was that surely all the Indians would want to marry whites, diluting themselves into conversion, thus nonexistence.  This was before anyone knew about fertilization, so the first lists were inaccurate anyway.  People took babies into their lives as was made necessary by war, disease, and predilection.  No one even knew about the four types of blood in case of transfusions, much less how to prove who was a child's genetic originator, and I'm not sure they would have cared.

So on this rez the awkward situation that arrives is that cousins or even half-sibs may be only fractionally different so that one is over the quantum for a subsidy, a scholarship, housing, a job and the other is under.  The one who looks more like an "Indian" may not be the one who has enough blood quantum to qualify.  The one raised more traditionally and looking more "Indian" from a popular standpoint may be the one with the lesser quantum.  This is not how we expected a genome to work.

The great irony is that the foundation of the indigenous North American person is Asian.  However the first People got here, they came across the Pacific, which means that deep inside are remnants of the Denisovan ultra-ancient humans.  There are two other major bases that we identify as "races."  One is the white hairy people mostly in Europe who contain the last drops of Neanderthal gene code.  Some think maybe they are the source of belligerence and the need for domination that persists.  The other continent-wide group is African, distinguished by being earlier than the others (the source) and by having NO Neanderthal coding.  All this is worth pondering when thinking of "race".

But there are two huge waves of change that complicate this and put three elephants in the room.  One wave of change is the rate and amount of people migrating long distances.  Until the Industrial Revolution, people pretty much stayed in one place.  Poor people, rez people, are likely to do the same, so that families only feel safe if they stay in the same place. Kids in Heart Butte have never been to Babb, though they're on the same rez.

The other change is the media gradually making the world into all one culture, seeing each other on television, listening to each other's music, eating each others food.  Some find that exciting and others are scared enough to sneer.  This is true everyone on the rez, in Montana, and across the prairie.

So now, what I'm sneaking up on, is three elephant-sized genomic issues in the room.  Genomically, the NA people-- particularly on the West Coast and in places in the East where Asians are considered the naturally smartest people -- can pair off easily and start families with each other.  But where are they politically?  Racially if they put that on the census?  It sometimes counts medically.

Then there's the Black elephant.  Even stickier is that for those NA who have been taught that paleskin valuing of one's color, reaching back to slavery, still have the notion that pale is best.  But the great valuing of Black culture, particularly the rural-to-urban media of song and dance, makes it irresistible, esp. for the tribal people who have been moved to cities for jobs and moved to universities for education, have wanted to join and identify with them -- but not everyone agrees.  Anyway, among Blacks, there is the same idea that pale is good and "passing" is an advantage.

One older Blackfeet woman who worked for the BIA in a major city said that she worked with Black women and loved socializing with the them but would NEVER date a Black man.  In 1961 a tribal girl in my class who had curly hair was teased mercilessly.  In the Civil War days the Buffalo Soldiers, who were Black, were used to control the tribes.  There was crossover.  City-raised kids who go to university only find Black "Others' interesting.

The third elephant is simply indigenous.  Part of the world culture growth in sophistication and the realization of the kind of political and cultural systems that can be formed, their energy and force, has been sharing among the autochthonous people of all continents.  Thus the New Zealand language preservers helped the Blackfeet develop immersion schools.  Worldwide-spread overwhelming viruses like HIV have compelled cooperation.  But somehow the USA tribes have never quite pulled in the indigenous peoples outside the nation.  Neither far north tribes nor the pre-white civilizations of Central and South America have joined politically.  Both are imminently threatened by mega-corporate culture.  Thus "race" in terms of shared genome foundation is only barely being used as a protection in spite of the need.

But these are early days.  

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