Monday, May 28, 2012

"Who's an American Indian?"

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Happy Memorial Day!

I was going to take the day off from writing today, since it is a national holiday, but then I came across this article penned by Jesse Washington of the Associate Press. The article is titled, "Who's an American Indian?" and it examines the claim by senate candidate Elizabeth Warren that she is part Native American.

It's a fascinating story that touches on the pervasive myth that we all have a Native American ancestor lurking in the branches of our family trees. I know for Black people, that mythical Indian ancestor is always linked to the relative with the 'good hair.' Like, "She has good hair because our great-grandmother was part Cherokee." Sometimes 'good hair' is just referred to, in the Black community, as "Indian hair."

But I digress. Elizabeth Warren is very much a White woman, so she's not interested in 'good hair.' Some people allege she's claiming Native ancestry to gain campaign votes. Read the story and see for yourself. I think a critical point that Washington makes in the report is that there is a difference between claiming Native ancestry (which many people may have) and calling yourself a Native American because your great-great-great grandmother on your daddy's side, was part Cherokee.

What do you think, dear readers? Should Warren have kept her mouth shut about her heritage? Do you think if you're going to claim Native ancestry you should have to do something to prove your allegiance to the tribe? I'm totally listening.

Peace!

5 comments:

Natasha said...

I have Cherokee ancestors (and a whole slew of Euro-American ones as well). I don't have papers for any of the 5-7 ethnicities my living relatives claim; I just have family stories. They are legitimate-sounding stories of poverty and assimilation, of family denial, from the right parts of the world and this country at the right points in time. Do I know 100% for sure? No. Just as I can only guess at the German ancestors with Jewish last names (again with poverty, assimilation, denial) who no one will really talk about still. One side of my bio children's birth family has written, published genealogy going back to the early 1600s. The other side is mine. If your family was not particularly educated, literate, or wealthy, you're grateful for the stories from a great-grandma and any photo after 1900.

I think part of people's issue with Elizabeth Warren is that she identified herself as Native American (not multiracial, not Cherokee) while seeming to know nothing about US history in that regard, and certainly she did nothing to represent or forward the rights of current day Native American or Cherokee people at the University where she worked.

I think it's dangerous to (1) purport to carry an identity you know nothing about, as well as to (2) require some kind of official 'proof' of ANY type of identity title.

Race and culture (as we both know) are two entirely different items...and they don't necessarily overlap. I just reread the book 'One Drop'--totally worth a second read.

Anonymous said...

Sorry this has nothing to do with the topic, but I heard about the "Concurso de Peinados afro en Cali" and I had to share the link. In celebration of "AfroColombian Day", there was a hairstyle contest. I thought you might be interested.

http://www.noticias24.com/gente/noticia/82647/en-fotos-y-video-el-viii-concurso-de-peinados-afro-en-la-ciudad-de-cali/

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

Feels like vote grabbing. Honestly, for some reason, its become fashionable for blacks and whites both to claim having Native ancestry, or some kind of European ancestry such as Irish or Italian, even though they are probably many generations removed from it.

I get that people want to be proud but at the same time, people keep bragging about it but have no real connection to the culture they so much love telling the world about.

LT said...

Natasha,
Hi!!!! Thanks for your input. I think you make excellent points. Especially 'dangerous to purport to carry an identity you know nothing about.' Well said.

Anon,
Thanks for the link. Awesome!

LED,
I agree. Preach on.

Kathy said...

I think a critical point that Washington makes in the report is that there is a difference between claiming Native ancestry (which many people may have) and calling yourself a Native American because your great-great-great grandmother on your daddy's side, was part Cherokee.

Thank you for writing this.

This is exactly why I'm hesitant to talk about my own background. I grew up with the knowledge that I probably have some Metis ancestry -- which I was later able to prove -- but I'm very, very careful in how I word this: I have Native American ancestry is (and I know enough about genetic genealogy that it's likely I didn't inherit any of their DNA). Anything more than than that feels like appropriating something that isn't mine.