Who’s an Indian?

Letter to the Editor
5/22/09

How we live our daily lives, how we face the challenges, obstacles and even adversities, is our only evidence of our character and who we are. In the many years since the forced removal of many Native Americans from their ancestral homelands, there were those who chose to stay behind. Many because of the social stigma in the late 1800s and early 1900s, during the census periods, did not claim their ancestry because of fears of losing their lands and homes.

Today, many of the descendants of those who stayed have heard and are hearing the call to their spirit to return to the ways of their ancestors. Unfortunately, for many of these descendants of those who did stay, we are finding a barrier.

That barrier is because our ancestors, as a result of staying and becoming a part of the dominant society, were never counted in the various numbers of tribal roles or census. So, because the great-great grandmother or great-great grandfather were never numbered and given a government card, many today do not share the same religious and spiritual freedoms that federal and state laws accord to those who are a descendant of a roll-numbered ancestor.

Native American people as a whole are the only citizens of the United States of America that must present a card to prove who they are! This doesn’t count those who had their federal “status” revoked for one reason or another. You don’t require those of Irish-descent to produce a card to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; those of Jewish/Hebrew descent are not required to prove their heritage to celebrate Rosh Hashanah or Shavuot; nor do we require those of Muslim descent to prove their heritage to celebrate Ramadan.

For many of us who may be associated with the term “non-status Indians,” this is not about wanting to get something from the state or federal government. It is more basic and simple. It goes back to the beginnings of these United States of America and our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

All most of us seek is the ability to follow, practice and participate in the ways of our ancestors. Yet because one or more of our ancestors chose to become a part of society and not relocate and be numbered, the actions and numbering by the government has substantially burdened a sincerely-held religious belief for many of us.

To those who would say that “non-status Indians” will water down, misuse, or not conduct themselves in a manner that is done in the right way, a good way and pleasing to the Creator, I would say then come, guide us, show us and teach us.

At some point in the future there may not be any “Federal Indians” to perpetuate and further the culture and traditions of our ancestors; and at that point we as a people will cease to exist on Turtle Island. That’s an old and still hotly contested issue among Indian people. I don’t know that it will ever be a settled question. We see so much misuse of “Indian.”

As far as I know we are the only people in this country who have to deal with the outright theft and “borrowing” of traditional ethnology. The sad thing is, folks who do this only “borrow” bits and pieces. No other ethnic group has to deal with that.

– Rev. William M. Silaghi
President
The Eagle’s Nest of Alabama
Samson, Ala.

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