Elizabeth Warren and the Ins and Outs of Indian Country

Cedric Sunray

What and who are the "Ins and Outs" of Indian Country?

Okay, so Elizabeth Warren is out as an Indian academic, but the 1/256 by blood folks I have worked with in academia are in. Johnny Depp is in and the nearly full-blooded Indian kid from southwestern Oklahoma whose 1/16 Comanche ancestry coupled with four or five other tribes is out. Pamunkey and Mattaponi Indians who have lived on their reservations for nearly 20 generations are out, while people whose aunties found a link to an Indian ancestor through Ancestry.com and are now enrolled with a federal tribe are in.

I think I am following the logic here. Fluent speaking 87-year-old Chukchansi Indian Ruby Cordero is out (i.e. disenrolled), while the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma enrolls someone who is 1/4,096 and they are in.

Unrecognized tribes who generationally attended Indian boarding schools such as Haskell, Bacone, Carlisle, Hampton, etc. are out, but tribes like the Poarch Creek who never had a community member sent off to such a school are in. DNA as a definer of “Indianess” is in and community cohesion and cultural retention are out.

Non-Indians and non-identifiable Indians running the Office of Federal Acknowledgment are in, while identifiable, cultural Indians petitioning the Office of Federal Acknowledgment are out. Communities who have been generationally discriminated against such as the Lumbee are out, but those who are in striking distance with a casino to protect (i.e. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) are in.

United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) signing resolutions stating that petitioning “groups” need to go through the federal acknowledgment process established by the BIA and should not be allowed access through Congress (even though half the USET tribes were recognized by Congress) in and the pot calling the kettle black, throwing stones in glass houses, and in complete irony out. Federal Indians with italicized Indian names and even US presidents (i.e.“Black Eagle” Obama) are in, but historic “non-federal” tribal members with similar names are out.

IHS funding racially white individuals with CDIB cards is in and brown skinned members of historic “non-fed” tribes attempting to access basic health care are out. Nouveau ideas of “sovereignty” justifying disenrollment is in, while the newly disenrolled are out. White Indians in, Black Indians out. Universities across the country requiring their presidents to hold a Ph.D is out, while Haskell hiring a president without one is in. People with minor Indian ancestry and zero cultural upbringing becoming Indian identity police are in, those perceived as ‘wannabes’ by them are out.

Fake screen names on-line are in, integrity and accountability out. Violence perpetrated by Indian men against Indian women in, as is covering it up by blaming non-Indian men for all the violence Indian women receive; there is no out on this one.

Silly, stereotypical, poorly acted, corporate sponsor plugging, Hollywood movies depicting Indian people such as Crooked Arrows in, while highly creative and original works by Indian independent filmmakers out. Gaming tribes with white lobbyists in, while everyone else out. Cooperation out and increased per caps in. The people whose backs literally helped build the Five Civilized Tribes (i.e. Freedmen) out, while the 50,000 white folks on the enrollment waiting lists, in.

Jim Crow out and Jim Crowfeather in. Coming of Age ceremonies which assist in the wellness of female community members, while educating male community members to the honor they hold in our communities out (i.e. google Winnemem Wintu), while patriarchal reinvented views on Indian culture in. Indian alphabet in….CDIBBIAIHSICWAOFABIEHINUCFRBQJOMVAWAUSETNCAIDOI…, while common sense, equitable ways to deal with the Indian alphabet out. Brown oppression out, while white privilege masked by a CDIB card in.

Sorry, but I gotta run to an Indian education meeting . My daughter, who is a brown-skinned, language-speaking, enrolled member of a federally recognized Canadian First Nation and a historic “non-federal”, reservation based, Indian boarding school attending state recognized tribe in the U.S. is getting kicked out of the public school’s JOM program. After that I have to get over to the federal Indian court where I am being charged as a “federally-recognized” Indian by the same people who were calling me and my tribe wannabes the week before. While there on my other charges I think I am going to be charged with possession of eagle feathers for not being a member of a federal tribe in the US.

Oh, the irony. And then I am heading over to a Haskell reunion with a 70-year-old Haskell Institute graduate from a “non-federal” tribe (which the BIA listed as ½ Indian) who recently applied to go back to Haskell to get her university degree, but was denied as they told her that her tribe is no longer Indian. When that is done I have to drop 30 points in our first game at the nearest Indian basketball tournament if they accept my enrollment. Fingers crossed. It seems that some people can get it both ways in this world. All that is required is a “current” CDIB, some historical revisionism…or a few Hollywood blockbuster movie roles. Fortunately I like grapes. Sour, sour grapes. Legal fiction in and social reality out. I’m out.

Cedric Sunray is one of four generations of enrolled family members of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians in Alabama.

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storiesvt's picture
It is a mess. Somehow the historical conditions that resulted in the present complexification just don't become central to the conversation. I appreciated reading your post, as you manage to allow ample room for complexity and history, both past and contemporary. Thanks!
cojee's picture
Doesn't it all come down to which side we're fighting on? Doesn't Indian Country need all the allies it can get???? Did Tecumseh live and die for nothing, after running his moccasins off begging for unity against the White tsunami? The tribes couldn't unite at last chance, and look at the resulting mess we're living in now. We'll never remain, never prevail, never take the land back this way. I can't prove anything, but I'm at least 9th-gen Alabaman and 5th-gen Oklahoman and sure as hell NOT fighting on the White side. How about that old song: "Come on people now, smile on your brother! Everybody get together, try to love one another right now." As Ernesto "Che" Guevara said to another Guevara, "I don't believe we are closely related, but if your hackles are raised every time an injustice is committed in the world, then we're brothers, which is more important."
quinzy's picture
Cojee, your heart and the way you think make you more Indian than most of the phony "full bloods" around on our reservations and off reservations. The problem is, today, Indian country is happily enrolling in the colonizer's army, happily killing indigenous people around the planet and happily fighting on the white side, which is why we're probably having such silly debates about who is Indian and who isn't. Yes, it should come down to which side we're fighting on, like you said!
redhaircrow's picture
A very thought-provoking article, or it should be so, for it details how people perceive and treat others and the realties of the "situation" of being Indian in America or how you are "allowed" to (or not) be a Native American. Politics, government both tribal and otherwise, and racism if you call it accurately as the author did. I don't think it's sour grapes at all, though inevitably some people will label it thus: I think it is just the reality some Indians live with that we need to address and rectify in some way.
quinzy's picture
The main problem is we are defining ourselves by how whites define us - because our hearts and minds have been colonized. So I am defined as a "full blood" which is a white concept. Whites are stupid and if we think like them, we are being stupid. We have to get back to how we always defined ourselves and stop thinking like whites. How did we always define ourselves? I am from the Turtle Clan, as was my mother, as was her mother before her, as was her mother. It always flows from the mother's side in my tribe. Because my mother was from the Turtle Clan, she had to marry someone outside her clan. She was forbidden to marry another Turtle because he would be a fellow clan member. So she married my dad, who is from the Sun Clan. Does that make me 1/2 Turtle and 1/2 Sun? No, I am still full Turtle. That is how Indians always defined us. We have been in this country for several hundred thousand generations, always marrying outside the Turtle Clan. By the white definition, I should probably be 1/880,000 Turtle. But I am a full Turtle Clan member, not 1/880,000 Turtle or anything like that. We need to go back to our traditional ways of defining ourselves and get rid of white concepts like CDIB, full bloods, federal/non-federal, etc. Whites are certainly very stupid when it comes to Indians. If we follow whites, we destroy ourselves.
timoteomontoya's picture
wow. this says it all. very good account on the state of the (native)union in our country and adjoining countries. Very informational, like this. Great mind,this guy should run for president, time to add a bit more color to the institution of the presidency. Besides red is holy.Thank you for this.
hontasfarmer's picture
You said it all. What can be done about it? Every other race/ethnicity just accepts people, essentially, on their good faith. Yet if we do that everyone, almost everyone we meet will be "a little bit indian". Never enough that they feel any responsibility towards Pan Indian causes let alone a specific nation. That is the problem. Simply relying on the federal govt. hasn't solved it. Darned if I know what will.
piqua's picture
husbandofmoonlight's picture
An excellent article, precise and concise, and revelatory of the situation for Native America since even before the Europeans arrived. Native American DNA exceptionally distinctive and varied has proved that our ancestors were a diverse peoples---and even up to and after the "European Invaders" who were always agile at finding the "divisions" between the "tribes" every where they went and exploiting them for their own needs/greeds----and then sacrificing the Native Americans who "worked with them"---against other Native Americans because of those "divisions"-----those "tribes". We, Native America--- as a "people" should learn to think of them, the USA, as simply a "learning experience"----and a "primary negative example". That many "Native American tribes" have become extinct is a fact of history, and the extinctions that occured before the "Europeans" were always at the hands of other Native Americans. The Native Americans had been "fighting" each other for thousands of years before the Europeans. In fact not only with Native America but with most "tribal societies"----the name of the "tribe" usually translates to the "Human Beings"--or---"The people"---or very often---the "chosen ones"---etc; and this "human trait" is revealed world wide............. Many people believe that presently there are "new tribes" evolving from the remnants of those who survived such as the many varried groups who use the term "Rainbow" in their name---. On the "anthroplogical level"--tribes are inventions of the PEOPLE of the tribes---and nothing else. On the "scientific level"---if your DNA shows Native American origins---no matter what the "blood quantum" or mixes---you are heir to the DNA that can be traced here on this continent (North American)---for more than 11 thousand years---on the rest of the Hemisphere for as much as 15 thousand years---very few humans on the planet have that distinction; and the "mixing" of the DNA with the "foreign invaders" (lol) has only been a fraction of the total. It would only be natural for Native Americans to realize the facts. These "invaders from Europe"----if we think on it carefully; are simply a mark on the wall of OUR evolution---our ancestors were here long before their ancestors invented themselves---we will be here long after they are a memory (as bad a memory as it will be). While we learn from their mistakes; why not learn from the mistakes Native Americans who went before us made; primarily allowing a "division" amoung us that the "occupiers invented" just to keep us "divided". Playing to it, makes it work for them. Then it has always been true; that it should only matter to you what YOU think of you; and no one else. "If your heart is pure and your intentions are honorable you will have the strength of ten." "Only the truth will make you free; but only if you know the truth". Husband of Moonlight
husbandofmoonlight's picture
This is an excellent column; and very precisely describes the "problem with tribalism" for Native America. The "divisions" in Native America have always been present as a direct result of "tribalism". On an anthropological level; all tribes, whether Native American or any of those around the world are essentially "inventions" of and BY the "tribal members". These are usually composed of and comprised of language and culture but sometimes, other elements are present. In most cases the "tribal name" usually translates to "the People", "the human beings", "the Chosen Ones" (sound familiar?). If someone has Native American DNA, which is exceptionally distinctive, they are heirs to DNA which has been proven beyond doubt to have been present in North America for no less than 11 thousand years, and in the hemisphere for no less than 15 thousand years. These dates are subject to change of course; but the changes will be in the antiquity; and not reversed since the sciences involved are undisputable. The science of DNA is one of those. Having Native American DNA however does not assure a "tribe"; and frankly, some present day "tribes" would have a hard time "recruiting" with their present "personalities", arrogance and conceit aside; most of them seem to be on a hard course to make themselves extinct. Which brings this matter to one more important concern for the "tribal members". Undisputable evidence exists here in North America of ancient public works projects which showed mass cooperative labor from human beings, and many of them at a time. This evidence not only established the facts that "agriculture" the great "civilization maker"----was present in North America, at the same time it was in the Mesopotamian River valley---where "civlization" is deemed to have "evolved" (acutally they have had to reassess that argument but it was good to mention it here)---- by anone's standards is a very long time ago. This "antiquity" is remarkable and should be highly respected and regarded by ALL of "us" who possess the DNA. The "tribes" who built those great public works---in cooperation with each other---or "one large tribe" as far as anyone knows are "extinct"; and since they had no 'written words", they left no history except the work of THEIR collective hands. The Native American people are extremely ancient; the Native American tribes of today are in comparison, very recent inventions of the descendents of the ancient peoples. Unfortunately most of Native America is "ignorant of these facts"; and as a result have been "convinced" by the "dominate culture", the USA----that they "will do better" if they stay "divided". "Tribal membership" presently and always has been a matter of "politics" since being "ejected" from your tribe in ancient times meant certain death. That is, when one (or more) of your enemy tribe's members realized that YOU had been expelled from "your tribe"; they would most often "came over to YOUR "new" camp to set things right for all that "stuff you did to THEM when you were a member of the tribe that expelled you". Most often being expelled from the "tribe" meant death; today it most often means that you loose money that you really did not "earn" in the first place and were paying a 28% tax on in the second place. Taking many of the modern day "tribal activites" in this area into consideration the recent expulsions of members in tribes with "Casinos" in California is simply a "remake" of the very old human trait of "take care of yourself first"----and when those who were expelled no longer receive "per capita payments"; it just "means more for those who were NOT expelled". Same old story and if one wishes to see it from the "global perspective": If Native America had been "united"---in 1492---the Europeans would still be convinced that "Columbus was lost at sea because the earth is flat"--since he and his crews would have become "fish food" when they hit the beaches. Instead, Europe became exceptionally wealty as a result of the "divisions" caused by "tribalism" in North America; and Africa and every where else they "invaded" where "tribal" people existed. If nothing else the study of "anthropology" will reveal to the student that one very important matter is always present. Those who learn from the mistakes of the past, and especially of others--- never repeat them. "Only the truth will make you free; but only if you know the truth". Husband of Moonlight