'FBIs'—Full-Blooded Indians—Face the Most Anti-Indian Racism

Steve Russell

The Silver-Tongued Devil and I

FBIs (Full Blooded Indians) get weary of hearing about the vicissitudes facing mixed-blood Indians, for understandable reasons.  FBIs bear the brunt of anti-Indian racism.  “Race,” having no freestanding reality, is most often conflated with color, and so racial stigma follows color.

Then there’s the history of colonists searching for Indians to sell out tribal interests. Who hangs around the fort but mixed-blood political shape shifters? You get this weird social reality in some places (hello, Oklahoma!) where representing as “part Indian” is cool but representing as Indian is at least poor judgment and at most evidence of a character flaw, an attempt to take advantage of helpless white people by stealing a ride on the mythical Indian gravy train.

My own tribal history confounds the stereotype. Chief John Ross, the one-eighth-blood great grandson of a Scots trader, led the Cherokee Nation through its most tragic confrontations with colonial greed.  Ross’s National Party, supported by most full bloods, was undercut by the largely mixed-blood Treaty Party, opening a wound that persists to this day.

Like anything you say about Indians, one size does not fit all, in spite of the great historical colonization machine in which we are all cogs, a machine with no room for individuals. Hey, you’re a “tribe,” right? Everybody knows there are no individuals in a tribe.

Another layer of complication is the differing treatment of African Americans, for whom the colonists created the “one drop rule” to maximize the number of humans subject to ownership. This coexists with the idea that any non-Indian blood takes a person outside eligibility for compensation when Indians are separated from their land. Can anyone explain these two diametrically opposed notions of “race” in a manner other than the economic interests of the colonists?

The Five Tribes, to varying degrees, caught the white man’s disease of racism and took up chattel slavery, toting along the racial mythology that justified it. In the Cherokee Nation, this fever continues in the opportunism of former Chief Chad Smith and the gutlessness of current Chief Bill John Baker. Racism remains a tiger for politicians to ride, with the challenge to not wind up inside the tiger.

Observe how this history plays out for our kids, who remain the least successful ethnically defined group at all levels of education.

My class hit Oklahoma history in middle school, and the teacher was The Coach. You have to be from football country to understand the status of The Coach. He’s not just another teacher.

The Coach gets to the part where the white locusts descend on the Osage Nation to plunder the oil wealth, and he launches into a narrative about the stupidity of the Indians, buying washing machines when they had no electricity. As The Coach’s “haw haw haw” echoes in the classroom, the Indian kids develop a sudden fascination with their shoelaces. We left that class quietly and didn’t even make eye contact with each other, let alone the other kids.

Still, there is mixed-blood advantage. Barely a teenager, I walked into the barbershop where I got my first haircut in the middle of the barber’s rant about the shiftless Indians who don’t pay taxes and get checks from the government. I was there to deliver the newspaper, as my government check had been lost in the mail all my life.  

The barber noticed me standing there, apparently with a stricken look on my face. He mumbled, “I didn’t mean you.” He tipped me that day, something he had never done before.

The guy who ran the service department at the local Ford dealer was FBI Creek, and his talent with tools earned him admiration from car-crazy kids, but we could never have wrapped our young minds around the idea of an Indian car dealer. Our blood defined our destiny.

The African-American civil rights movement changed the facts on the ground when it gave birth to the resentful, entitled white man, who loses his job to a colored person of lesser qualifications and gets dumped on for telling the racial stories he took in with his mother’s milk. All of a sudden, minorities are empowered to be touchy about insult and everywhere white people look they feel trumped by the “race card” their ancestors put in play in the first place.

The resentful white man and the FBI can agree on one thing. If a mixed-blood who is light enough to pass finds it painful to be Indian, he should just pass. I showed up early to speak at a meeting of archeologists about repatriation and overheard this backhanded compliment: “If that guy worked half as hard at being a white man as he does at being an Indian, he could.”

He could what? Make his life better by pissing on the graves of his relatives? Excuse me if that appears a corrupt bargain.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.


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Anonymous's picture
and it is bitter old men like you who perpetuate those stereotypes rather than taking advantage of the opportunities you had to dispel them.
Anonymous's picture
so what's your point, more ignorance?
Teri Baker's picture
also want to add this is so racist
Teri Baker
timp's picture
i think there should be half native americans in congress breaks my heart how the world still is ;;;sorry if im wrong for saing that just how i feel itshould really be;;;and im only1/3 cherokee;;the creater nows whats going on;;it sad this country still paying for wrongs ;;god bless all the people all we cn do is hope for peace;;;;
Anonymous's picture
Half-breeds of ANYTHING make the full-breeds sick!
rezzdog's picture
Anonymous, Russell is far from bitter. More of a realist, betterness, my friend is in the head of the beholder. Same with ingnorance.
rezzdog's picture
Baker, racism is in the head of the beholder. Anonymous, half breeds make full bloods sick? Really? Without anyone saying a word, you see a half breed and you get sick? Hell, dude, you are the one that needs help, since you are the one getting sick. Re-read the column with a clear eye and you may see what the point is to this thought (column).
azpikuni's picture
20 years ago or so ago while working as an engineer for the BIA in Parker, Az and I came across an old engineering proposal from the 1860's or thereabouts whereby an Army Colonel (Poston) was proposing that an irrigation dam be built across the Colorado River so that the indigenous people under his supervision could become farmers. Among the many facts and figures presented, the labor costs were computed (as I recall) such that it would take about "4000 white man hours" to complete the project which, in the Colonel's estimation, roughly translated to about "8000 indian man hours." Being of mixed blood, I told my colleague that had they hired people of my background we could have probably knocked it off in about 6000 half-breed hours.
Anonymous's picture
Humm ! A Judge AND you're biased as hell !
Anonymous's picture
My blood quantum is 1/4 Eastern Band Cherokee. Some of my family chooses to ignore that part of our history, others embrace it. I don't pretend to be full-blood, I was never raised on the rez, and despite the fact that I could register and accept per capita checks, I don't. Others need the money more than I do. I don't play the race card when I apply for a job. I'm afraid I fail to see the point of your article.