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

Steve Russell
12/2/12

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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*wink*'s picture
What is this, the Opression Olympics? "Mixed Bloods" vs FBI? Seriously....
*wink*
Anonymous's picture
This is a horrible article that reinforces racism and the stereotype that full blooded Indians are the most racist out of any other ethnic background. I believe in freedom of speech but ignorance hurts more than helps. Please see past the hate that is taught and mixed blood is not bad. Even full blooded Indians are mixed tribes so get your facts straight no one is untarnished and no one is better than another. My ancestors have natives the right to be consider human, I am a proud Ponca tribe of Nebraska member and chief standing bear is the one that said we are all the same if you cut me and cut yourself we all bleed red.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
As I read this story I found myself surprised that we are still letting non-Indians drive our realities. Blood quantum, mixed breed, full blood...White concepts. Not Indian. Never have been. Not until a colonizing Manifest Destiny driven group of Europeans showed up here and subjugated us just like they had been by the Moors and Romans. We had many generations of adoption between tribes. If you had skills, you had a role in the tribe. That was our way. Maybe we should listen to our elders more and stop worrying about what some white government men said makes us Indian 150 years ago. We decide who is Indian, not them.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
i think the point is racism exists because we let it. when i was a kid i didn't know what racism was. when i learned of is existence i was amazed by how many things i was doing that were racist. the truth is, its not about racism. personaly i find racism humorous. :O oh no. i must be a horrible person right? well at least i'm trying to not let it upset me. we use excuses all the time. it saddens me to see people get upset over this guy for telling about things that shouldnt matter. if you found this to be a perpetuation of racism, then stop perpetuating it by pointing it out. dont talk about it. its that simple. i dont want a whole month or a whole year for that matter, to dedicate to the way people use to be. those things are distractions. so we dont see whats happening to our current way of life. you can still choose your own way and show respect to the spirits of the past. it was a tragedy to kill mass amounts of people to use the things they used. there is no going back to change it, but we can change things now. before it is to late. we need to stand up. if your looking for a leader, lead yourself. if you think nothing will happen it will. we have the power. we are the many, and we dont need to use violence like they do. but we cant be victims any longer. stop feeling sorry for what happened and see the things that are going on now that you may have missed before.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Being of Afrikan descent this analysis sounds very familiar. What is tells us is that the tactics are the same regarding people of color.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Less we forget the president of the US is half white . or maybe more reptilian than anything. I have black relitives. and have lived with a Indian family. I cannot enjoy a person with one eightyfourth Indian blood, claiming Indian rights .. I may have that eighty forth Indian blood who knows who jumped the fence along the way. From what I see in the picture above. I think this dude is all white just taking advantage of his eightyforth percentage and a scammer
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I think you summed it up pretty good.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
The article doesn't match the title. I like the first paragraph, though. Regardless of blood quantum, law enforcement zeroes in on the color brown... including and especially immigration agents. The profile they look for is Indigenous.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
What makes someone an Indian? Is it blood quantum? Is it going to pow-wows? How many of you telling this guy he ain't a real Indian go to ceremony or speak your languages? How many of you fight to make things better for your people or listen to what your elders teach? No, you must not, because Indians didn't decide who was Indian based on blood quantum, we didn't make it impossible to adopt, we recognized that Indianness is cultural and ethnic, not racial. The idea of Indians as a race was invented to destroy us and it's sad to see so many of us embrace it.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
In Maryland, in the beginning of the 19th century, they resolved their "indian problem". The state decided that they would just adjust the catagories on the census (sound familiar), grouping the remnants of native people with the people of African descent - throwing anyone else in who was not exactly white - and voila' there were no more natives in Maryland. Only whites and people of color.
Anonymous

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