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When the Last American Indian Dies

Julianne Jennings
5/8/13

Anthropology has from the beginning been influenced and dominated by European males. They set the criteria of hierarchically ordered level descriptions, giving themselves the power to dictate the boundaries of group membership by defining race in terms of biology. As a consequence, the last Indian dies not by blunt force, expulsion or disease, but by the social construction of race imposed upon us— terminating our existence by blood.

Recently, my son Brian and his new wife, Emily, came to visit me in beautiful Montefalco, Italy. It gave me an opportunity to spend time with her and attempt cordial conversations about her background. Emily was born in the Dominican Republic (historically inhabited by the Taino), a nation on the island of Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. It is also the site were Columbus landed in 1492, becoming the first permanent European settlement in the Americas. Emily, who has a master’s degree in communications, will tell you she is descended from the island’s first people, “Many people will say our society was made extinct by Columbus; or blood mixing.” She continues, “America has no special technique for handling mixed races, perceptions of self and by others is less than human.” The rest of history she says, “Is swept under the rug, and does not allow for discourse by those who believe Tiano blood still courses through our veins.”

As the history of the world proves, false constructs give life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, a reason to define the power between individuals and groups of people, instead of intellectual understanding. During the Age of Enlightenment, European philosophers sought to reform society by using reason, faith and the science available during that time, drawing lines and boundaries to discriminate against people who appeared and acted different then themselves (left-over from theories of the earlier Catholic interpretation of Biblical continental positions and the knowledge that then existed of the peoples of their known world).

Their conclusions however, are still with us hundreds of years later.

Starting with the predominant colonial theory of race, The Great Chain of Being was the idea that human races could be lined up from most superior to most inferior. The Chain originates with God at the pinnacle, and progresses downward through angels, demons, stars, moon, kings (the summit of humanity's social order), princes, nobles, men, animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, metals, minerals, and then an arrangement of non-white people, with blacks at the bottom. There is no mention of Indians in the Chain because New World explorers had not yet encountered them; but upon meeting, Europeans considered them proto-human and not descendant from the original Biblical pair (Adam and Eve).

Swedish Botanist Carolus Linnaeus, “The Father of Taxonomy,” in 1735 published Systemae Naturae, which formalized the distinctions among human populations based on race. Within Homo sapiens, Linnaeus proposed five taxa or categories first based on place of origin and later skin color. Linnaeus believed each race had certain endemic characteristics. His work is the first to mention Native Americans as choleric, or red, straightforward, eager, and combative as opposed to Europeans depicted as sanguine, pale, muscular, swift, clever and inventive. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, (1752-1840), a German anatomist, also classified humans into five categories or races, but added Malaysian/brown racial type to Linnaeus’ original taxa.

Samuel George Morton, provided “scientific evidence” of Indian inferiority. In his 1839 study, Crania Americana, and concluded from collected statistical data that the brain size of Europeans was far greater than that of Native people and thus reflected a correspondingly greater intellectual capacity. Even anti-racist Franz Boaz, is now believed by many as having promoted Jewish interests. According to Herbert S. Lewis’ The Passion of Franz Boas, published in “American Anthropologist” journal Volume 103, Issue 2, pages 447–467, June 2001, “Boas did great service at the start of this progression. His hand-waving and smoke-blowing was, as usual for Jews, used to obscure the Who/Whom – who was served by whom and at whose expense – behind a pretense that everyone benefited.”

The article continues, “Anthropology, though a cryptically Eurocentric culture of critique, has pathologized and demonized and prevailed (at least in intellectual/academic circles) not only over “racist” Nordic champions such as Madison Grant, who was responsible for one of the most famous works of scientific racism (a.k.a. eugenics) and played an active role in crafting strict immigration and anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, but of “Whites in general.” Further, “ These men, along with others, shifted the understanding of race from real, to insignificant, to imaginary, to the self-contradictory anti-White/anti-”racism” of today. Race is a construct of the evil White race, who used (and still uses) it to exploit and oppress all the other, innocent ‘people of color.’”

“Mixed-raced” Indian populations, in particular, suffered the greatest racial assaults because there are no “full bloods” among them; providing the notion there are no more “real” Indians, especially groups living along the east coast, the Narragansett, Wampanoag, Pequot and others. They have all paid in blood; and were the first to suffer the brunt of European invasions so other Indian nations could stand. When did blood purity replace cultural purity?

Peter Burke, author of History and Social Theory, states, “Historians, like sociologists and anthropologists, used to assume that they dealt in facts, and that their texts reflected historical reality. However, this assumption has crumbled under the assaults of modern-day philosophers, whether or not they may be said to ‘mirror’ a broader, deeper change in mentality.” Burke continues with, “Hence, it is necessary to consider the claim that historians and ethnographers are as much in the business of fiction as are novelists and poets; in other words, they too are producers of ‘literary artifacts’ according to rules of genre and style, whether they are conscious of the rules or not.” Specifically, the ways in which, imperialism is embedded in the disciplines of knowledge and tradition as governments of truth.

In his work on The Location of Culture, Homi K. Bhabha provides an alternative view, "What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond the narratives of originary and initial subjectivities to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood – singular or communal – that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sights of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself.”

As people and places change so radically, and before any more vestiges of the past are gone, re-examination of archival materials, oral traditions, and ethnohistoric sources prove promising when looking at our subject from an “in-between” reality. History and social theory now converge, reappraising the relationship between the two and expanding discussions of topics in new directions. By no means should the voices of the people be silenced any longer; they demand a history written in their image. The combination of these sources, I believe, allows the best understanding of the nuances and complexities of Native life among mixed-raced Indians, and gives indigenous voice its greatest power, and best informs theoretical debates about cultural construction, maintenance and change.

Jalil Sued Badillo, an ethnohistorian at the University of Puerto Rico asserts, “The official Spanish historical record speak of the disappearance of the Taínos. Certainly there are no full-blood Taíno people alive today, but survivors had descendants and intermarried with other ethnic groups. Recent research notes a high percentage of mestizo ancestry among people in Puerto Rico and Dominica.”

Frank Moya Pons, a Dominican historian, documented that Spanish colonists intermarried with Taíno women. Over time, some of their mestizo descendants intermarried with Africans, creating a tri-racial Creole culture. 1514 census records reveal that 40% of Spanish men in the Dominican Republic had Taíno wives. Ethnohistorian Lynne Guitar writes that Taíno were declared extinct in Spanish documents as early as the 16th century; however, individual Taíno Indians kept appearing in wills and legal records in the ensuing years (wikipedia.org).

Anthropologist and archaeologist Dr. Pedro J. Ferbel Azacarate writes that Taíno and Africans lived in isolated Maroon communities, evolving into a rural population with predominantly Taíno cultural influences, as they had the advantage of knowing the native habitat. Ferbel documents that even contemporary rural Dominicans retain Taíno linguistic features, agricultural practices, foodways, medicine, fishing practices, technology, architecture, oral history, and religious views. However, these cultural traits are often looked down upon by urbanites as being backwards. “It's surprising just how many Taino traditions, customs, and practices have been continued,” says David Cintron, who wrote his graduate thesis on the Taíno revitalization movement. “We simply take for granted that these are Puerto Rican or Cuban practices and never realize that they are Taino” (Ferbel, Dr. P. J. “Not Everyone Who Speaks Spanish is from Spain: Taíno Survival in the 21st Century Dominican Republic.” Kacike: Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology. Retrieved on September 24, 2009.

So, when does the last Indian die? As traditions change over time, so do its people, from one generation to the next. A culture and its people must remain dynamic, honoring the sacred hoop, serving as an archetype in foundation myths, customs, language and culture, but rewriting history in our changing image for self-renewal/affirmation and perseverance, to insure that the last Indian never dies.

Sued-Badillo, in previous interviews and lectures resounds on the ideologically vibrant connection of this past with the present when talking about Tiano people, including its application to all mixed race Indians, “We do this as the Greeks of today and the Romans of today, hark back to the ancestral strengths of the Greeks and Romans of antiquity. … They may be completely different people, but ideological constructions are always built on the past. All peoples do this; it should not surprise us from among our own people” (TainoLegacies.com).

Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.

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Anonymous's picture
from aiahninchi ohoyo....first of all, i have always found being part european is either a benefit or a curse because i get to live 24/7 comprehending where they and all 'white' people are coming from in regards to people who aren't....am i proud of it...most of the time not, and even at the tender age of 65 i am still dealing with it....sometimes i become hyper native and try to totally eradicate the fact ...other times it gets a little easier, but either way, am still straddling the fence between two worlds...
Anonymous
Two Bears Growling's picture
The Creator created everyone as equal regardless of skin color, but it is the evil of ones actions, heart & spirit that devolves this one to no longer being equal to those who are living in as good way. Imagine a world where all were blind to color & instead, we were only judged by the good things we do, compassion we share, love we share & kindness we spread each day Man Above grants us the gift of life. What a wonderful world we could all have if this species of this world would live as the Great Spirit intended!
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
Great article; What about are Genes!! After my mother died, we found out that she was Native American. I took a DNA test to find out our origin, turn out that Haplogroup A is a direct link to Navajo/Apache lineages. Innately some of the characteristic/traits of the People are passed on because; Genetic diversity plays an important role in the survival and adaptability of a species. When a populations habitat changes, the population may have to adapt to survive; "the ability of populations to cope with this [environmental] challenge depends on their capacity to adapt to their changing environment". variation in the populations gene pool provides variable traits among the individuals of that population. These variable traits can be selected for, via natural selection; ultimately leading to an adaptive change in the population, allowing it to survive in the changed environment. If a population of a species has a very diverse gene pool then there will be more variability in the traits of individuals of that population and consequently more traits for natural selection to act upon to select the fittest individuals to survive. High genetic diversity is also essential for a species to evolve. Species that have less genetic variation are at a greater risk. With very little gene variation within the species, healthy reproduction becomes increasingly difficult, and offspring are more likely to deal with problems such as inbreeding. The vulnerability of a population to certain types of diseases can also increase with reduction in genetic diversity. So, when does the last Indian die? I'm here I look like my ancestors and innately have their traits/culture, and ..GENES!! so, there is No such thing!! Our species is alive and thriving!!! Never say DIE!! to many have died.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
In some cases, the isolation chose or imposed to indigenous peoples has helped them repopulate and even thrive beyond materialism. A quick look at the Navajo people, in the latest US Census count has them growing ever more, each year. From tens of thousands at the tail end of the American holocaust in the late 1800s to hundreds of thousands in the 2010 census. Their ways and language is alive and well, even the elders are in good shape if you do some basic comparing to urban peoples. Geographic location had much to do with this, but in the Navajo way, it was the Holy People who put them there and gave them the land they have. So traditions and history has been somewhat kind to them and not others, as you point out. I can say from here, we all know who will be the last Indians standing, blessings.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I just checked the population of India 1,241,491,960 wikipedia, World Source Bank. I don't those Indians from will die out soon. I have a problem being called an American INDIAN. When I was in College a tutor from India arrogantly stated to me, "I don't know why you people call yourselves Indians."...Then we got into some argument regarding Nationalism... But before that I never thought of myself as an Indian, I am Apache, Anishinabe. Although I am inter-tribal I was raised as Apache. I understand about the five taxa or categories, but that is what education is supposed to do. Not every thing is from the West.
Anonymous