Header

Not All American Indians Are Red

Julianne Jennings
6/3/13

Mainstream America has effectively marginalized our inherited way of being and, although restricted, it is still very much alive despite the history and purpose of the Europeans, which was to produce people who might appear to be “look-like Indians,” but shall be European in spirit and habits of mind. It has uprooted us in the sense that there is complete disjunction with our traditions and culture which has infused in many of us a spirit of self-denigration. Further, celebrated photographer, Edward Curtis (1869−1952) worked tirelessly to capture images of Indian people that became the dominant culture’s popular conception of “noble savages.” The widespread belief that Indians were a dying race created both a fascination with them as a people and lent a sense of urgency to Curtis’ massive project. His work focused principally on real Indians, whose traditional ways of life were coming to an end as the U.S. frontier began to fade, and they served as a necessary element in the grand story of America’s nation-building mythology. Certain American Indian tribes, who had close relations with Africans, especially those where slavery was prevalent, would probably never be considered in his photographic odyssey because they did not fit his or others racial stereotype so confidently assumed.

Difference in appearance was and is a result of (subtle or blunt) contact and intermingling, which are cultural constants, the world over—the physical, geographical, political and strategic evolution of all humans. However, multiracial blending has been a mark of shame, and challenges societies discomfort with its historical past. Multiracialism has been institutionalized throughout history, whether through the “one drop” rule, BIA imposed blood quantum policies, Walter Plecker, the first Virginia state registrar of vital statistics, who reclassified Indians as black, Sir Francis Galton, who founded the science of eugenics or media depictions. Our walk of plurality—a learned balance from the inalienable habitants of the soil, and as representatives of newcomers—is the fluid new face of Native America.

Indians of southern New England, and Virginia for example, were the first to take the brunt of European invasions. Native combatants were executed, forced into indentured servitude in colonial households alongside Africans, served as concubines, divided among other eastern tribes, shipped to Bermuda or the West Indies, and in some cases Spain, Portugal and Africa as a consequence; and condemned to perpetual slavery; Members of the Five Civilized Tribes held enslaved blacks (later called Freedmen), who migrated to the West with them in 1830 and later. In peace treaties with the US after the American Civil War, the tribes, which had sided with the Southern Confederacy, were required to emancipate slaves and give them full citizenship rights in their nations. The Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole have created controversy in recent years as they tightened rules for membership in their nations and excluded Freedmen who did not have at least one Native American ancestor on the early 20th-century Dawes Rolls. The Cherokee, Creek and Seminole are applying the very same criteria that the federal government uses to eliminate claimants of their heritage and any services they feel owed to them. Freedmen descendants believe that their exclusion from tribal membership, and the resistance to their efforts to gain recognition, are racially motivated and based on the tribe’s wanting to preserve gambling revenues for fewer members. Historically, Native Americans never use blood degree as criteria for membership, but through community and shared experiences. Today, our “red-black” humanity is about self-actualization and positive identity building.

Yet arguments continue to disqualify our existence. Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. purports “DNA testing reveals the extent of Native American ancestry among African Americans is only five percent. All black Americans have at least 12.5 percent Native American ancestry, the equivalent of at least one great-grandparent.” Numbers can be a sorcery game, so we need to question sampling methods on the size of the population being measured. In contrast to Gates claim, The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB) notes that, “Native American markers are not found solely among Native Americans. While they occur more frequently among Native Americans they are also found in people in other parts of the world.”

The final writing of this piece is an attempt to recognize our own age as the accumulation of previous ages and the ability to look profoundly at the passage of time and recognize that people from the past did not necessarily behave or look as we do today. In other words, we must not entirely detach ourselves from the past, but look at events as they really are. The underlying principle of historical work is that the subject of our inquiry must not be wrenched from its setting. It is the interrelated conditions in which something or someone exists or occurs—the act or process of weaving all parts into a whole that gives meaning to character and identity. Thus, historical awareness allows for recognition of historical processes and their contexts—the relationship between events and people over time which endows them with greater significance than just an emotional response to the past—not all American Indians are red.

Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.
 

 

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page

13

POST A COMMENT

Comments

Anonymous's picture
Very well written, thank you.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I have Native American members on both sides of my family. I think of them as my gg-grand perents just as much as I think of my family from England, France, Scotland, and so on. They are just as much a part of me.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Time and time again, you see this type of writing, where one person attempts to speak, or write for everyone. In the future, replace terms like "us", with me, or I. A simple drive about onto reservations in the west, especially will show you differently. But mainly, speak for yourself.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
You said; In other words, we must not entirely detach ourselves from the past, but look at events as they really are.... I'm not of African American decent, but I am of a mix race. My father Spaniard, and mother Apache, but if you see me I am the spitting image of my great grandmother,but with curly black hair. Everywhere I go there isn't someone who asks me if I am native, or what tribe do I belong to. A DNA test verified my native origin, and now that I know that I am Native, I have been on a quest to learn all I can about my heritage. You're right I can't see how we can detach ourselves from the past, because I feel after some research there isn't much of the old world left. You said that we should look at events as they really are. The underlying principle of historical work is that the subject of our inquiry must not be wrenched from its setting. It is the interrelated conditions in which something or someone exists or occurs—the act or process of weaving all parts into a whole that gives meaning to character and identity. I really really hope that this is true for I am living proof that these interrelating condition ..Somewhat of a petri dish...a sample that is looking for some kind of meaning to my existence. I yet to find my tribe.... I feel still hollow inside. What I fear the most is that I will find a much more dysfunctional world, that I already live in NOW! BUT on the other hand I want most is to know what my ancestors really left behind. ME!! .... The act of knowing what my contribution on this planet amounts too as a Native American bleeds within me. Don't forget that we were almost wiped out from the face of the Earth!!! Whatever culture we have left I feed on it. If blood quantum had some significance ...we all should be tested...a teacher, lawyer and drummer etc. So that we could all have scientific intellectual rights as human beings living here in harmony together. Be that it may the relationship between events and people over time which endows them with greater significance than just an emotional response to the past is so true. Thank you for this article you have given me sustenance to my sole existence. Peace.. Love to all... Margaret California... Apache..
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
If you trace any lineage back far enough- 50,000 years or so, you'll most likey find an Asian or African origin. The focus on the "purity" of someone's identity sometimes distracts from the greater issues that face us all. Housing, jobs, tribal sovereignty, environmental protection and health issues should be what binds us together, not the particular shade of one's skin.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Soon we will be breeding so closely to keep the blood so called pure, that fathers and mothers will be marrying their own children. So called pure Indian blood will run out.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
This story is painfully true. I am a Yamasee Muscogee tribal member. And being brown skin has made me feel painfully aware of feeling like im on the outside looking in. Does skin color come into play in Indian Country? Yes it does, even of you speak your language and grew up in the circle. Your skin tone can be a barrier that you can't really break.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Wasn't there a joke at one time about Native American People having their own anthropologist in their back yard? I don't need to have a DNA test to prove I am an Apache. Besides aren't markers just that markers, they don't necessarily positively identify the specific tribe. Just like some tribes resemble each other and then again in the same tribe you can have people who are of a different skin tone, height, totally different physical features all together. Even before the US Government decided to dictate that as of 1934 these people are Native American, we had already had inter tribal, international people in our blood lines, it was happening for over 500 years.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
from aiahninchi ohoyo.....only the BIA uses 'degree of blood' or 'quantum'....i have always been accepted by tribal peoples from 'sea to shining sea' on my deportment and having the nerve to state out loud i was 'native' american....dont forget those like me who are disenfranchised because a 'qualified' relative was not 'blooded' enough, or in the right place at the right time to be enumerated...those two reasons are pure b.s......there are more....wouldnt it be great if every single person in this country who has native pre-decessors could be at least tribally registered? none of us wants to have or take away paternalistic BIA 'tribal' benefits...all we want in our heart of hearts is to be 'officially' recognized by our own peoples...so far, it aint happenin'...
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I would not accept casino money, directly or indirectly. I am Traditional Cherokee living outside the territory, free and unconstrained, living quietly in the ways of our ancestors among our people, absent the twisted noise of domestic nationhood. Little has changed, I am still here and Cherokee.
Anonymous

Pages