Normless Indians

Duane Champagne

One of the great challenges to renewing and sustaining indigenous nations are normless tribal members. It is very difficult to renew or maintain an Indian nation if the tribal members no longer share strong commitments and cultural values. Many tribal members do not have strong commitments to either tribal culture or mainstream national culture do not have direction or purpose, and are normless.

Few people were normless in traditional nations, although there is evidence that some groups and individuals rejected tribal society and lived outside the rules. For the most part, however, many people were well socialized into the culture, worldviews, and normative relations of traditional society. Contemporary normlessness in American Indian nations is the result of historic traumatization, assimilative education and language policies, loss of traditional culture, and discouragement of family and kinship management of cultural and educational life. Membership or citizenship in a tribal nation in the United States, and Canada, has become increasingly legalistic and based on blood quantum, and not based on cultural knowledge or cultural participation in historic tribal traditions. Many tribal members do not have strong ties or knowledge of tribal traditions and values, and do not adhere to either traditional or American codes.

The proportion of normless Indians varies among tribal nations according to historical assimilative circumstances, continuity of their cultural moral codes, and individual and tribal identities. American policy sought to destroy tribal cultures, and does a half-hearted job of restoring or recovering tribal communities and cultures. The result of assimilation policies and traumatized history is that many tribal members do not have strong tribal values or strong American values, and lay in a middle state of having few strong values or rules.

Normless Indian tribal members tend toward alcoholism, drugs, under achievement by American education standards, and are usually in trouble with police and courts. The normless Indians tend to need extensive rehabilitation, serve time in jail, need education, and incur other costs to the tribe, U.S. government and community. A main treatment for people in normless states who have turned to addictions is to expose them to traditional values and norms. Much of the American Indian literature, such as novels like Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday suggest a return to tribal cultural knowledge and values as an antidote to the normlessness of the protagonists.

Normless tribal members, however, can be a major challenge and constraint to the continuity of indigenous nations and cultures. If a tribal member within a wealthy gaming tribe shows up to tribal meetings for the sole purpose of ensuring that they receive per capita funds, then the goals and purposes of tribal nations are in jeopardy. A wealthy nation of predominantly normless tribal members will not preserve an indigenous nation in a cultural sense. Unchecked normlessness among tribal members is not only a threat to individual well-being, but also to a threat to tribal nation survival.

Research and theory on Indian education suggests that Indian students with strong tribal identities will often reject the alien administrative culture and rules of mainstream public schools. Students with traditional orientations often drop out of school. However, students with strong tribal identities and multicultural skills often do very well in school, many excelling in college and professional schools. Increasingly tribal nations need professionally educated tribal memberships, but ones that will commit to the nation building or national renewal project of an indigenous nation. Tribal governments want members of their own communities to take the jobs in tribal administration and have the skills and knowledge to make decisions for the future economic and cultural well-being of their tribal nations.

Tribal nations need to regain control over the cultural socialization processes of their tribal membership to ensure that tribal values, history, culture and moral codes are predominantly upheld within the tribal national community. Multicultural tribal members who have strong education skills and commitments to tribal nation renewal can be of great value to the future continuity of tribal nations.

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Brother of the people, I enjoyed your article & have observed exactly what you speak of in many places among First Nations people. It is the scenario I describe as being high blood quantum but low native spirit versus a person of low blood quantum but being of high native spirit. All across Indian Country I see this. Someone has a CDIB card with high blood quantum, have the native look, but they know so little of their people, their culture & know so little of their tribes spoken or written language. On the other hand I see folks who are lighter skin & may or may not have the native look , but cannot fully establish their bloodlines with an ancestor who had a CDIB card in times past & thus, do not have a CDIB card, but these individuals are very aware of their people's culture, know some of the spoken or written language of their ancestor's people. As a result, these low blooded, high spirit folks cannot obtain tribal membership, are treated as white people & are denied their birthrights within a tribe & in some places are mistreated as outcasts. I believe in the old days they were referred as "half-breeds". This is not right & does not please the Creator. In a number of native communities there was not the distinguishing of blood quantum. If someone lived in the community they were called by that tribe & family's clan name. This is how it should be today. It seems though that as some tribes got to have some money they want to establish a certain blood quantum so as to limit the number of folks getting per capita payments. This is wrong my friends. However, if someone only uses their CDIB card to obtain services & benefits that is wrong as well! One should be proud of who their tribe, clan & family are regardless of any financial benefits. That card doesn't mean they know anything about their tribe, clan & family histories. That look doesn't mean a thing unless one lives & breathes the culture all the time versus just at a holiday or a pow wow. We have too many part time native folks versus those who are native inside their spirit. This is something to think about my friends & to consider inside your spirit. I have thought about these things for a very long time. I didn't used to think about such matters until I saw the way others were treated who did not have a CDIB card or were low blood quantum. It is wrong to treat others differently based on them having or not having a CDIB card or what percentage of native blood they have flowing within their veins. We are all one people my friends, created by the Great Spirit & spread all over Turtle Island by First Man & First Woman through countless eons over time. We should treat others as we would want to be treated & not be biased, racist or any other bad trait which the Creator looks down on. Beproud of your people, clan & family in a good way regardless of anyone having a CDIB card or certain amount of native blood. It is the condition of our heart & spirit that makes the difference to Man Above. It is our thoughts, deeds & actions that matter to the Great Spirit. Let us bring happiness to our ancestors instead of sadness, shame & tears my friends. The Creator made all & loves us. So lets live our lives in a good way bringing joy & pride to Him & our people alike.

kkjondee's picture
Submitted by kkjondee on
I keep reading articles that names Native Americans as "Indians", in realtiy Indians are from India. When Columbus came to American, he thought he was in India, so he called Native Americans "Indians". Native Americans are not "Indians", period.

matthew mcdevitt's picture
matthew mcdevitt
Submitted by matthew mcdevitt on
Without comment on the probative value of the sociological insights presented here, I feel compelled to point out that suggesting any co-authorship of Leslie Marmon Silko's monumental work thoroughly undermines Professor Champagne's voice here. I would hope that he, or the editors, could correct the reference to Mr McMurtry who was honored to be asked to write an introduction to the Penguin edition. It's a matter of ceremony and sacrilege.

Hal Brumbaugh's picture
Hal Brumbaugh
Submitted by Hal Brumbaugh on
We need to make the connection stronger between member and tribe. Get the members involved. The main stream media does not speak of us, so people don't think we count. Tribes need to push education, and tribal values. It would help with more positive press also. I am tired of reading about drunk Indians.