Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised


jpeg_pic.jpgBeing ‘Indian’ enough

This month I wanted to write about

being Indian, Native American, First Nations, the original People

from Turtle Island, tribally-specific names, etc. I wanted to write

about how we measure ourselves. I wanted to write about those people

that judge everything Native, they are gatekeepers of culture and

they assign people accordingly.

Judging people if they are ‘Indian,’

or not, is done regularly. These judgments are done in public places

or in private discussions. Here are some examples of I witness and I

heard over the years:

We separate ourselves according to

enrollment. If you are an enrolled member then you are Indian. If you

do not have a tribal enrollment card then you are not Indian.

Indian-ness is measured by blood

quantum. We separate ourselves according to blood quantum. The

practice of determining blood quantum is calculated by taking a

percentage of both your biological parents’ lineage to determine.

It is supposed to be a proxy of how much Indian you are.

This historical practice of enrollment

is the result of the Federal government tracking us to make sure they

know the cost of their obligations to the people whose land they took

and treaties they broke. Over the years, this percentage has given

people a sense of their Native-ness. If you are more then you are

more Indian and your credibility increases. It’s become a warped

way of thinking.

We separate ourselves according to

language. If you are a fluent speaker of our Native languages then

you are valued. Traditional speakers are highly sought after. What

has occurred in this effort for cultural preservation and

revitalization is a caste system.

It hurts my heart when fluent speakers

look down upon those who don’t speak fluently. Somehow, they’ve

forgotten the period of time that speaking our Native tongue got you

in trouble for speaking our Native tongue. If you sound too white

then you’ve given up your right to claim being Indian; you’ve turned

your back on your culture.

We separate ourselves according to

where we live and grew up. If you live in the city then you are an

Urban Indian. If you live on the reservation then you’re a ‘real’

Indian. We don’t talk about those who move back and forth because

we’re still trying to sort out where they belong. Until then, you

claim where you’re from and we’ll honor that.

We separate ourselves according to

education. If you left the reservation to get an education then

you’ve become White. I’m always amazed at the number of times that

I’ve been treated badly for my education beyond High School and my

inability to get a job at Native organizations. Apparently, I’m

too white now.

We separate ourselves according to the

pain we’ve experienced as a result of being an Indian. If you’ve

lived a traditional life and experienced the depths of poverty as a

result of it then you’re more Indian. We begin to share our stories

of pain and survival to measure our struggle to remain Indian.

We separate ourselves according to how

we dress and look. If you’ve got long hair in braids then you’re

Indian. If you wear a ribbon shirt on a daily basis, you’re a

wanna-be-Indian. If you wear traditional clothing daily then you’re

weird. Those clothes are only brought out for a special occasion,

funerals, usually.

We separate ourselves according to our

attendance to powwows. If you go to powwows regularly then you are a

good Indian. If you know powwow songs, you’ve gone up in your ranking

of Indian-ness. If you know the traditional dances then you are a

super Indian.

We separate ourselves according to our

political philosophy and ideology. You’ve got to believe in the

sovereignty of Native communities to be Indian. Don’t talk about the

struggle of tribal governments because they are not how leadership

was traditionally determined cause you will be chased out of town.

Here’s what I’ve come to know,

this type of thinking and judgment terrorizes people. It saddens me

that we are so harsh to one another. We are not actively helping one

another heal from the trauma we’ve collective experienced in the

building of this country. What some of us would rather do is

traumatize each other again. It’s an ugly cycle that must stop.

There are many other ways that we

separate ourselves as being Indian. What I know is this … I refuse

to participate in judgmental discussions that harm Native people who

are living, surviving, healing or preserving our culture. I will see

them as my people and give them that respect.


Cetanzi –Nicholas "Nick" Metcalf, MSW, is an emerging writer/poet who manages a blog entitled "Nickizms" and shares his daily musings on his Facebook profile. Nick’s first published piece can be found in the 2014 St. Paul Almanac, "A Mother’s Hope."