Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised
Thursday, March 12 2015
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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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 ĎIndian,' 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 parentsí 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. Itís 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, theyíve 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 youíre a Ďrealí 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. Iím always amazed at the number of times that Iíve been treated badly for my education beyond High School and my inability to get a job at Native organizations. Apparently, Iím 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 youíre 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 youíre Indian. If you wear a ribbon shirt on a daily basis, youíre a wanna-be-Indian. If you wear traditional clothing daily then youíre 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.

Hereís what Iíve 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 weíve collective experienced in the building of this country. What some of us would rather do is traumatize each other again. Itís an ugly cycle that must stop.

There are many other ways that we separate ourselves as being Indian. What I know is this Ö 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 ĖNicholas "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."

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