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Old 06-09-2005, 03:12 AM   #1
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What Is An Indian?

From www.manataka.org


What Is An Indian?

How much Indian are you? This question was asked of a group of American Indian children at Anderson Elementary School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their answers were quite interesting and very disturbing. In this circle of black, brown, and blondish hair of black, brown, green, blue, and hazel eyes of wiry, curly, kinky, and straight hair, they were very percent-of-blood oriented.

From 15/32 to to they were calling out their individual percents, that is, until they began to laugh. Especially when one child was asked to point to the half of him that was Indian and the half that wasn't. Yes, it is ridiculous. Is this form of identifying our identity shared by other people? When did we ever hear a Jew state that he was half Jewish? What makes a Jew a Jew is his religion.

American Indian authors Walter Peek and Thomas Sanders explain it this way: "To define the American Indian is as impossible as it is to define the Jews and for many of the same reasons. A Jew knows he is a Jew because he recognizes himself within the framework of a historical-cultural setting that allows him identity. "The Native American, the Indian, the Navajo call him what you will knows he is an Indian because of the mystic tie to the land, the dim memory of his people's literature that has been denied him, the awareness of his relationship to Sakoiatisan, Maintou, Huaca, Wakan Tanka (depending on his being Iroquois, Algonquin, Inca, or Lakota-Sioux) somehow manifests itself within him and conscientiously calls him back to his ancestors.

Bill Charfield, elder teacher and historian, agrees with this philosophy. 'My cultural identity makes me what I am. It is my beliefs that make me Indian.' '' This brings up an interesting point: Can an individual be Jewish and Catholic at the same time? Can an Indian? According to Charfield, an individual's sacred regard for language, his concept of Creation, and his desire to live in harmony with the natural world all must be applied when seeking to define an Indian.

While addressing a college audience, LaDonna Harris was asked to define the Indian. LaDonna replied, "I can't define the Indian anymore than you can define what you are. Different governmental agencies define him by amount of blood. I had a Comanche mother and an Irish father. But I am Comanche, I'm not Irish and I'm not Indian first. I'm Comanche first, Indian second. When the Comanche took in someone, he became Comanche. He wasn't part this, part that. He was all Comanche or he wasn't Comanche at all. Blood runs the heart. The heart knows what it is." Elizabeth Hallmark, an Ojibwa and Director of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, thinks along these lines: "Just because an individual has a tribal enrollment number entitling him to certain services does not, in my mind, define this person as an Indian. It is the heart of this person that speaks to me. That's where my Indianness is in my heart." One of the great Lakota-Sioux holy men of our time was John Fire Lame Deer. He associated Indianness with the heart also. His beliefs in the concepts symbolized in the pipe identified him as an Indian.

He recollected at a time in his life when the meaning of the pipe filled his senses. He stated that at that moment he realized that to truly understand what it meant to be an Indian was to understand the pipe. He went on to say that even as an old man he was still learning. We must ask ourselves then what bureaucrat has the right to say who is and who isn't an Indian? Or who is more of an Indian? To be an Indian is a way of life, a looking within and feeling a part of all life, an allegiance to and love for this earth. Historically we did not judge whether someone was Indian based on the color of their eyes or the color of their hair, but by how they conducted and lived their lives.

To debase our identity by reducing us to percentages of blood is another version of genocide. To deny our tribal nations the right to traditionally adopt and naturalize citizens is relinquishing our tribal sovereignty. The last time some of us were required to show papers for proof of blood was when we wanted to breed dogs or horses. The confusion of attempting to define what is Indian will persist in governmental bureaucracies but will not be shared by many American Indians who know what they are.

For many of us, to be Indian is not heritage granted by legislation, percents of blood, bureaucratic studies, or even by a community's consideration. It comes from the heart and the heart knows what it is. It seems that if the traditional American is to remain at all visible and have a voice in the affairs of the people, then traditional thinking American Indians must challenge the bureaucratic system of identifying Indians if for anyone, for their children.

Submitted by Manataka Correspondent - Jennifer Whitefeather Attaway

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