My name is Rick, and I am mixed-blood Tsalagi, what most people know as Cherokee. I have no fancy Indian name*, no revered chief, no famous-Indian spirit guide ever suggested one and I've never asked for one. I make no claim to know more than I do, or to be more than I am, which is simply a common man. Yet, I invite you to visit this humble website, and often. As it develops you may see a story unfold, a story common to more people in the western hemisphere than federal governments and tribal governments like to acknowledge. And that is the story of the so-called mixed blood Indian.
There may be as many as twenty million mixed blood people populating the U.S. today, a statistic virtually impossible to confirm, and which I am sure is regularly challenged. These are people who have historically been rejected by both Aboriginal America and Euro-America, people who cannot always prove on paper where they came from, people unsure of where they fit regarding this question, born in the crucible of two very different cultures crushing into one another, producing offspring, both physical and cultural, that neither one have embraced.
Near as I can tell, the reason this little website has pushed itself into existence is to encourage mixed-bloods of Aboriginal American heritage to stand up and be counted as such, and with pride, and for those who insist on judging us as counterfeit fantasy wannabes to tilt their noses back down, look us in the eyes, and learn something of their "own" spiritual teachings.
Indian, Indigenes, Amerindian, First People, First Nations, Native American; we need to agree on a term to identify the indigenous people inhabiting Turtle Island when that first European boat slammed into it. That's expected in an article like this, and early on. But, instead of picking just one in the futile hope it will make everybody happy, I'll use them all and any others that come along, not only here, but anywhere else on this website. I really don't care too much about what's politically correct, nor do I assign any particular reverence to any to these terms. You'll know who I'm talking about. And I'm done with tip-toeing around the campfire, afraid of waking up some self-styled status Indian, expert only at tearing others down because he or she is incapable of walking his or her own proclaimed path with dignity, apparently lacking the motivation or capacity to learn, understand, and live the teachings of their own elders.
My Indian side's last address is in Arkansas, which became the twenty-fifth state in 1836. Part of government policy throughout the contentious relationship between Euros and NDNs, has been for federal and state governments to methodically muddy, or erase altogether where advantageous or incriminating, any connections between mixed-blood Euros, Africans, and/or Asians with their Native American roots. Many so-called full-bloods have picked up the banner of their oppressors, for any number of reasons, and can be heard to this day reciting their mantra, "The only real Native American is a registered Native American." We'll call them status Indians.
Let's take a hyper-fast blast down Memory Lane, then. While there is significant history between Europeans and virtually all indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, my comments will focus on the territory that eventually became the U.S. There are several major historical periods that bracket the relationship between the invading Euros and the Indigenes of Turtle Island, and they have all had a major impact on the esteem and self-image of Indian and mixed-blood alike, not to mention their physical destruction and creation, respectively. They are:
The We Need You period. From First Contact up to the We've Got a Good Foothold Now times, which is generally considered to have been irreversibly established by the early eighteenth century when the shift of power was now decidedly in favor of the invaders. Outside of Disney's Pochahantus fantasy, perhaps the only benevolent act attributed to any Native Americans by Euros is the romanticized version of that first Thanksgiving and of how the Indians kept the early newcomers from starving to death. A big mistake. But after a beachhead was established, the march to the interior was inevitable.
The We Only Need Those of You Who Will Help Us Win Independence period. Colonial Insurgents, later known as Our Forefathers, needed all the help they could get to break away from the Sovereign King's Royal Tax Collector. Most native nations saw the war as an opportunity to throw off the colonials that were in their face every day and exploited the situation to sever the chains of imperialism at its most intimate point of contact; on their homeland. Therefore, many supported His Royal Highness, apparently thinking if he won, the colonials would somehow miraculously disappear. Another big mistake. I doubt it would have made any difference in how the new nation treated them, though, but I'm sure the choices the Indigenes made only fueled the rationalizations and hatred levied on them by the average, land-hungry U.S. citizen.
The You Can Leave Now, We Just Want Your Land period. This officially got underway in the very early days of The Republic, which should not be confused with The Democracy, as such does not exist. Modern historians call this the Removal Period, its most infamous years being the decade of the 1830s.
The Leave or We'll Kill You period, what today we label ethnic cleansing in other countries, and with impunity now that we've seized the international moral high-ground. Generally known as the Annihilation Times, these official policies eventually fostered the Indian Wars. Soaked in fresh blood from the Civil War, and reflecting the will of We the People, federal and state politicians initiated a policy whose apparent aim was to chase the Injuns across the Bering Strait and let the Chinese worry about them. (The Bering Strait fallacy has been found out a lie coming from lands west of Turtle Island heading east, so maybe they thought trying from east to west would work.) Contrary to Hollywood's deep understanding of history, it never was "Cowboys and Indians." During this period, Indians were systematically hunted down and killed or incarcerated by the United States Military, the same machine so many Native Americans and mixed bloods are so proud to have served in today.
The Okay Then, Stay, But Become Like Us period. Also known as the Assimilation Times (late 1800s up to WWII), the ambition here was to sanitize the First Nations, to bleach out all vestiges of culture, language, "religion," and custom, thereby rendering them white. To make sure the great wisdom of the more civilized Euro-Americans took root, NDNs were officially barred from practicing their spiritual Lifeways, or what the mainstream would call religion, through bureaucratic fiat in the form of the Civilization Regulations. Christian Religionists cherish these times especially, because the federal government contracted with several of the various different brands of Christianity to take over the civic and moral transformation of those few Native Americans still around. This was before the founding of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the ACLU.
These great epochs are not cleanly divided by time, and geography played a big part, too: There is much overlapping. Another intrusion suffered by the Indians was the Dawes Act, a particularly fraudulent piece of legislation. Also known as the General Allotment Act of 1887, it tried to convince the NDNs that farming was the way of the(ir) future, as if Indians had never heard of agriculture. Congress was obviously thinking about farm subsidies even back then. Dawes tried to put the Amerindians on even smaller reservations, known as farms. But title to these farms was deliberately impaired by Congress. In fact, there are Indigenous Peoples family farms today that have as many as twelve hundred (that would be 1,200) devisees because of the way title is passed. A phenomenon known as checkerboarding plagues virtually every reservation in the U.S. today, making it easier for the BIA to manage for the benefit of mainstream economic interests.
By 1934, and after further reduction of lands that were reserved and supposedly protected in perpetuity by treaty with the U.S. government, from some 134,000,000 acres down to 45,000,000 acres, the transfer of another 90,000,000 acres into the public domain, it was finally realized Allotment was a big flop. From the Indian's point of view, that is. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 put an end to it.
The You No Longer Exist period. This macabre idea surfaced shortly after WWII, and gained real momentum during the Eisenhower Years. It was a thinly veiled attempt by the federal government to unilaterally relieve itself from all legal obligations to all Native American Nations. Some one hundred tribes were actually expunged from the Universe before the Latest Uprising, current era.
The You Couldn't Kill Us Off, Not In Five Hundred Years period. President Dwight's insatiable appetite for more golf courses and the tactics he took to get them, woke up Indian Country to the continued deadly seriousness of Euro-American thinking and ambition. Traumatized and near-comatose from the last hundred and fifty years of cruelty, Praise Jesus!, Indian Country rallied, various tribes united, hired lawyers and went to work enforcing treaty obligations, which are the law of the land, back onto the U.S. government. They were fairly successful in correcting the course of nation-to-nation relations with the U.S., though there is much still to be done.
In 1978 the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution titled the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, PL 95-341. This reflected yet another shift in federal Indian policy and, among other issues, it magnanimously granted Indians the right to resume practicing their respective "religions," or what was left of them. And while a few Supreme Court decisions have favored Native Nations, it's been pretty much business as usual on the ground level.
Fortunately, many Native Nations didn't listen to the white man in the first place and simply took their ceremonies underground, hence the real reason for the prohibition on picture-taking. This also explains why there is so much integration into some tribes of the practices of others, what some call pan-Indianism, which is generally used as a pejorative when applied to mixed-bloods. The 1960s-70s witnessed the melding together of several sub-cultures in the country resulting in the so-called New Age movement, what has become another conduit for people connecting with their NDN roots and which did add a mainstream element of support to the passage of PL 95-341. This encouraged a small cadre of brave souls to step into mainstream America and offer their versions of Native America to an ailing, decaying society. And to a person, each one has taken massive amounts of heat from all sides for even attempting to share more rational, humane, compassionate, environmentally healthy Lifeways with the general public, many of whom are screaming for these ways because they see how insane mainstream culture and U.S. global export capitalism (masquerading as demockracy) have become.
Getting back to my Arkansas roots, maybe some of it will be a little more meaningful now that we have an abbreviated context to put it in. Mine is a common history, genealogically speaking, a typical example of what exists not only in this country, but of other empires run by federal governments. It's a common theme found in the bigger history, not necessarily appreciated or understood any more by the average, city-dwelling Indian than the average anywhere-dwelling Euroamerican.
Arkansas did not require public recording of births or deaths until 1914. This makes it tough to go back in the public record to find out who the All Knowing State says grandpa's daddy really was, especially for those demanding a paper trail, such as tribal governments and status Indians on White Academia's payroll. Further, until 1910 federal census takers in Arkansas could elect one of three options when coming to a household containing a Cherokee.
Cherokee were not counted. Period. Indians were not U.S. citizens until 1924 when Congress, again acting unilaterally, created "An Act to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to issue certificates of citizenship to Indians." And so, it might make sense on the surface that Cherokee, or other Indians not yet U.S. citizens, would not be counted as they were considered foreigners. Interesting thought. But why were they counted from 1910 on? Prior to 1910 there may have been a concern over the citizenship issues involved or redundancy, the same person showing up in the federal census that was already accounted for in one of the various Dawes-inspired rolls. But it is more likely that because so few Amerindians actually signed onto the rolls, government bureaucrats realized they had a serious accounting problem.
When we think about a government carrying out the will of a land-hungry public, and when we observe there was no box on federal census forms for "Native American" until 1990, it makes sense when understood as yet another strategy for extinction: Let annihilation by accountant, inaccurate, confusing or non-existent documentation, and the passage of time slowly disappear all trace of anything not-white. In other words, build the highest legalistic wall possible, a wall of missing information, polluted information, misinformation, to frustrate claimants of treaty rights thereby systematically reducing the population of Native Nations, and voila!, some day they truly would vanish, as prognosticators of the late 1800s were lamenting. And let's remember, legal does not translate to ethical or moral any more than religion equates to spiritual.
Pretty outrageous. But no more outrageous than modern Native Nations insisting white academia accept the millennia-old oral histories of entire nation's as unquestioned truth while denying the same to mixed-bloods who have an intimate, personal knowledge of their own families encompassing, say, a whole four generations, somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe 80 years. That is, one can't really know who her or his great grandparents were or anything about them because someone forgot to write it down on notebook paper and have it notarized by the local JP.
It's a copout. On one hand, status-Indians demand their oral histories be accepted at face. Stories that can be hundreds, even thousands of years old, passed among countless generations, that might tell of the freezing times and of how when they traveled north they came upon the mountain of ice. Yet when some unsuspecting mixed-blood drops by the rez, delighted because she knows her great-grandmother was full-blood, and yes, the links were overwhelmingly female, only to be ridiculed and told that until she has the proper government paperwork, she's out of luck, she got no blood, the roles are closed anyway. So now we see how the strategy of deliberately confusing names, hiding names, random assignment of names, failure to properly record all names, all in a grand scheme to break the bloodlines, comes into play.
Closed roles is no different than gerrymandering a voting district to create a slanted, or biased political outcome to favor one party over another. Some party. But on a deeper level, it is a continuation, or extension of, the government's termination policies discussed above. This is known psychologically as "abuse bonding," or the victim-perpetrator bond. It results in the victim, be it an individual or a whole nation, a single event or the practice (strategy) of abusing succesive generations, in taking on the behavior of the victimizer. And for what?
An in-depth discussion of this psychology is beyond this article, but there is a movement afoot in Indian Country to deny recognition of, or toss out as many mixed-blood people as tribal councils can get away with. And despite denials to the contrary, casino money and competition for diminishing federal treaty benefits does figure in. Divide and conquer still works.
My Tsalagi great-grandma Ellie, only three generations back from mine, died in 1935 at the not-that-old age of 68. I was born in 1948, a short 13 years later. But, it is not uncommon for the first and fourth generations to overlap and the people in them to actually know each other: My oldest brother was born less than a year after great-grandpa died. Certainly, then, the great grandparents are fresh in the family memory at the very least. Yet the hypocrisy of demanding a paper trail to document a family's personal knowledge of its own short-term history on one hand, while insisting oral histories spanning thousands of years be accepted as fact on the other, can only mean I come from a family of deliberate liars. John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation during the You Can Leave Now, We Just Want Your Land Period was only 1/8 Cherokee by blood quantum. I am 1/8 Cherokee by blood quantum. How come he gets to be chief and I and my ancestors are denied all respect for who we are?
That where any Indian not residing upon a reservation, or for whose tribe no reservation has been provided by treaty, act of Congress, or executive order, shall make settlement upon any surveyed or unsurveyed lands of the United States not otherwise appropriated, he or she shall be entitled, upon application to the local land-office for the district in which the lands are located, to have the same allotted to him or her, and to his or her children, in quantities and manner as provided in this act for Indians residing upon reservations; and when such settlement is made upon unsurveyed lands, the grant to such Indians shall be adjusted upon the survey of the lands so as to conform thereto; and patents shall be issued to them for such lands in the manner and with the restriction herein provided.
So here we read that Indians not residing on reservations who would otherwise be entitled to an allotment of reservation lands if they did live on a reservation, are entitled to parity out of now-federal government public domain lands not otherwise promised to white folk. The last land office located in Batesville, Arkansas issuing land patents was closed in 1933. Great Grandma Freeman took free and clear title to a forty acre parcel in the Arkansas delta region in 1893, the year the Dawes Commission got underway issuing land patents, and in country bisected by the Cherokee Trail of Tears and that has a large Cherokee population today, many of whom are decended from Old Settlers, Cherokee people who left their traditional homelands before the Removal and from trail jumpers. She eventually merged her property with her husband's property, creating a rectangular eighty acre dirt farm. Three generations of McBride lived on that farm.
Early on, the Cherokee, one of the Five Civilized Tribes, tried very hard to adapt to the whiteman's ways, and with success. The illusion was that if the Cherokee took on Euro-think, they would be accepted by the foreigners, in their own land. What a concept. But, soon after fighting alongside Mr. Andrew Jackson in the Creek War of 1813-14, it finally became clear to them they would never be accepted into white society as the Once and Future President demanded enormous land cessions from the Cherokee as well as the Creek when the fighting stopped. And it only got worse as Jackson descended the political ladder, until finally as Mr. President he splashed an Executive Piss all over the Supreme Court, and got away with it, and The You Can Leave Now, We Just Want Your Land Period got fully under way. This is but one sliver of the history and context from which today's cultural warriors poo poo the idea that many full-blood Indigenous people of Turtle Island actually faded into the background and co-mingled with white America, realizing it was safer and healthier to deny their race if they could "pass," or just stay the hell out of sight. And off the rolls.
But this widespread historical phenomenon has been turned into an ugly mass-judgment of the legitimate yet undocumentable descendants of those times with tags like wannabes, outtalucks, twinkies, and so on, terms evolving out of the espansive vocabularies of the Truly Stupid and Deliberately Uninformed. Granted, there are some who know they have no blood connection to anybody or anything First Nations, yet persist in talking and acting as if they do, either for ego or personal gain, or both. Or maybe they just need a little more teaching. Unfortunately these are the only non-Indians we seem to hear about in conversations about Native American culture as intellectual property, which is has become; another white legal concept acquired by the public intellectuals of Indian Country. But there are many more non-Indians attending ceremonies and following the Red Road in a respectful, honorable way then there are rip-offs. Certainly, the few ego-driven exploiters have only exacerbated the tendency of self-styled full bloods to chunk everybody they deem not blood into the same bin, whether true mixed blood or deluded actor of other origin. But, the real problem is something quite different and so far never, in my experience, openly discussed, if even realized:
If the teachings of the elders were lived, it would not matter what a person's heritage is, because we all find ourselves living on Turtle Island and the same unique Spirits that informed the people here 12,000 years ago are just as active and involved today, and they make no distinctions among humans regarding one's ancestry, especially of those who proactively seek out the teachings. In other words, if one is open to the Spirits, he or she will get the same medicine today as did the first people living here.
"The power and ways," Fools Crow said, "are given to us to be passed on to others. To think or do anything else is pure selfishness. We only keep them and get more by giving them away, and if we do not give them away we lose them." Black Elk's statements to John Neihardt and Joseph Epes Brown make it clear that he shared Fools Crow's view, and because of this freely imparted sacred knowledge to the two authors.
Grandfather Frank Fools Crow (1890-1989), a Lakota elder born in the year of Wounded Knee, lived to be 99 years old. He was one of the most respected and knowledgable medicine people of the twentieth century. Fools Crow was an untouchable. That is, he lived such an ethically and spiritually impeccable life, no one could say anything negative about him and be taken seriously. I expect, other than the occasional jealous individual, it would be hard to find anyone considered a Fools Crow detractor. His words here are clear and unqualified. He doesn't say, "The power and ways are given to us to be passed on to other Lakota," or "Apache," or even "Indian." His point should be obvious: these ways come from the Spirits of Turtle Island and they cannot be owned. They must be shared.
Another First Nations icon, Vine Deloria, Jr. (1933 - 2005), well known for his views on history and his delight in pointing out the inconsistent, even irrational ways of Euro-America, tells us in Spirit & Reason:
"...Indian tribes are communities in ways that are fundamentally different from other American communities and organizations....Ceremonial and ritual knowledge is possessed by everyone in the Indian community, although only a few people may actually be chosen to perform these acts. Authorization to perform ceremonies comes from higher spiritual powers and not by certification through an institution or any formal organization." (emphasis added, spiritual here meaning directly from the world of spirit, the unseen, and the authorization to "perform these acts" coming from the Spirits, not humans)
Where we get off track is in thinking these ways can be owned, that it's about cultural "property" or the need to be unique as a statement of what we're against, rather than what we're for. And this is the rub, thinking spiritual practice is a human invention.
It's about relying on Spirit to help us in everything we do.
© 2007 Rick McBride