Debunking the ‘Half-Breed’ Label
Indian Country Today
These words are more than familiar to us who are not full-blooded American Indians. And by those who are not full-blooded, I do not speak of those who claim a “great-great-great grandmother who was a Cherokee Princess”, nor do I speak of those who say flamboyantly, “I have a little Indian in me!”, nor do I even speak of those who yell, “I am the wolverine!” at every pow-wow naming ceremony run by wannabes. I speak of those who claim Native ancestry who have irrefutable lineal proof who are not enrolled, and in a few cases, enrolled; those who were raised in the traditional ways of their people by their parents and grandparents. I am one of those who COB would place as being “half” due to so much mixing on every side of my family, including a direct connection to the Siksika band of the Niitsitapi (Blackfeet Confederacy), or as we call ourselves, “the real people”. I may be pale-skinned, but I honor my traditions through the telling of my people’s stories, by speaking my people’s language and even by creating the traditional art which my people used to and in some cases still create. My grandmother and mother raised me in our people’s traditions, however due to my great-grandfather’s parents having moved from the reservation in the very late 1800’s in order to create a better life for our family, he was the last “full-blood” in our family. Luckily, we managed to intermarry with those who also had Cheyenne and Cherokee (not the great-great-great princess tribe). Therefore we were able to keep enough blood in us for DNA to prove us as ‘half-breeds,’ although none of our remaining family who are alive are enrolled in our tribe. Why, you may ask? “Don’t you have enough blood to enroll in your tribe?” Yes! Of course. “Then why? You are dishonoring your people.” I feel the opposite. The reason why we are not enrolled, or refuse to enroll for the time being, is because we are proponents of the ‘lineal descendant’ way of proving ancestry. The moment the lineal descendant way of defining ancestry hits our nation, my family and I will enroll. We have all the proof we need to be enrolled now, so why not wait a little longer? We are a surviving race of people (regardless if we are metis or “full”), and if we have kept our cultures and traditions alive this long without being on the reservation, why go against our way of belief just in order to feel better?
“Why are you against C.O.B.?” Well, let me take the time to explain. I will quote a man who tells it most accurately, Russell Means. In his book, “Where White Men Fear To Tread”, he writes, “In the 1880s, Congress passed the Indian Major Crimes Act to give itself jurisdiction on the reservations. From it came a body of case law applying only to Indians. The charges against us alleged violations of those laws, so the government’s first task was to prove that we actually were Indians. That required the government to trot out the blood-quantum test, and often conflicting list of criteria that boils down to judging a pedigree.” Hopefully you are beginning to see where I am coming from, and why myself and my family holds such staunch beliefs against certificate-of-blood “proof”. I both believe and understand that it is indeed important to be enrolled in your tribe, however, I see that the very root of the method of becoming a “recognized Native” is cruel, demeaning and another way to easily lock we Indians up in a jail-cell, and another way to easily segregate us from the rest of society, and even from our own people. Do you think that our ancestors would approve of this method of judgement? Think again.
In Vine Deloria Jr.’s last video interview, which you can still find on the internet, he explained that in the 1880s, just before the Indian Major Crimes Act was passed, many American Indian tribes all across the United States ended up recording every living member in their tribe as “full-blooded”. This means that even those that were half, quarter, eighth and even those who had smaller blood-quantum amounts as recorded by Congress’s and the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Certificate of Blood were marked, recorded and accepted as being “full-blooded American Indian”. This was clearly because our ancestors saw something that is strangely so hard for many of us to see today. While COB defines you as being an American Indian (and who doesn’t want an official membership card to the prestigious life of an American Indian? Mark my sarcasm…), it does not define you as being a definite member of a particular tribe. No Certificate of Blood or DNA report can mark you as being, “Oglala Lakota”, or “Siksika” or even “Cherokee”. COB makes us “Indians”. Nothing more, and nothing less. Certificate of Blood leaves us no longer as individual sovereign nations with individual languages, beliefs and traditions; Certificate of Blood marks us as just another “minority group” waiting to be dominated by the patriarchal abusive Western culture. Still trust Congress, the BIA and COB? Russell continues, “I was shocked to learn that the BIA had listed me as 15/32 Indian. That, I learned, was because it had ignored my great-grandmother, a full-blooded Crow. Thus I discovered another BIA wrinkle. On certain reservations, ancestors from other Indian nations don’t count. If a Cheyenne and a Sioux have children, the BIA counts them as half-bloods. It dismisses half of someone’s heritage with the stroke of a pen.” Need I speak anymore on this subject?
I will tell you, that the majority of the non-enrolled members of my entire family have not felt a part of; they have felt “apart from”. Many of them have come away from their traditions and have assimilated into the white-man’s (yeah, I said it!) religious practices because they’d rather be alive than be another “dead savage”. It pains me to recall the amount of racial discrimination myself and my family have all endured. My entire family has worked minimum-wage jobs our entire lives, mostly working in places earning us such glorious titles such as, “janitor”, or “housekeeper” or “sales representative”. My grandmother used to be the only person in the entire redneck town which we used to live in who used to host weekly get-togethers in her modest home with the local “dark-skinned” folks. This earned her some great local nicknames. I do not mean such honorable names such as, “Soaring Eagle Woman” or “Woman Who Is Strong”, but I am talking about such names as, “Redskin”, “The Town Whore” and numerous other heartless and cruel names which I will not mention. The entire town and city knew we were Natives, and they did not like it. Apparently, we brought back too many bad memories of how their people slaughtered our families, a genocide continuing to this day. You can talk about how a black man or an Indian killed a white man, but the moment you bring up the white-man’s mistakes, you are immediately pushed into a corner and left to die. Even though my mother and I may be fair-skinned, everyone else in our family is VERY dark. Albeit, the moment you hang around Indians in this country, you are either hatefully called, “Indian-lover!” or you are automatically bunched into the “Indian” caravan by the white-man, no matter if you have lineal proof or not.
To the white man, an Indian is an Indian. A white man pretending to be an Indian is just considered confused; but the white man knows an Indian when he sees one. My mother was consistently pulled into the principal’s office simply to be told that she would never make it, and that she should just become a secretary, because she would never be able to go to college. Yes, even though she got fine enough grades that she graduated and went on to college, the light-skinned Indian was still chosen out of the other children to be degraded and verbally abused by those who she should have been able to trust. The same thing happened to me when I was in school. I was always a straight-A student, but I just refused to make eye-contact with my teachers. Thus, I was often punished and was told to put my head down on the table, or was forced to run a couple mile laps around the school in the freezing rain. Yes, even though I am fair-skinned, to the white man, I am just another damn Indian, and they were still trying to “kill the Indian, and save the man”. This all happened when I was very young. Later on in middle-school, I was often sent to detention because of the same reasons (even though I was all A’s and B’s). I hung around the dark-skinned kids, and the all-white teachers didn’t like this very much. They used to pull me aside and tell me that I shouldn’t hang around with those sort of kids, and that they were a bad influence on me. I never listened. These people understood me, because they had struggled like I had, and they saw that the light-skinned Indian wasn’t even half white, even though he looked it. Eventually, I ended up being able to “un-school” myself, when my mom and I had to move away from our home state. I went on to finish up all of my high school curriculum so quickly that I began to take college classes even before I had graduated. By this time, I saw that even though I was fair-skinned, I would never be a white man.
This is only a small portion of my story, and the story of many of my brothers and sisters who are considered “less than Indian” by the federal government, and sometimes by their own people. I know how it feels to be disconnected from my culture because of the color of my skin, but I encourage you to never give up. You are an Indian! Be proud about it, and fight for your ancestors like they fought for you. Our ancestors fought and died so that we could be alive, the least we can do is honor them the way they would have wanted, and fight for the coming generations of American Indians so that they do not feel displaced as many of we have.
I will end by quoting one of the twenty-points made by the American Indian Movement while they were on their “Trail of Broken Treaties” caravan heading towards the BIA offices in Washington D.C.:
#11: Restoration of Rights to Indians Terminated by Enrollment and Revocation of Prohibition Against “Dual Benefits”: An end to minimum standards of “tribal blood” for citizenship in any Indian nation, which serves to keep people with mixed Indian ancestors from claiming either heritage.
Micah is a Blackfoot Indian of the Siksika Nation. His mother and grandparents raised him traditionally, so it has always been his above-most goal to honor his ancestors in any way possible. He enjoys writing, doing beadwork, preserving his people’s language and of course, loves to cook fry bread.