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Everyone Wants to Be an Indian, But Nobody Wants to Be an Indian

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The title is paraphrased from a comic bit from the legendary Paul Mooney. He actually said "Everyone wants to be Black but, no one wants to be Black." By that he meant that people from other cultures like to take bits and pieces from Black culture but don't want the experience of being part of that culture. I think it applies to Native culture today more than ever and it is worth asking the question, why?

One reason is buying into the fantasy. Some people see Native culture as a quick and easy path to a spirituality that is lacking in their own lives. The old way was to recognize the spirit world and those who lived within it as coexisting with this world all of the time. This is a foreign concept to those who are taught to commune with the spirits only on certain days under the direction of a priest or pastor in a fixed place of worship. People like this seek to mimic ceremony and ritual but, still miss the point that one can live along side the spirit world constantly. In the end, they are just going through the motions and not lending respect where it is due.

Another aspect of this is the warrior fantasy where people liken themselves to be the fearless and stoic Native warrior. These people tend to ignore that fact that most of the famous warriors who opposed the American policy of Indian eradication were medicine people, farmers, hunters and ordinary citizens of their nations and became warriors out of necessity. These people seek to boost their sense of self worth rather than protecting their people or way of life. We can see this in the sports fans and teams that say they honor Natives but only perpetuate the myth of the "noble savage."

Another reason lies in the idea that Indians have an innate link to nature that is coveted by the modern "environmentalist". This is just another extension of the "noble savage" myth. The old ways taught that one should coexist with the other nations on earth. The four leggeds, the creepy crawlers, the fish, the fliers, the stones, they were all seen as having their own instructions for living in this life. This is a foreign concept to one who is taught that the land and it's inhabitants must be dominated and made to be productive for the purpose of human comfort. The modern environmentalists talk about conservation but it always comes down to a matter of resources rather than seeing the whole as a system that depends on all living and non living things doing what nature intended them to do. Being a vegetarian doesn't mean that you have a greater respect for life, it just means that you prefer to consume one life form over the other.

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The prevailing reason, though, is material gain. The myth in this country is that once you are a documented Indian, you are not obligated to pay taxes or you can get wealthy from gaming. Most Natives know that this is the furthest from truth that you can get. There is absolutely no economic advantage in actually being Native American. That doesn't stop people who have the most miniscule ties to an actual nation from trying to cash in on it though. There are many tribes and bands vying for Federal recognition that are actually European descendents because the grant money is good. It's easy for them to masquerade as Native because it was their ancestors who displaced the actual Indians.

There is also a huge economic advantage in playing an Indian for the crowd. There have always been people who make money selling the image without living the life. Cher, Patti Davis (Ronald Reagan's daughter), Kathie Lee Gifford, Val Kilmer, Jack Dempsey, Farrah Fawcett, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce and even Oprah all claim Native descent. There are tons more because it is the fashionable thing to do. How many of these people have ever stood up for Native rights? When newscasters and talk show hosts look for the Indian point of view, where are they? While our women face domestic violence here in America and outright murder in Canada why are they silent? It's simply because, everyone wants to be Native but no one wants to be Native.

Mark Rogers is a citizen of the Montaukett and Matinecock Nations located in Long Island, New York, where he is known as Toyupahs Cuyahnu (Crazy Turtle). He has served as a grassroots activist in the African American and Native communities and is a proud veteran NCO of the U.S. Army Reserves Medical Corps. He is presently working on a writing career and seeks to aid fellow veterans through his writing.