Part I: 'You Guys Are All Still Alive?' and Other Outrageous Things People Say to Natives

Part I: 'You Guys Are All Still Alive?' and Other Outrageous Things People Say to Natives

People say some pretty awful shit to Native Americans -- wittingly or unwittingly. It's not uncommon for people to ask about living in teepees or spirit animals or Indian names. Hell, some people are so audacious and brazen that they outright ask an Indian how they, too, can be enrolled or recognized as a Native. With patience, eloquence and humor, we respond. But sometimes you can't help but snap: "You've got to be kidding me. Is that a serious question?" So, here is Part One of some of the most outrageous and WTF?-type things people have said to four prominent Native Americans.

1. Mike "Witko" Cliff is an artist and activist from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He recently appeared on MTV World's Rebel Music Native America

Photo courtesy Terrance Clifford

"So there was a point in time when we recorded [music] in the closet of a small Santa Fe, New Mexico apartment. We lived above a wasicu [white] couple with no kids, and they were fairly young. The husband, a friendly guy from New Jersey, would come up and hang out with us from time to time. He was always polite. The more comfortable he became he would start to ask us to keep it down so his wife could sleep. We always complied politely. Down the road he came out and told us that his wife threatens to kick him out and he comes up to hang with us so she would calm down. This wasicu guy, the week we are moving out finally just opens up. He expressed his opinion about world history. He knew all about the Indian Wars, all the way down to picking out his hero in the 7th Cavalry. Going on, he asks if I think badly of Abe Lincoln. He tells me Abe is his all time idol. So I ask him if he's ever heard about the Sioux Uprising or the Dakota 38. He says, 'Yes.' And then he went on trying to tell me why Abe is his all time hero, trying to win my approval. We found out his wife and her family were completely racist and his wife worked for government assistance. Which is why she could not stand for Native American 'rappers' breathing above her. The reason I choose to tell you this is because ignorance is an epidemic amongst Americans. They choose to ignore facts and reality because it diminishes everything they stand for and believe in. I realized no matter how long I lived above that couple they would never come to an agreement with me solely because of my ancestry and where I come from."

2. Matika Wilbur, Swinomish and Tulalip, is a photographer and the creator of Project 562, a campaign to photograph the more than 566 federally and unfederally recognized tribes in the U.S. Wilbur has appeared in the New York Timesand on CNN and NBC

Photo courtesy Matika Wilbur

"Here's a good one: 'So you're [Project 562] is government funded, right?' Me: 'Why would you ask that?' 'Well because I thought that all Indians lived off the government for free, which is why the government set up casinos for them, to help them get more money.' .... Also, in France: 'If I sleep with you will I be blessed forever? I read that you are the creator's people, and anybody that beds you gets connection with the great spirit.' And in Germany: 'Do you think I could buy your hair? We need Indian hair for our Indian ceremonies.' .... When a friend was considering visiting my mom's house: 'Will I need a cot?' Me: 'For what?' 'For sleeping in the teepee?'"

3. Frank Waln, Sicangu Lakota, is an activist and award-winning hip-hop artist. He recently appeared on MTV's Rebel Music Native America

Photo courtesy Amanda Cheromiah

"One time, a girl on the elevator of my dorm in Chicago asked me, 'You guys are still alive?' after finding out I [am] Native."

4. Tara Houska, Ojibwe, is a tribal attorney in Washington, D.C., and a frequent commentator on the Washington team name topic. In September, Houska appeared on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Photo courtesy Tara Houska

"After being asked, 'What are you?' and explaining I [am] Native (after first answering 'a person'), the guy then proceeded to say, 'Aren't you guys supposed to be extinct, though?' ... [Another time], a saleslady walks up: 'Are you a Native American?' Me: 'I am.' 'Well,' she said, 'if you didn't wear your hair like that you could totally pass for Hispanic'."