Wednesday, October 18, 2006

“I am part Native American”

In recent weeks there has been an increase in comments to my blog. For the most part, I’ve left the comments alone as a place for dialog among readers to take place. Periodically, I will respond to a specific comment or set of comments.

Today I want to respond to a recurring phrase, in which someone says “I am part Native American” and then goes on to make his/her point.

To those who say that here or elsewhere, I urge you to be specific. It is critical that people learn that the phrases “Native American” or “American Indian” are very broad, encompassing over 500 different tribes, each one different from the next.

A lot of people write to me, asking if they should use "American Indian" or "Native American" or "Indian" in their teaching. I write back, saying that best practice is to specify the tribe. If you're a teacher in New Mexico, best practice is to teach your students about the American Indians of New Mexico. Apache. Dine (Navajo). Pueblo.

Do your part in working responsibly to help everyone know more about who we are. Be explicit. State your tribe.


Muffin said...

I apologize, I left a comment without specifying... I know, and sometimes I forget others don't :). I meant to say: I am part Cherokee. Sorry for the miscommunication!

Unknown said...

I have come across this post and felt like posting a response.
When someone tells me that they are part Indian I say "oh yeah, which part?"
I have an understanding that what you feel comfortable with being referred to as is really a personal preference. I am Lipan Apache and Ojibwa. That is how I introduce myself when I go into classrooms and share my culture.
Personally, I am offended to be called a Native American. To me it is a slap in the face. Really, it hasn't been that long since we have even been considered Americans and to put that label is sort of a slap in the face. "Hey we took your land using trickery and tried to kill you all off but I guess now we will call you Americans since we can't extinguish you." Again, this is my opinion and I know not everyone will agree. I do prefer the term Indian or American Indian for the sole reason that the root word indios means closest to God. I do believe that those of us who do practice our spiritual ways are closest to the Creator.


John Bird said...

I am a nephew of Hanay Geigomah,and to say the least,very proud of our family.25% seems small,to proclaim being a native,yet I am,and still look it.We live different lives,mine music,his Theatre and College,yet we still maintain a very good,yet distant relationship.Im Irish and Italian as well,yet Im recognized as a native,still freaks me out!Sometimes my influences from the other cultures inside preside overwhelmingly,I have to play house with each,drives my wife crazy,she and others dont understand being mixed is very difficult at times,yet very interesting at times,I love it!My music is a creation of the three cultural influences,both colorful and vibrant.If there is one thing I can say,im assuming being part native,and the others,life never seems to stop interesting me,I am beautiful,and know it!!!!!!

Matthew J. Martinez said...

I saw a great t-shirt the other day that said

"I'm part white but can't prove it."

The Bear Maiden said...

I know this is way late. Way way late -- like by a year and it may not even be seen. But I have to say something, because as someone who is "part Native", it took me a looooong time to figure out "which part". Those Natives who are mixed with African may not know their tribe, without some serious digging, for the simple fact that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers (and fathers) simply refused to speak of it. We became "Black" through a series of quiet and undercover injustices, and are often faced with the statement "You're Black. Stop trying to act like you're not" from our own brothers and cousins when you try to include the other aspects of your heritage.

In my own family, who I am wasn't revealed to me really until a.) several of my elders died or b.) went senile and felt a little more open about disclosing information.

It was embarrassing, when I first started going to Pow Wows and be asked "What's your nation?" and then have to answer "I don't know. I only know I'm 'part'. Grandmother was supposedly half" or something similar. At Schemitzun the other day, I was joking with someone about the fact that you look at old family photos of elders with red skin and black wavy hair and wonder, "Um, what part of Africa is THAT?"

Then of course, learning *how* to dig and where to look is a whole other ballgame, cuz it's not like you can just go look in the county records or on if you don't know what you're searching for. Both African Americans and Native Americans have strong traditions of oral history-keeping, but if nobody's talking, how can you know? All you have is the whispered rumor.

But I learned how to dig, and I try to tell others how to dig.

And so now I can say, with some certainty (but not 100%) that I am African and Cherokee and Nottoway (Cheroenhaka) and Seminole. With some Irish and Scottish and French thrown in.

Anonymous said...

I am descended from Europeans who came to this land in the early part of the 1600's. I am sad when I see ugly comments about "my" people. It was apparently okay to kill the immigrants then, but now immigrants must be treated with sensitivity, even while killing US.
It's funny how the Native Americans have such strong feelings about "their" land being taken, but supposedly were above such smallness as ownership.
I may also be part Native American, but after seeing the negative remarks on here, I don't know if I want to be.
Selective history - selective memories....forgetting what those evil whites brought to "your" land?