What kind of insult is “Aborigine”?

Unless in the minds of Whites like Scott Beason, and Black American politicians, Native Americans are inferior to both, in the USA’s “racial hierarchy.” Or perhaps Australian Aborigines are? But late Native American scholar Jack Forbes (an extremely distant cousin of mine) theorized that most historic USA Blacks have Indian ancestry, and proposed research into the ‘Red Roots’ of much of Black culture. Even before I read him, I’d heard that 40 percent of Black Americans know of Indian ancestors … which suggested to me that a majority at least had them.

It’s also curious to me that Beason seems to allow that people who aren’t identified as “Indians” here can still be “Aborigines.” That’s almost a Canadian (Horrors!) usage of the word: They use “Aboriginal” as an umbrella term for Indians, Inuit (aka Eskimos), and Metis. What a concept!

Lumbee Indians near Federal Recognition

That’s Heather Locklear‘s tribe.*  They believe they do it by swearing-off casinos they say they’ve never been interested in anyway.  Like my Nanticokes and many other East Coast tribes who’ve borne the brunt of the colonization of what is currently the U.S. the longest, Lumbees have been heavily intermarried for many generations. 

Issues around racialism, after 518 years of European-American politician and governmental influence and oppression, have unfortunately penetrated parts of America’s Native community also, hence the references in some WWW comments to certain Tribes or individuals as Black or White or “Wannabes,” attempting to deny their Indianness.  This is despite the claim of U.S. “Indian Law” and every Federally-Recognized Tribe that their Sovereignty gives them the inherent right to regulate their citizenship just like any other nation; tragically this basic U.S. law is contradicted by other laws, such as Congressionally-supported regulatory Recognition criteria requiring a nearly-Amish level of endogamy thruout the Tribe’s recorded history, and remaining in a small geographical area, despite the violent, racist, anti-Indigenous, economic, and cultural pressures of the Settler polities.  (Their own Common Law stipulates that a criminal should not profit from his crime, yet these crimes go studiously and dishonorably unpunished in a tradition as old as British settlement here.)

Anyway, Many Years to the Lumbee Nation!  And their website!

*–(Locklear is a frequent surname among Lumbees.)

Black Indians at Smithsonian

Specifically, the National Museum of the American Indian.  Fascinating, maddening, enlightening, racist and anti-racist, historical and anti-historical discussion among the Comments, too!

Here’s the exhibit’s website.

Speaking as a controverted Nanticoke (who doesn’t qualify for Indian Assn. membership at this time AFAIK) who also likes his Irish background too, the U.S. Metis Identity movement looks more and more appealing….

Light-skinned Mixed-Blood harassed on IHS clinic staff

But a dense Federal Appeals Court ruling doesn’t seem to get it!

What if it was the NAACP discriminating against a light-skinned Black employee?  In recent years they had one in charge, so maybe they don’t, but one other member of the Court panel might have been swayed by substituting Black for Indian ISTM.  Indians’ and Mixed-Bloods’ issues aren’t taken seriously in America; actually they’re only starting to be taken more seriously in Canada.

Even in the pages of Indian Country Today it seems open season on Mixed-Bloods.  In America you always must be either/or … maybe, like Fr. Andrew Greeley and David Tracy say, it’s that [sectarian] Protestant “dialectical imagination” rather than the Catholic “analogical imagination” for both/and.  The constant questioning and attacking and innuendoes and doubts are a real plague for us, and divide an Indigenous community that really can’t afford it.  U.S. Mixed-Bloods need a place where they can safely be who they are and know themselves to be and faithful to what’s been handed down to them by their forebears.  Yes, I know I look like the oppressor, but I am not, I never have been, and neither have any of my ancestors, and in fact once you go back about a thousand years if not sooner, we all have the same number of individual Indian ancestors, so the (unconstitutional, racist) “Blood Quantum” is a wash, if you really want to go that way!

I note the dissenting Appellate Judge was a woman, the majority two men.  (One with the CV of an Irish Catholic, which only goes to show you that’s not always a guarantee of social justice!  She’s a Clinton appointee; the men were appointed by Bush I and II respectively.)  Is it possible a woman brings necessary extra “experiences,” sensitivities, “biases,” to questions of “hostile workplaces”?  [You GO, Justice Sotomayor!!!]

This isn’t to say “Get over it,” at all.  (This is personal now, obviously.)  I grew up lower-working-class, without much known Irish OR Native culture or connections.  I would like more now, especially the Native because it’s HERE, in North America, where I have spent every moment of my life, and to which I have a special attachment since I’ve been learning more about my Native background.  If I ever am able-bodied again, I’d like to do more, too, even help.  But folks like me, “the 7th generation” perhaps?, need your help, humbly seek your help.  Why can’t it be a mutual give-and-take?  I didn’t grow up “On The Rez;” I grew up urban Poor Overextended “White” Trash, OK?  Sure, I won’t get called lazy by White South Dakota farmer-settlers at first glance, and I’m not proud for not speaking up when I heard that; but they were hosting me for the night, free of charge, and I had no other options at that time in my life … and it was July … you know what I’m talking about there, July in Dakota….  Anyway, WANNABE” STANDS FOR WHITE AND NATIVE NORTH AMERICAN BY EXOGAMY!  (I wanna claim the rights to that expression, but I don’t want to restrict its dissemination, so if you ever meet me, keep that in mind, ’cause I could really use the money….)

In any case, was that poor woman counseling at that clinic because it pays so well?!!  That’s not what I hear.  Probably she could’ve gotten much better pay and benefits elsewhere, even Passing For White, or not: Some Whites have more regard for someone being “part-Indian” than some Indians it seems.  But she stayed there 11 years, helping kids, the next generation, while enduring that racist crap from her own people.  She herself seems to be an elder — Worse yet!  This is the Appeals verdict, including Dissent (PDF).  I wish her lawyers had demanded proof/testimony of the faxing of a copy of her original EEOC complaint by and from the EEOC to the Clinic, supposedly within minutes of her filing it; then if the Clinic couldn’t produce it, nor reasonable cause why not, there might’ve been a question of withheld or destroyed evidence in discovery — very nasty for them, and helpful for her case.  One would wish Ms. Nettle had taken notes of the harrassment she received — names, dates, verbiage used; but good-faith employees aren’t always looking to build a case against someone until it’s too late — management has the built-in advantage: they can fire you, you can’t fire them.  But the male judges don’t see that in questioning her very Indianness they were directly attacking her employment there, because of the legal preference for “Indian” hires; these aren’t run-of-the-mill skin-color disparagement insults, so to speak.  They DO “alter her conditions of employment,” in a very technical sense of the term: presumably her skin color didn’t change much between 1993 and 2004!  It was OK enough to hire her, but not OK to make her feel welcome when she first arrived at least, and for her last 5 years there.  Because her employment was under what I must refer to as a racio/legal preference system, these insults struck directly at her continuing employment there, as well as any future employment anywhere else where they’d ask, What happened at the Clinic?  Maybe their job descriptions should state clearly, Must look like a Hollywood Injun!  “Hostile work environment”?: How about one where you might be fired because of how you look?  Isn’t that what EEOC and civil rights laws are all about?!!!  If not, My God, what!  Even “jokes” pile up after 11 years, especially “race” jokes!  And I’m not even a lawyer, though I was a Shop Steward.  The male judges, Republican appointees, just don’t get it, and as usual, analyze a complaint to pieces unjustly.  (What the Dissent goes on to call disparagingly, “divide-and-conquer analysis”!)

It is interesting to see “light-skinned Native Americans … in a protected legal class” though, even from the GOP!  Though only they would consider loss of some pay or benefits NOT “an adverse action”: She wasn’t a volunteer!!!  What I really wish is that she had a union in there, with a Shop Steward and a collective bargaining agreement — They’re present in many nonprofit workplaces.  When I was a Steward (in admittedly very different circumstances), I spent most of my time having complaints from my members bounced off me; most of the time management was allowed to do what was complained of (I inherited a lousy contract), but we at least cultivated a Shop where these things were talked up, evidence gathered for when Grievances were eventually filed in other cases. 

I have to question the competence of her counsel also, though her only appeal from here, within the U.S. system, would be to the still-GOP-dominated Supreme Court; although it’s possible even they would feel the need to send the case back to District Court for a full trial (This was only “summary judgment”), since there are so many holes in the Appellate Majority’s reasoning (if it can even be called that).

2010 Census: Part-Indians, Part-Blacks, etc.

After looking over this 2001 story from a fine journalistic publication that maybe needs a new name(!!), IOTM that ‘traditional’ Census-Indians and Census-Blacks are poorer, disempowered, oppressed, discriminated against, etc., raising the question whether an increasing number of ‘non-traditionals’ laying claim to their Mixed Race Ancestry skews the demographics in ways that harm the discriminated-against, darker-skinned Americans?  (The same thing has been happening in Canada.)  ‘Ah, yes, Indians have now made it into Scarsdale, Redmond, Beverly Hills, West Palm Beach, so we don’t have to worry about them anymore!’

I ask this of myself too (as I did last May).  For logistical reasons I was not counted in the 2000 Census, but in 1990, feeling cheeky, I wrote myself down as Native American, in the only choice allowed me before 2000’s multiple-choice Census.  (Though I wasn’t living in a particularly upscale neighborhood at the time.  [I’ve been growing slowly in my Native self-consciousness since my mother informed me of it in the early ’70s … more quickly since I got on the Internet in the late ’90s!])

Ironically, this is the flip-side of a concern voiced by some Black leaders in the runup to 2000 — that traditional Census-Blacks claiming other races or ethnicities might dilute their political strength.  Remember that Congressional, State, and Local legislative and election districts are re-drawn every ten years in part on the basis of race (along with Party registration, neighborhood voting habits, income, etc.) — including Federal-Court-ordered “majority-minority” districts to redress racist housing segregation or exclusionary zoning.  So this isn’t just about paid-up membership in the NAACP.

Maybe those of us interested in claiming additional identities officially besides the one (North) America thinks we belong to, for which we don’t suffer as much from (North) America actively anymore [I’m choosing my words carefully here], should assert a specifically Mixed i.d., distinct from African-American or Native American or whatever — standing totally in solidarity with our oppressed cousins, whatever our internal disagreements.

What term or terms to use?  Metis, to those who have ever heard of it, usually connotes French-Canadian-Indian, although the term, as I have reported, historically and again now increasingly has broader usage.  Mestizo, again to those who have heard of it in the U.S., usually connotes a Spanish-Indian Mix somewhere in the family tree, although some have tried to apply it also to us Eastern U.S. “tri-racial isolates” (a term we have traditionally eschewed).  Mulatto is usually thought to mean a Black-White Mix, although Jack Forbes believes that historically it was mostly Black-Indian.  It’s said Forbes tried to broaden the local (colonial Carolina and New Jersey) term Mustee/Mestee* to cover all us “tri-racials.”  I once toyed with the equivalent Irish Gaelic term, Meascach, at least in regard to myself.  Some folks at the National American Metis Association have used the historic English Halfbreed or even its historic contraction ‘Breed, though my question here is what if my Native blood quantum — a racist, racialist, and unconstitutional category in the U.S. — is less than “Half”?  I haven’t seen anybody trying to revive the terms Quadroon and Octoroon, or any of the dozen or more other historical terms Forbes chronicles!

We could unite on a term like Mixed Aboriginal, going on to specify the Mix we wish to claim for ourselves on that same line on the Census form, eg, “Mixed Aboriginal: Irish and Nanticoke Indian.”  Except apparently the 2010 form won’t accommodate such a thing; see this 1.7MB PDF, and when it opens, go up in what is usually the page number box in the Reader toolbar and type “Sec1:5” without spaces or quote marks, then hit Enter/Return.  We get only 17 letters and spaces.  [I’m sure someone tried hard, but this is not well-designed even generally speaking.  What if someone is both Asian and Pacific Islander, as many traditionally-“Asian/Pacific Islanders” are?  What if they’re more than one “other race (sic)”?: Jewish, Arab, Turkish, Kurdish, Iranian/Persian, Azeri/Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Indigenous Siberian, Tatar, Chechen, Aboriginal Australian?  By some estimates Armenians and Georgians are Asian too.  Many of these are small groups in this country, but it could happen!]

Yup, the 2010 Census discriminates against us ‘Breeds: Part-Indians, Half-Blacks, part-Whites, whatever, wanting to claim “All My Relations”!  They want to break us into tiny little pieces!  Actually it wants to break down traditional Census-Blacks and Census-Indians, hoping to be done with legal or political obligations to them.  That’s called genocide, the same old story. 


(*–I believe it’s pronounced mis-TEE, derived from the same French, Spanish, and Latin words like Metis [formerly, Mestis and Mestif] and Mestizo.)

The U.S. Metis dilemma

Reading about Obama’s goals for Native policy reminds me of the dilemma faced by Mixed-Blood Indians within the United States who may be luckier (for now) than our Indian-identified cousins: In some ways we would wish, like our brothers and sisters within Canada, to receive some kind of recognition under U.S. law, considering that many of our communities antedate 1776, or the later U.S. conquest / cession of our territories.  But doing so could detract from the material help so many other Indians and Tribes receive from Washington, which is already far from enough, reflecting continuing illegal and genocidal policies and negligence on the part of the American government.  This was pointed out to me in recent years by one or more U.S. Métis groups like this one.

What’s the goal of “recognition” if not money, reservations, casinos, etc.?  Most basically, the government-to-government relationship of co-sovereigns.  Beyond that, influence in U.S. policy that concerns us and even our Indian cousins.  One thing not commonly mentioned in the U.S. is non-Treaty aboriginal rights, such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering, when such rights have not been ceded by Treaty.  But even “Federal recognition” as currently set up takes decades, sometimes generations, and to add hundreds of non- (or semi-)Indian-identifying Indigenous communities to that process would probably bring it crashing down!

Some US Metis spokespersons even say non-Indian-identifying Metis who are currently luckier than our Indian-identifying cousins shouldn’t seek individual recognition, Tribal membership / citizenship, for similar reasons, but instead should join one of the newly-forming Metis groups.  But, at least since the ’60s, Tribal membership is sometimes seen to have a certain cachet, especially for those of us separated by miles and/or generations from our Native roots.  (Sure, if we don’t “look Indian,” and society doesn’t maltreat us like it does those who do….)  This is a little like Black-activist objections to the mixed-race option introduced in the 2000 Census, fearing Whites will perceive a smaller Black community and belittle their aspirations for equality and social justice and fairness – “divide and conquer.”  In fact, a majority of historic African-Americans have also Native American and European ancestries, just as most persons with Native American ancestries also have European and/or African ancestries now, and more European-Americans than realize it – especially Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch – have African and/or Native American and/or South or Southwest Asian ancestries.  (BTW, most non-Latinos don’t realize that most Latinos have substantial Native American ancestry, either.)  And more than a few Indian-identified persons treat Metis as “wannabe’s,” rather than “are’s.”  The fact is that America usually treats you based on what you look like … unless they know that there’s more to you than what you look like, and then they mistreat you on that basis!  So by no means should equality, fairness, social justice continue to be denied somebody, simply because he or she doesn’t meet the deniers’ traditional definition of this or that.

OTOH, in Canada at least, Metis often share Indians’ problems with health, poverty, and discrimination.  It might be interesting to investigate whether American Metis are worse-off in these ways than any of their non-Indian cousins, and perhaps more like their Indian cousins in this regard than currently suspected.

If Mixed-Blood profile, roots, and culture(s) could be raised in this country, their groups might be able to take pressure off needy Native communities.  Indians or Tribes could help with this perhaps.  But as currently understood here, no Metis group as such has any claim on the U.S. (except perhaps the couple cheated out of “Halfbreed Reservations” promised in Indian [sic] Treaties in the Midwest), and so like the group linked above, their aspirations are mostly less tangible and more voluntary.

The other thing is that Halfbreedness in the US has been mostly a highly-localized phenomenon, somewhat below-the-radar, with few if any of the larger kinds of groups, communities, and cultures that developed in what is now Canada – even a couple short-lived regional Republics in the Plains!  (This Wikipedia piece, while somewhat semi-comprehensive, focuses on the Plains Metis of Canada, especially their French-derived; this one, on what might be called Plains British-derived Metis; these links provide a bare hint that there are Metis in and rooted in Central and Eastern Canada; this site seeks to do much better, as does this oneThis document suggests that at one point ALL QUEBEC could be considered a Metis Reserve, and this long and quirky but rewarding one, that most French-Canadians are in fact Metis, “Creole [continental] North America,” not-quite-White, not-quite-French!)  As the links in parentheses indicate, Metis have a higher profile in Canadian history than here.  In fact it has been documented that many of the ‘border tribes’ the US warred with, stretching from the Great Lakes to Texas, were in fact Mixed-Blood Nations.  And many “White” cities from the Midwest to the Northwest were founded by Metis, even Francophones, even immigrants from Canada.  But in US historiography – as in fiction, movies, TV shows, etc. – ” ‘Breeds” usually have to choose between Native and Settler peoples.  [How many Old West cowboys were Metis / Mestizo???]  And so we have more than 200 relatively-tiny, loosely-organized communities in the Eastern U.S., identified around 1960 by Brewton Berry in Almost White, and by others before and since, most with a tradition of Native roots as well as Old World(!), most of whose neighbors seek to deny them any origins sounding more ‘exotic’ than mixed-Black-and-White: Nanticokes, “Turks,” “Portuguese,” Brass Ankles, Redbones, “Blackfoot Cherokee,” Melungeons, “Moors,” etc etc etc.  (OTOH, it’s highly likely that many of the early-modern Blacks and Whites invoked, had acquired Indian ancestry too, since Indians were enslaved as part of the Greater-Atlantic Slave Trade since the 1400s or earlier [sic], according to Powhatan-Renape / Lenape Metis Jack Forbes.)  And culturally, often these have been forced ‘underground,’ to largely assimilate to surrounding White or Black communities – though always retaining a certain distinctiveness, even if often uncertain to others or even themselves or their kin, or “hidden in plain sight” – unlike the ingenious blended Euro-Indian culture(s) of Metis in Canada.

THEN AGAIN, this US group thinks the solution isn’t to go along with the problem, but to challenge it head-on – “apply directly to the forehead,” so to speak! – not by simply joining the competition for a small or even shrinking pie, but with greater numbers to get the pie enlarged!  (They do perceive a need in the US Metis community similar to that in the Native-identified community.)  By some estimates one in three people in the U.S. has Native ancestry!  Imagine THAT Mixed-Blood Nation – 100 million registered voters!

In true Native fashion, one wants to honor “All My Relations.”  But how to do that – ah, that is politics!