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!

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.)

How long have Europeans been here more-or-less continuously?

This Wikipedia article reminds me that it’s probably been pretty much 1,000 years, not just since 1492.  Leif Erikson and Co. didn’t just visit.  There were Norse settlements in Greenland and coastal northeastern Canada from around AD 1000.  They first settled in Greenland in 984, the original Norse settlements disappearing, possibly to malnutrition, “by the late 1400s.”  Seasonal settlements seem to have dotted coastal Canada starting not long after 984, and tantalizing evidence is that Norse visited and traded even farther down the coast, into New England, and less credibly, even farther south.  In the same late 1400s, Spanish, Portuguese, Basque, and French fishermen started seasonally fishing Canadian  Maritime waters once again, making use of coastal lands in doing so, soon after Spanish and Portuguese ‘rediscovered’ the Americas, farther south.

When you think about it, it’s doubtful that Vikings didn’t have intimate relations with Native women, by force or voluntarily, so they may have even left behind Mixed-Blood descendants among the Aboriginal populations here.  So even when Europeans seemed to disappear from here, in a sense they may not have.

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!