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!

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).

Alex Haley’s Red “Roots”

According to this page (text-search him — no matter what Google’s cache says, he’s there!), the author who in his famous book traced African roots and heritage, also claimed Cherokee ancestry.  Cool twice over!  Whatever one may say about the book or the man, God be good to him.

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.)