Because of sovereignty and self determination status, along with tax, health, educational and social benefits, one of the most prized possessions in American Indian life is recognition. Next to tribal identity, to belong to a recognized tribe is the most coveted state of American citizenship. To gain state or federal recognition as an indigenous tribe of the United States, among other requirements, applicants must provide evidence of unbroken descent from a historic Amerindian group.
Although proving continuity with cultural practices can be daunting, both state and federal recognition processes are dissimilar. The Federal recognition process is exceedingly more invasive. Not all tribes can successfully survive the gauntlet of scrutiny. It is not unusual for some folks to borrow traditions or fabricate immaculate revelations as part of "an ancient ancestral practice". At stake may be a mythical golden self sufficient road to gleaming casinos that often rise out of the skyline like a Disney mirage. This goal, however, is even more difficult than current gambling concerns think since an established reservation or land held in trust may be a part of the federal requirements. For some, gambling is an acceptable device. After all, wasn't Jamestown, (and by default, America) started by the Great Virginia gambling Lotteries of 17th century London?
The irony not missed by many Natives is that some governmental bureaucrats, often the beneficiaries of conquest, must decide weather or not you are what you say that you are genetically. Private citizens may identify with whomever they please. However, traditionally, you can only be "Indian" in the eyes of the law if some state appointed commission approves your tribe's petition. Although states may call upon an appointed body of commissioners as part of the recognition process, the most prized or elite recognition is processed by the Beaureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Successful applicants to the BIA are called "Feddies". Members of these lucky tribes act like the upper class of American Indian society. Some Feddies, having gained the prized BIA blessings, often look down on both state recognized and un-recognized Indians as "wannabes". One of their favorite slights. "Heinz-57" is another term describing mixed bloods.
I had the fortune to be a private citizen and extended observer at some of these very contentious recognition hearings. Observed was a case where one unhinged tribal applicant almost physically attacked a female state appointed commissioner with whom he disagreed.
Here below is a composite dramatized animal story of one process of recognition pursued by a fictional group. Resemblance to any human persons is coincidental.
The Eagle & the Crow
|"This still does't make you an Eagle."|
The Caucus Room
Once upon a time, Chief Bald Eagle, a full blood, headed a large nest of American Eagles. He called a meeting that included Crow and Chickadee.
Chief Eagle: "Get Crow in here!"
Chickadee: "Yes, Boss."
Crow: "Sent for me sir?"
Chief Eagle: "What the hell is this? Some civilian says here you are not an Eagle! You a Dodo, Crow? I don't know of any crow-Eagles."
Hands Crow a letter.
Crow reads the letter. Face feathers turn pink.
Crow: "My mother wasn't an Eagle... But I am a Spiritualist Eagle."
Chief Eagle: "Christ! That makes you a crow, Crow. Nothing to be ashamed of. Don't make us look stupid, asshole! Get DNA.
... Take care of this!"
Chief Eagle hands Crow the letter to investigate himself.
Unable to definitively provide proof of Eagle DNA kinship to raptors within a 500 mile area from his believed homeland, Crow reverted to the Eagle's Adam & Eve scenario.
Crows had a history of migrating from other continents. Their Eagle pedigree was fictional. However, in Crow's case, Adam was an albino Hawk and Eve was a Blackbird, but this still didn't make him an Eagle. Besides, officials at the Bureau of Eagle Affairs (BEA) determined that Crow's petition to be an eagle was invalid since "most of the members of the applicant's tribe had no more 'Raptor blood' in them than the average bird in the state." Since the time of The Great Invasion, confusion abounded. Birds either flew away, or in the case of the flightless Dodo, walked off never to return. Laying eggs in other bird's nests became epidemic and the BEA had to separate the eagle chicks from the chumps. The campaign was called "Chicks for Chumps".
The above scenario is not common to all petitioners. Most birds who pass BEA muster have proof of unbroken lineage to recognized historic Eagle nests. Even if as eggs, they may have mistakenly ended up in the wrong nest since crows sometimes lay eggs in other bird's nests. Crow's "proof" of Eagleness was, however, more Biblical than actual. Not what the BEA looks for since wearing sacred eagle feathers doesn't necessarily make a crow an eagle.
Crow: Mumbling to himself. "DNA? &$@FK!!! Oh, copulate me!"
Beads of sweat begin to undo Crow's processed feathers. The crow took the letter and begins to plot a witch-hunt. A kinky locks fell from a balding yellow forehead, cutting across blue Mongoloid crow's eyes.
"Got to get the heat off me. How the 'FK' do I redirect? Who can I scapegoat?"
Crow paused then jumped for joy... "Those bastards on the Eagle Commission, Duck and Cohonk, voted for my dim witted cousins to be the first recognized Eagle tribe in our state. I bet the governor will approve recognition. Bovine excrement! They are just a bunch of gigaboos posing as Eagles. I will out those uncircumcised Eagle Commissioners!
"Wait. I am a government employee and I can't go after the public for tribal gain. Ahah! I will get my rabid cousin, Coony to do it. That alki owes me one."
The Witch Hunt
Crow's cousin, Coony Auraccoon organized two carloads of his mutant blackbird relatives and headed for BEA Commissioner Cohonk's tribal center 400 miles away. Cohonk was chosen as the easy target since Commissioner Duck had cited connections to an extinct tribal group. Arriving in a cloud of dust, Coony knocked on the door of a trailer scrawled with a sign, "Eagle Trading Post".
Coony: "Is the chief in?"
Possum #1: From behind a squeaky screen door. "No. Gone to New Jersey."
Coony: "Is the asss-istant chief in?" He stuttered.
Possum #1: Assistant Chief Muskrat is down by the fishing hole."
"What the hell these blackbirds want?" She murmured to herself with a suspicious air.
Coony: Stumbling down the step he mumbled to his posse. "Bastard. Don't recognize a chief when she sees one? Black feathers must have turned her off. See how she looked at us? Must-a thought I was Blacula... fangs an' all! Got to get these coon rings from around my eyes."
At the riverside, the troop of coon morons with out-a-town tags found a Muskrat fishing from the river bank.
Coony: "Hey, fellow. You de Asss-istant chief?"
Muskrat: "Nope. Tribal Councillor. Ass went to the crapper. I'm his cousin. But for the right price I could be him." Flashing a broken incisor tooth grin. "What you fellers want?"
Coony: "Don't get much work around here, I expect? Can I buy a letter off you?" A crooked grin curled across a yellow pecker-like beak.
Muskrat: "You think this is Sesame Street?"
Coony: "No, no. I want a letter from your chief. I collect autographs." He lied.
Muskrat: Smiles at the opportunity. "Meet me over yonder at that there boat house in five."
Scurrying back to the tribal office, the accomplice enters the chief's room, grabs a few of the chief's signed letterheads and heads for the boat house.
Coony: "Yeah! I like the chief's signature! I will dictate."
The forged letter stating that the BEA Commissioner, Cohonk, was not an Eagle and should be disqualified from the Commission, mysteriously found itself in the hands of Chief Bald Eagle, the staff of the Eagle's nest, the BEA Commission and anyone interested in gossip. The bogus letter was even widely published on the Animalnet.
In spite of missing DNA and flunking the eyeball test, Crow's peeps were accepted as Eagles. Their wings now cast a shadow along the eastern corner of the continent spreading pedigree myths while claiming territory everywhere crows have passed urine.
Morals: Who said life is fair? Not all that glitters is gold.
In spite of Crow and Coony's under-the-radar approach to recognition, they became honorary Eagles. Not because they cheated, but because their cousin Raven, as questionable as the state's recognition methods were, did provide proof of prehistoric "tri-racial raptor descent". Crow and Coony came into the Eagle fold on Raven's tail feathers.