Saturday, September 19, 2015

State vs Federal Recognition: One Scenario

"There are 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes in the U.S" at this writing. Additionally, there are also Non-Acknowledged Tribes that are tribes which have no federal designation as sovereign entities but may be state recognized. To be recognized as a sovereign entity, tribes must meet certain criteria as "Indians". As of 1978 there were "33 separate definitions of 'Indian' used in federal legislation."--Wikipedia 

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." 
Door slams. 
"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 Letter

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.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Who is a Native American? Or, it is hard out here to be an Indian!

An artist must be able to portray phenotypes in portraiture, especially in sculpture, painting, illustration and caricature.  Since this is my profession, I have been a keen observer of nuances in facial structures, body types and skin colors. Similar to a dentist who observes teeth upon a first encounters; I notice facial bone structure, eye and mouth shape, skin texture and color. However, Amerindian identity is so mired in mythology that accurate phonotypical portrayal in the visual arts is problematic. More confusion to the issue of Native identity was added by the Federal Government’s “blood quantum” rule in 1934. This rule was inspired by the racist 1705 [English law] when Virginia adopted laws that limited colonial civil rights of Native Americans and persons of half or more Native American ancestry”. -- Professor Jack D. Forbes (2008). "THE BLOOD GROWS THINNER: BLOOD QUANTUM, PART 2". University of California-Davis. 

Five hundred years of racial mixing in this hemisphere has created a category of human beings that have varying physical features some of whom choose to accept or ignore their Amerindian genes. Throughout the Americas, identifying with the indigenous has continued to be controversial. Peoples of the Americas are often ignorant about Amerindian cultural and historical achievements. Little is taught about the hemisphere that produced pyramids, large cities, empires, multitude of medicines and is the source of 60% of what humans eat. Yet, against some remaining obstacles, there has been resurgence in Native pride. Compounding the problem of identity are the labels Mestizo, Métis, Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Black Indian, etc.  

Some newly formed tribes handle the issue of resurgence well, while others create havoc in trying to be “more Indian” than the rest. One example of this extremism is the group’s attempt at historical revisionism by usually stating that “We are the Indians” of a geographical location on which their tribal name never historically appeared. This con-game was also played out by the late Italian-American actor “Iron Eyes Cody”.  Hollywood Westerns of an earlier period played a pivotal role in this confusing sham by casting Italian, Middle Easterner, English and Irish actors as Indians.

Notwithstanding Columbus’ confusion; the answer to who is “Native” is not cast in stone. For example, a Mexican (even with a high percentage of Amerindian DNA) would say that unless you speak your language, you are not Indio. In North America the answer to this question is more fluid.




Top Row:  (1) Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee. (2) Chief Joseph, Nez Perce [Nimíipuu is their name for themselves].
 (3) Charles Curtis, 31st Vice President of the United States who had maternal grandparents on the Kaw reservation.
(4) Noted sculptor Edmonia Lewis whose father was black and mother an Ojibwa Indian who named her Wildfire. She grew up with her mother’s family of basket makers on the reservation. Both African and Native Americans claim her.

Bottom Row: (1) Italian-American actor Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999). He impersonated Native Americans in Hollywood films. (2) Astronaut John Herrington, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation. (3) & (4) Irish-American actor Burt Lancaster who played Massai, an Apache leader in Hollywood’s Apache (1954).

Native American  n. (1) Aboriginal American. a member of the indigenous people of the Americas, belonging to the Mongoloid group of peoples. (2) adj. relating to any of the indigenous American peoples, their languages, or their cultures. Encarta World English Dictionary

full blooded  adj. thoroughbred of unmixed breed. Encarta World English Dictionary

half breed  n. an offensive term referring to a person of mixed racial parentage, especially Native American and Caucasian.  Encarta World English Dictionary

Mestizo n. American Spanish. A combination between Indio (Amerindian) and Spaniard.

Pardo n. American Spanish. A person who is mixed with Amerindian, European and African.

Except for the last two pictures of Burt Lancaster and Iron Eyes Cody, the above images are of people whom some Indian tribes would call Native Americans today.  Although, in the United States, we often reserve the term Native American for only the indigenous people of the mainland USA.  This attitude has caused many legal and “illegal aliens” from south of the border to insist that they too are Native Americans.  According to some anthropologists, we can evaluate the survival of indigenous populations in the Americas since 1492 in two ways.  Either, (1) Disease and genocide drastically reduced the Americas’ multimillion indigenous populations. Or, (2) Racial mixing has greatly increased the numbers of indigenous people within the Americas since 1492. 

The second theory, however, has contributed to a Native American identity dilemma for people without and within those ethnic groupings.  It is also difficult to identify Native American phenotypes especially in states with a high percentage of American Indians and Mexicans.  For example in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I found it hard to make a visual distinction between both populations.  Although most Mexicans are from the same indigenous genetic pool as other Native Americans, in Albuquerque there were incidents of animosity between both groups.  This dilemma caused a prominent Native American artist in another locale whose son had been beaten up by Mexican youths, to state, “Why would they beat up my son?  Don’t they know that Mexicans are also Indians?” East of the Mississippi River, the ability to identify who is an Indian is even more difficult.

The Native American identity problem began after 1492 when Columbus believed that the Caribbean’s Taíno and Island Carib were the Indians from Asia’s subcontinent.  Although there is documentation that indigenous Americans had been arriving on European shores at least since the Roman Empire, their sustained impact on the rest of the world began in earnest in 1492.  According to Dr. Jack D. Forbes, author of The American Discovery of Europe, “What we do know is that two or more Americans, at least a man and a woman, reached Galway Bay, Ireland, [in two dugout logs] and there seen by Christoforo Colomb (Columbus) long prior [around 1477] to his famous voyage of 1492.”  Dugout canoes are from the east coast North America, South America and the Caribbean so it is unclear exactly from whence these Americans came.  It is believed that indigenous Americans either came east to Europe at varying times via their own volition and/or were hijacked by Atlantic storms.  Oceanic tempests and Atlantic currents had floated American trees into Galway Bay where there was once a local business in American driftwood lumber. Today, heavy Atlantic shipwrecks still end up on Ireland’s coast.  Descriptions of people arriving at various times from the west going eastward, both dead and alive, matched the phenotypes of various indigenous Americans.  At that time, it was very unlikely for people from Asia to have been blown ashore on Western Europe and the Azores.  In Europe, they were mistaken for people from “Catayo” or Cathay (meaning China), and India.  Later, Columbus’ encounter with the people of the Lucaya Bahamas convinced him that they were Indians from Asia’s subcontinent.

Were ancient American phenotypes similar?

It is obvious to the casual observer that the Inuit (“Eskimo”) are decidedly different in appearance from the Olmec and Maya of the Yucatan, or the Cherokee, Iroquois and Algonquians of North America’s Eastern Woodlands.  The pre-Columbian  diversity in skin color, hair texture, facial and physical composition varied greatly among peoples of the Americas.  Even in two isolated and recently contacted Amazon tribes phenotype decidedly differed.  One group was tall, slender and yellowish (the Zo'e) wearing lip plugs; while the other was shorter, muscular, brown skinned and
 seemed not knowing how to make fire.  Although many people believe that Native Americans belong to one monolithic “race”, DNA studies tell us differently.  Geneticists trace all indigenous Americans back to six “original mothers”.

A study released on March 12, 2008 “identifies the six surviving Native American mtDNA lineages that are dated to approximately 20,000 years ago, designated as A2, B2, C1b, C1c, C1d and D1. Today's study also confirms the presence of five more rare, less known and geographically limited genetic groups: X2a, D2, D3, C4c and D4h3.”

Who or what is a Native American?  Can the average American identify a Native American?  The influx of European, African, Asian and “Hispanic” admixtures has made the answer more complex. 

Who is a Native?

The answer to this question lies in how the sovereign tribes of the United States and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) define a Native American.  First, tribes have varying criteria for membership that range from ½ to 1/16 “Indian blood” (See the July 22 blog article on “Blood Quantum”).  Tribes themselves define who is eligible for membership in the Native American family. Similar to loosing American citizenship, tribes can excommunicate blood members for reasons that go against the American Constitution. Federally recognized tribes are sovereign nations.

Second, in a case brought before the BIA, a man in North Carolina tried to discredit his wife who identified herself as a Native American by calling her a Negro (since she was mixed).  The federal agency replied to his charge.  In their response, the BIA stated in essence that they did not care about the other racial composition of a Native American.  Although many Americans harp on the notion of the authenticity of “full bloods”, there are both tribal and federal acceptances of the multiracial composition of individuals who call themselves Native Americans.  This self-identification factor in sovereign “Indian Country” confuses the average American.  Hollywood further muddied the issue by painting Italian, Irish and Jewish actors brown (such as Jeff Chandler, Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman and others) while casting them in leading roles as either Native American full bloods or “half breeds”.  A founding member of a District of Columbian indigenous American organization once told me that a person who wants to identify as a Native American, regardless of blood quantum, must be publicly acknowledged as a Native American by members of both the Indian and non-Indian community.

The Crossover
From the time of 17th century Jamestown, Virginia up to today’s Vice-Presidential nominee Governor Palin’s Alaska, Native Americans populations continue to be both hated and expendable.  The English from Jamestown went out twice yearly to kill Powhatan men, women and children in attempts of early ethnic cleansing.  This practice caused some Virginia Indian families to go underground and as they say, “hide in plain sight”.  Also, societal, economic and peer pressures have caused many Native Americans to identify themselves as black or white.  In spite of gaming windfalls, Native Americans are still on the lowest end of the American society’s economic and health ladder.  In some parts of Virginia and Washington, DC, Indians were forced to be reclassified as colored, mulatto, Negro, and later black.  They were threatened with physical violence or loss of their jobs if they publicly acknowledged their Indian heritage.  Some lighter skinned descendants of these Native American families moved out West into the Sun Belt to pass as tanned whites.  Since it has become safer to identify with one’s Native roots in recent years, some of these family members have now enrolled in Native American tribes.  Historically, many Native American families from the times of the Southern plantation system could only live in black neighborhoods.  Dr. Walter Plecker, an avowed white supremacist and advocate of eugenics compounded the case against Native American identity by fiercely recommending the enforcement (by incarceration) of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of March 20, 1924.  

A Washingtonian relative in her 80s told me of the case of Sacagawea H. a Delaware Indian childhood friend whose family owned a store in D.C.’s Georgetown, who committed suicide.  Attempts to identify herself as a Native American in Washington, D.C. met with typical skepticism.  My source said that as proof of her Native American ancestry, “The chief of a Delaware tribe attended her funeral.”  Another story is of a Mattaponi woman who was denied a federal job for “lying” on an employment form by stating in the “Race” category that she was an Indian.  Also, consider the case of a prominent New York gallery owner who identifies herself as black.  Her full-blooded Indian parents had escaped with their lives from the persecution of Cherokees in the South.  They were spirited away to the North by a sympathetic sea captain.  They could only live in an African-American community in Boston.  Or the saga of prominent sisters from the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina who were misidentified as attractive “Negroes” in black entrepreneurial Washington, D.C.’s early U Street corridor.  Maybe someone should write an Oscar awarding song titled “It is hard out here to be an Indian.”