That last ask really drives it home…
What the hell am I?
I’ve been struggling with who I am since I was a little boy. The kids in town saw me as something different, and the kids on the reservation saw me as something different too, and I’ve got the scars, man.
There’s one on the back of my head, one on the front. One on my knee and a few on my arms, and a huge one on my left hand. The mental scars too, and a profound sense of alienation has become as much a part of my life as anything, this sense of not belonging anywhere.
I’m tired of having to list my bona-fides.
I don’t feel like I should have to flash my MNA card
or run through my genealogy.
That’s no one’s fucking business, dig? The only person who ever needs to see my card is the fish cop who thinks I’m poaching, and on some days I am so firm and strong and reveling in who and what I am that I feel like no one can cast doubt on it.
but then, some days that’s all I do. Wallow in doubt.
Some days, I feel like an interloper. A moniyaw, and it doesn’t matter that I have friends and family, and the experiences borne of a way of life markedly different from what’s down here in the south, in the big city.
Is it because my skin isn’t russet coloured and I can grow a half-assed beard?
because, bro, that skin ain’t white enough either.
niya awina niya.
I am what I am.
In the spirit of truly and earnestly reclaiming the Native American tag. Of building a community that I can feel safe in —
So, reading this on it’s own, I found myself really being able to relate to certain sentiments. What it’s like to be ‘different’, to have folks feel that it is their right to demand that you ‘prove’ your identity to them, to their satisfaction. The scars that it can leave. What it’s like to be made to feel as though you are somehow an interloper - as though your family’s experiences and history don’t matter - because for whatever reason, in the eye of the beholder, you’re found wanting. Lacking all of the ‘right’ qualifications -whatever those are.
I read NDNsurgency’s affirming response and these parts resonated with me deeply:
That’s what the system wants us to do, doubt ourselves…. I’m lucky to have other NDN scholars to read that make me think about the world in new ways to re-imagine the world we live in, in terms of Indigenous concepts. The stuff that I’ve read and think about constantly makes it such that, ANYTHING WE DO IS INHERENTLY INDIGENOUS BECAUSE WE ARE….it gets me really excited in nerdy ways to think about how everything is Indigenous. How everything is a ceremony. How tradition is WHAT WE ARE DOING NOW.
And I want to chime in about all the NDN scholars, and our allies, that have helped me make peace with my identity. I want to cite Gabrielle Tayac, Penny Gamble-Williams, Tiya Miles, Theda Perdue, and all the other folks pushing their scholarship and art into the often unacknowledged, unaddressed, and looked down upon, ‘borderland’ existences of people like me. The Black Natives - Black Indians - Afro-Indigenous - African-Native American.
But the problem for me is that this post doesn’t exist on its own. It’s not without context for me. In reading this post, I had to stop and click through my bookmarks and go back to November when some very contentious conversations about folks with shared Black and Native heritage were taking place. One that stood out to me the most was this:
and what is this guy/girl (dumbthingswhitpplsay) bitching about anyways? being black and native and not taken seriously? lol then sounds like that’s a blood myth or something
my cousin is 1/2 ojibwe 1/2 black
no problems there shes enrolled perfectly fine….
They’re pissed off because they’re assuming that pale-skinned native people don’t get questioned or that we get a free pass, but this assumes we’re not challenged about our heritage all the fucking time. The best part?
It’s almost always non-natives making that challenge. The difference, at least in my case, is that I can prove it without resorting to some story granny told me at the knee.
While I can be happy for hes-a-buster-anyway’s cousin, this does not negate the very real and prevalent struggles that Black Natives face. I kind of feel tempted to make one of those “but my Black friend says…” or “my Indian friend says…” jokes but hopefully you can see that for yourself.
With or without ‘papers’, we struggle for acceptance. Our skin - our features - our histories are hated even by our relatives. It’s not always the case - of course - but anti-blackness lies at the foundation of colonial settler states and it has thoroughly entrenched itself in our communities. So no, it doesn’t mean that I don’t think you struggle. I know you do. And I care about it. And I have a genuine interest in the community building that has been happening amongst Native folks on tumblr - which is why I feel the need to say that I feel as though you have made some of us feel like ‘interlopers’ as well.
There are families of all backgrounds have ‘mythology’ in their stories but none face as much contempt, from folks of all races, as Black folks when they speak of their Native heritage. It is commonplace, at least in the US, for other folks to tell us that we are trying to escape our Blackness by speaking of our Native heritage. It comes from a place of ignorance and it also exposes an underlying belief that Blackness is something that needs to be ‘escaped’.
Most Black folks living in the US, wanting to know about their heritage, have nothing BUT stories told by our grannies. The government made sure of that. It left us only with our skin colors, features, and the one drop rule. So our stories, a form of resistance and familial preservation, are sacred. They are valuable. And it is a type of ‘proof’. You may disagree but I will take my grandmother’s stories over the census which marked her mother as a different race every ten years of her life for her entire life, regardless of how she self-identified . Our oral family histories deserve respect. How did you first know what your culutre was? What your race was? Was it because of a pile of paperwork or was it because of the stories told to you by members of your family.
I am not saying that oral family histories are perfect - but the level of disrespect directed at us is unfair and it really boils down to colonial bullshit. There is a reason that we went ‘uncounted’ for so long. There is a reason that we were prevented by the government from being able to identify as Native. [example: the state of Virginia did not admit to having any Native’s until 1963 because they felt that the Native blood had been so corrupted by Black blood and was no longer pure. Of course, by 1963, it was nearly impossible for most tribes to meet the state’s requirements of recognition. Their plan was a success]. There are reasons why we were driven away from our relatives. They are the same as the reason that NDNsurgency mentioned - the system wants us to doubt ourselves. Without our histories - without our homelands - our languages - our relatives - what do we have? They want us to have nothing.
I cringe when I revisit this post:
anon: ok i agree that this person is just fueling this whole misunderstanding by putting awful words in other peoples’ mouths and ‘shoving dicks’ in everyone else’s. BUT somewhere muddled in the name-calling, their point is that blacks have more difficulty claiming Native ancestry due to the systematic erasure of their identities. thus their claims to Native ancestry have only survived thru oral histories, i.e. story time with grandma. they are “not taken srsly” cuz of this and it’s pissing them off
At this point, I do not give a shit.Those oral histories are often so incomplete or so out to lunch that the only thing anyone can agree on is that there’s some native blood in there. Big fucking deal. Native blood has no magic qualities. It is not a key that opens up a gate to some mythical indigenous promised land [cont’d]
Because I believe in sovereignty, I believe in our right to define our communities - I understand the concept of enrollment - but I want our communities to be critical of practices that depend on racist colonial documentation (which is what the census has been historically). But that’s a different discussion.
What interests me more in this context is how we treat our relations that do not have the privilege of knowing their cultures ‘fully’. The same way that I would never ask you for your ‘papers’, I would never demand that of a Black Native nor would I scoff if all they could tell me was a family story. There is a difference between being something and being a part of something - definitely - but being something matters too. It is empowering to be able to name ourselves - to reclaim our histories, even if they are incomplete. I certainly do not advocate that Black Natives just pick any tribe and run with it - but I believe in our right to name ourselves. I believe in our right to try to reconnect and learn about our heritage, just as any other person who has grown up outside of their community, has the right to do. It’s a matter of respect. Two-way respect.
I would feel the pain of folks that do not have ‘complete’ family histories. It has taken years and a considerable amount of resources for my family to find ‘proof’ of our family stories. But at the end of the day, the stories are more valuable than papers drawn up by white folks. And every day, I commit myself to learning more about myself and my cultures. Because I believe it’s never too late to find your way ‘home’.
But even still, when I think of going back to the physical homeland/birth places of my grandparents, I sweat thinking of their stories about being called “n*ggers” by other members of their tribes. I think about the cousins - lynched - bodies drowned in a river then strung up in a tree- and how only the Black folks were there to bury them. I hear that story and I do not hold it against my grandparents for moving to NYC, away from our peoples, where even if they were going to be poor and crammed into a too small housing project apartment, they weren’t as worried about their son being strung up in the noose. I consider the way Granddaddy’s family said not to marry Nana because she was too dark. The way they stopped talking to them. Distanced themselves because of the climate of the rural south in the ’30s. I wonder what it would be like to talk with some of the grandchildren of the folks that spat at my grandparents and I wonder if they would feel contempt for me too.
I also, survey my scars. Trace them. Try to make sense of it all. And so in that way, I can relate to you. I relate to feeling ostracized by those who ‘should’ accept you. The alienation of not belonging.
I give a shit about your story.