What? Back so soon with breaking news?
Yep. First, I want to thank my friend and blogger KC for asking me to think about and share my thoughts on what it means to have Indigenous ancestry and the recent headlines about Elizabeth Warren. Next, I defend Sen. Warren’s right to claim her ancestry. It’s hers! Heck, many Americans do have some American Indian ancestry, too. But what you do with it is what truly matters.
We are all mixed, one way or the other. American, so heavily colonized, is very populated with mixed people. We have (hi)storians to blame for not explaining much about this stark truth and reality.
For me personally I was not raised in a tribal community setting, though I had many Native people around me when I was growing up. Being adopted out, I struggled until my 30s with identity and isolation, but no longer. I met my birth father and did a paternity DNA test with him when I was 38. The history he shared with me, that was what I needed, at that time. But words and blood tests DO NOT make me who I am or the direction of my life’s work. My Oglala Lakota relatives made sure of that. They were in my life years prior to my finding my father who is mixed Shawnee-Cherokee-Delaware-Euro).
What is required of us:
Once you attend ceremony, once you pray in your language, once you show humility to elders, and once you work for them, and when you learn it’s not “me” but “we” – it is then you are made a relative and accepted as family. Then you are in tribal community (which is American Indian tradition on Turtle Island). It may take many years, because it should.
As the following story by Nick Estes says, “Half a century ago, the Standing Rock Dakota scholar Vine Deloria Jr. wrote, “Whites claiming Indian blood tend to reinforce mythical beliefs about Indians.”
Falsely claiming Native American identity is a white American tradition, with a deeply racist past. – Nick Estes
Warren is not living her life as a member of any tribal community, yet like so many, she seems to romanticize the idea of her blood being Indian. She was raised with her family in Oklahoma, with her history, but she was not enrolled with the Cherokee Nation, who determines their citizenship based on Dawes Rolls, not DNA. If the Cherokee tribe wishes to change that, and enroll her, it’s completely up to them. (She’ll have years of unlearning and good history lessons ahead.)
To my knowledge, what Warren did with her “ancestry” all these years, was she helped herself. To my knowledge, she did not assist any tribal nation or community, and in fact, she has not even helped the tribes struggling right here in Massachusetts! What we are fighting for in this century, like Standing Rock, federal recognition, sovereignty, treaty rights, water rights, protecting Bear’s Ears, ending destruction by mining, pipelines, poverty, all of that – where is she?
This is a new hashtag campaign: #NativeTruth #WeAreStillHere
If Elizabeth was in her community, she’d know this: Blood quantum is an invention of the governments to widdle us down to “not enough Indian.” (Wiping us out on paper. Gone, erased.)
I actually know many lost Native adoptees who use the DNA test to get their family name, and slowly worked their way back to their tribal families. Some are back on the rez, while others join their urban Indian communities. (I do not recommend or trust the DNA testings or the data they collect and sell. Those TV ads are false and misleading. Very few Indians will submit to giving DNA though some scientists took it without their consent.)
When is a DNA test useful? My adoptee friend Rhonda did a DNA test with an uncle (her birth father’s brother) to determine if she was a family member, and she was – then she was enrolled in her tribal nation. DNA can connect you with a living tribal member, if you were adopted out, or fostered. That is very very helpful.
So, Sen. Warren, it’s not the amount of blood. DNA doesn’t make you Indian. If you belong to a community (urban or reservation), that makes you a member of that tribal community.
BIG READ: How Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test hurt our struggle (and took away the news coverage of what matters): READ
Intercept podcast: the last two segments are so good – please do listen!
If you do have Indigenous blood, if it is loud, it won’t leave you alone. If this speaks to you, then find and join an urban or reservation community and work for them and work with them, and think a new way: “we” not me.
And ask them what you can do and please do what they ask respectfully.
Mitakuye Oyasin. We are all related!
A new address for my blog: American Indian Adoptees