By Lara Trace (Cherokee-Shawnee-French Canadian-Euro mix)
If you are an American Indian/First Nations/Indigenous, which many of you are, you may find it exceedingly difficult to find paper records that CONFIRM what tribe you think you are… or were told you are.
For example, on Earl’s side of my family, Earl’s aunt Bessie, referred to us as BLACK DUTCH, which is “code” for Cherokee. My first conversation with my dad he told me we are Indian. Mystery solved? Not quite.
Code is not uncommon at all. Since I have been in reunion, my cousin Cathy and I have dug up tons on the “code” and how it makes sense Bessie would say that — since if you were Indian, you’d be forcibly removed to Indian Territory (then malaria-ridden Oklahoma) and you couldn’t own land and that was terrifying, potentially fatal. (Thank you Bessie for telling people that repeatedly.)
For New England tribes, that matter of having “papers” means you exist. For many tribes here, every time you went to Hartford or Boston to make a claim with the courts, you made a record: that paper is now buried in old boxes. Why would that matter now?
Paper has to exist for you to be federally recognized. Then as a sovereign you are entitled to promises made when the federal government (not the states) made treaty with your tribe or band. You’d finally get some of your stolen land back, maybe even compensated!
When I was editor of the Pequot Times, I met with leaders of the Eastern Pequot bands who had done extensive paper research in their bid for federal recognition. They found documents hidden in boxes under Flora and Fauna in Hartford, Connecticut, secret code for “wild indians.” To this day, the Eastern Pequot are NOT federally recognized and it’s not only frustrating for them (trying over 40+ years), but devious on the part of the FEDS. (I worked for the Western Pequot or Mashantucket who are recognized). One can only imagine what will happen when PAPERS are found that feds and BIA cannot reject and no longer deny for ANY Eastern tribe. (Old tricks worked a long time for the clever feds/BIA – demanding paper proof.)
Paper can change things, and I’d mentioned The Yale Indian Papers Project on this blog HERE
UPDATE: The Yale Indian Papers Project (YIPP), which first came to YALE in 2003, is an extensive publishing endeavor to digitize the collection of primary source materials relating to New England’s Native American history. It draws from the archives of numerous institutions, including the Yale University Library, Harvard University Library, The Massachusetts Archives and the National Archives of the United Kingdom. Researchers are currently working to gather information on the people who lived in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. On Aug. 12, the project announced that it had been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, allowing it to expand its work in Massachusetts for three more years. Read More
Both Tobias Glaza and executive editor Paul Grant-Costa said the Indian Papers Project has helped forge new relationships between Yale and Native communities for the first time in several centuries. Grant-Costa said the initial idea for the project arose more than two decades ago as a result of the challenges New England’s Native tribes first faced when trying to become recognized by the federal government. In order for these long-marginalized communities to win recognition, they first need access to historical material that has not been easily accessible in the past, he said.* [I went to their first meetings]
Tribes need paper to exist? Indeed. It sounds crazy, and so ludicrous.
Paper is crucially important and having it will break the CODE of erased Indian history right here in New England… no, not all Indians in the east are dead… (bad history again, yes.)
FINALLY we will see papers that reflect truth… finally.
[*YIPP editors are happy the grant will extend their work in Massachusetts for three more years. Taken together with the Mellon/CLIR and National Archives grants, the editorial efforts will last more than four years, adding 1,650 documents to the New England Indian Papers Series.]
My friend and fellow blogger/author Trav S. D. [Travalanche] has done quite a bit of research, too. He’s a contributor to THE MIX e-mag, and he’s a Cherokee mix like me.
A thoughtful agent friend noticed the growing snowball of posts on Travalanche about American history and my family’s role therein. Some posts are more focused on my ancestors, some involve me personally, and some are more like op-eds that have grown out of my meditation on my people’s role in our history. As you begin to see, they almost begin to stack up to something like a history of the nation, with an emphasis on race and class, and a greater than normal emphasis on pop culture, and I do believe that’s where I’m bound. The posts themselves are just raw material — they’re not necessarily what would find their way into the book, they just lay the groundwork.
In addition, these travel posts mention references to places and people in my background: Newport, Salem, Providence, South Street Seaport, and New Orleans. Many more of these are planned. Also (probably) to come are posts on the French and Indian war, Indian removal, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American war, the World Wars, the Cold War, and enhanced posts on Irish and German ancestors….