If you can’t beat them, be them!
When I began my research on multigenerational trauma and African Americans I reached out to a mentor and colleague, Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart. I had read several of her articles about historical trauma about the impact of colonialism on Native people and the unresolved grief that they continue to suffer with. I had never seen or spoken with Maria so when she answered the phone from her office in Colorado I secretly wonder if she was well. . . REALLY. . Native. We shared our initial niceties’ and being the amazing person that she is she abruptly said: “You’re wondering if I’m a real Indian” she laughed and said: yes Joy I’m a real Indian and I even look Indian!”
Maria instantly knew what I was thinking and feeling because she like many of us had encountered the white person suddenly declaring their Indian blood.
I cannot count the numerous times that I’ve met a blond haired blue eyed person that suddenly discovered they possessed a smidgeon of Indian blood and promptly went out and purchased turquoise jewelry, braided their hair, and showed up at Tribal headquarters. I spoke with many of my Native friends about this “suddenly Indian” phenomenon and they acquainted me with literature that clarified things for me. I will share a little with you!
What about non-Indians who claim to be descended from Indian princesses?
In an excerpt from Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, Native American, Vine Deloria Jr. explains the phenomenon:
During my three years as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians it was a rare day when some white didn’t visit my office and proudly proclaim that he or she was of Indian descent.
Cherokee was the most popular tribe of their choice and many people placed the Cherokees anywhere from Maine to Washington State. Mohawk, Sioux, and Chippewa were next in popularity. Occasionally, I would be told about some mythical tribe from lower Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Massachusetts which had spawned the white standing before me.
At times I became quite defensive about being a Sioux when these white people had a pedigree that was so much more respectable than mine. But eventually I came to understand their need to identify as partially Indian and did not resent them. I would confirm their wildest stories about their Indian ancestry and would add a few tales of my own hoping that they would be able to accept themselves someday and leave us alone.
Whites claiming Indian blood generally tend to reinforce mythical beliefs about Indians. All but one person I met who claimed Indian blood claimed it on their grandmother’s side. I once did a projection backward and discovered that evidently most tribes were entirely female for the first three hundred years of white occupation. No one, it seemed, wanted to claim a male Indian as a forebear.
It doesn’t take much insight into racial attitudes to understand the real meaning of the Indian grandmother complex that plagues certain whites. A male ancestor has too much of the aura of the savage warrior, the unknown primitive, the instinctive animal, to make him a respectable member of the family tree. But a young Indian princess? Ah, there was royalty for the taking. Somehow the white was linked with a noble house of gentility and culture if his grandmother was an Indian princess who ran away with an intrepid pioneer. And royalty has always been an unconscious but all-consuming goal of the European immigrant.
The early colonists, accustomed to life under benevolent despots, projected their understanding of the European political structure onto the Indian tribe in trying to explain its political and social structure. European royal houses were closed to ex-convicts and indentured servants, so the colonists made all Indian maidens princesses, then proceeded to climb a social ladder of their own creation. Within the next generation, if the trend continues, a large portion of the American population will eventually be related to Powhattan.
While a real Indian grandmother is probably the nicest thing that could happen to a child, why is a remote Indian princess grandmother so necessary for many whites? Is it because they are afraid of being classed as foreigners? Do they need some blood tie with the frontier and its dangers in order to experience what it means to be an American? Or is it an attempt to avoid facing the guilt they bear for the treatment of the Indian?
Vine Deloria Jr. Author, Theologian, Historian and Activist (1933 – 2005
Privilege at its Worse. . .
On October 25, 1994 Susan Smith, a full on psychopath was able to engage the nation in an emotional frenzy enlisting law enforcement to launch a national man hunt for a fictitious black man she claimed had abducted her 3 year old and 14 month old sons. She
Tearfully pleaded on national television for the black assailant to return her innocent children. Sketches of the abductor were quickly produced and two black suspects were eventually identified.
This woman was treacherous and barbaric enough to murder her own children by strapping them into their car seats and drowning them in a nearby lake. No human being does not anguish over the terror they must have experienced. But how did she, garner such power? The simple answer is “white privilege.”
We are truly living in strange and bizarre times and my guess is that we are going to see a whole lot more odd behaviors. Recently a white woman claimed to be black the irony of this story is . . .wait for it. . . wait for it . . . she would likely be able to use her white privilege to win her claim in a court of law today.
What I see is an increasing and dangerous obsession with the physical body some might offer the ‘fear of death’ as a causal factor proffering the ultimate human conflict of mortality as the main protagonist in this drama.
I feel like I’m living somewhere between the Wizard of Oz and the storybook village of the Emperors New Clothes. The cord has been pulled back and I can see the sad frightened man hiding behind the curtain and the naked man convinced he has on clothes.
I understand the Wizard and the Emperor but I am bound for another place, a place perhaps even more difficult to imagine or believe exists, the real Never, Never Land, a place called. . . Reality!