We’ve heard it so many times. Once a person finds out that a Native person is in fact not a “Mexican,” there is a comment that almost certainly follows, “Oh I have Indian in my family too.”
It may not be worded like that, but it will follow. You don’t generally hear, “Oh I have Black in my family!” or “My great great grandma was an Asian princess!” So why do we have to hear about alleged Indian Princesses? (Side note for you information and dignity, there was no such thing as an Indian princess).
It is especially irritating because when asked what tribe the family bloodline yields, things begin to get a little bit fuzzy. Most people who claim to have Native blood don’t know from which tribe.
You see, the American Indian race is incredibly more complex than some may believe. We don’t all speak one language and each tribe differs greatly from the next. Each tribe holds a different style of traditional dress and even different physical traits.
Our cultures and history are completely separate from one another. It doesn’t bother me that people say they have “Indian” in their family, what bothers me is that they speak of my culture as if it were a mythical Elvish blood-line that came from a magical land of feathers and face paint.
We are not a people of the past and we are not some sort of anomaly that roams the earth among you, we are just people and we still exist.
There are some very fascinating things about this country’s Native people. The fact that we are still in touch with our ancient traditions and we are the exception to almost every cultural norm of the average American is awesome, unfortunately we also have disturbingly high rape, substance abuse, diabetes, cancer and teen suicides rates on and off the reservation.
So when strangers and new friends exclaim proudly that they are Indian too, some of us can’t help but be a little insulted.
Insulted first because unless you know what tribe your family is, you don’t know the culture.
Insulted next because Native America is a struggling country trying so hard to overcome historical oppression and enormous social issues, people prancing around claiming to be one of us doesn’t help us to establish a modern image.
It’s already a fight to get hipsters to stop painting their faces and getting drunk while wearing mock regalia, we don’t need everyone shooting off their mouths to us about some great grandfather that may or may not have boned an Indian lady, or vice versa.
This is not to condemn those that are guilty of this, but to inform. There are things that non-Native people can do that have a high probability of pissing someone off, here they are:
- Saying you have Indian blood from way back when you don’t know from which side or from what tribe.
- Wearing anything resembling our regalia that was designed to be a costume item.
- Repeatedly slapping your mouth and making a woo-woo sound, we don’t do that, we never did. Stop it. Make your kids stop doing it.
- Calling us Indians, we may say Indian County, Indian People, or Indian ways, you don’t say it unless you are damned sure it won’t bug someone. American Indian and Native American are safe, just use those, it’s not hard. It’s just two words, either phrase will suffice.
- Asking if people on a reservation live in tipis, we don’t.
- Asking if we can speak Indian, there are over 500 tribes in this country and nearly all have their own language.
- Last but not least, asking to touch our hair. It’s just hair, it’s not different or special, it’s dead biomaterial that hangs off our heads, we may treasure it, but it is no different. Touch your own hair.
If you spent time reading this I hope you take something away from it. There are so few Native people left in this country, around 1% of the population, so I can see how being misinformed would be easy. If you are guilty of any of these things in the past, don’t sweat it, just don’t do it again.
And for God’s sake, PLEAAAASE stop putting up stupid pictures of yourself wearing face paint, pretend war bonnets (head dresses), or Pocahontus-esque outfits on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, especially if you’re famous… Kardashians!