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October 5, 2010

As I mentioned in my last post, and on Dreamwidth, I finally picked up Barbara A. Mann’s The Tainted Gift: The Disease Method of Frontier Expansion and George Washington’s War on Native America. I won an Amazon gift certificate through an AASPIRE study incentive drawing, and that was my booty.

It’s horribly difficult reading, just because of the subject matter. (Truly excellent writing and research, as usual!) I finished The Tainted Gift, and am currently having to take a break from George Washington’s War on Native America for the sake of my blood pressure and sanity. Reading this stuff has repeatedly made me physically ill, with nightmares, and I can hardly imagine what doing the research must have been like.

Recently, on Dreamwidth (in a locked post), I got into a discussion about always half-expecting to get dismissed as a Wannabe. From one of my comments (with a couple of links added):

I really identify with this post, and still get serious anxiety attacks sometimes just waiting for somebody to jump on me after I’ve posted things. Yeah, I’d noticed the abuse-survivor similarity in reactions (and I’ve dealt with other emotional abuse too). Gaslighting to control whole groups of people is still gaslighting. :/

I think I already recommended it in a comment on the A Broken Flute post–I’ll have to read that one!–but you might be interested in one good collection of essays: Genocide of the Mind. The title really caught my attention. 🙂

[quote removed]
I had to go into a (very sympathetic) dark cackling fit at this one. I have not been called a Wannabe by another Native person–so far–but actually stopped publicly claiming it when I was in elementary school after enough of the classic “you couldn’t possibly be who you say you are–and, besides, you don’t look Indian” BS from White people who wouldn’t know an indigenous person from a hole in the ground. But I am still half-expecting it for slightly different reasons, being a light-skinned person from a multiracial Eastern holdout, hiding-in-plain-sight background. (Even better, including Cherokee; my family’s from the homelands!) So, yeah, I’m half-expecting “crazy hillbilly Cherokee Princess”, and am particularly nervous | about meatspace gatherings. Especially ones outside the Southeast, where there are a lot of us undocumented “invisibles” and we’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing each other.

I was in my late twenties before I got fed up enough to stop letting myself get silenced and disappeared. And have also had a problem with feeling like that enhances my perceived Wannabeness. That’s probably not uncommon, with a lot of the nasty cultural messages flying around. The fear has diminished some over the years, but it still pops up sometimes. It sure does feel like other PTSD responses.

Last night, wading through detailed accounts of absolutely evil atrocities which have largely been ignored and covered up (no damned wonder!), it really hit me: even more than digging and shuffling to learning endangered languages, yeah, that’s really what the average Wannabe does–going to some trouble to learn about the more sickening bits of North American history. Pretty high on the list of things I don’t “wannabe”? Obliged to read this stuff. And I kinda am. I think basically anyone living in the US should learn about this shameful history, but I’ve got good reasons for that perceived responsibility.

Along with the responsibility to write about this stuff, even if (because) a lot of people just don’t want to hear it. On that note: the best quote I’ve ever seen on guilt about the past and denial and apologism rooted in this. In part: “‘White guilt’ is no substitute for truth telling…The only thing that you are responsible for is what you do after you close this book, knowing that these things were done to Native America.”

I’ve considered writing something about this internalized doubt for a while, and starting into this I reflexively wanted to include something reassuring about my “credentials”. Fuck that. Defining other people == absurd racism. Really. If any Native person with some legitimate interest wants to do the “who do you know and who are you related to” dance, I’m happy to do that privately. Other than that? Hell no.

A clarification, prompted by a comment on Dreamwidth: I am not so much trying to reclaim the word as trying to clarify the apparently easily blurred distinction there, and point out that the blurring can be very convenient for dismissing people who are not members of The Tribe Called Wannabee. “Playing Indian”, be it out of some misguided attempt at “irony”, for a strange sense of legitimacy, or what have you, is maybe not so coincidentally covered reasonably by today’s other post, Playing dress-up. It’s disrespectful, full stop. This topic is emotionally charged enough that I had at least a couple of failures of clarity. 🙂

The very politically convenient assumption that anyone from the East must be a lying liar who lies is very harmful–besides being made of BS. (Thanks, Vine Deloria, Jr.; some of our backgrounds really do resemble “some mythical tribe from lower Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Massachusetts which had spawned the white standing before me.” In this case, some are officially “extinct”, but I guess that’s synonymous with “imaginary” by now.) I have linked to “Slow Runners” before, but I am doing so again for people interested in some background on this destructive set of myths.

Pretty good summaries, from The Tainted Gift (as are all the following quotes):

Euphemizing Removal as voluntary “emigration” allowed the government to perpetrate “documentary genocide” against the holdouts. Documentary genocide consists of the government’s killing people on paper when they are not, in fact, dead on the ground.34 The U.S. government flatly denied Indian identity to any Natives (not just Choctaws) who remained east after Removal by forcibly declaring all holdouts to be citizens of the state in which they resided, while unilaterally cancelling their membership in their nations.35 For Indians, the threat of state citizenship was acute, since the affected states made no noticeable effort to protect their new Indian citizens from their old settler citizens. Instead, the states eased the way for the seizure of formerly Indian assets, while the U.S. government lay supinely by.36

Being Cherokee-identified in the Southeast is very, very complicated by now, including a lot of people from Non-Treaty backgrounds. This “emigration” thing doesn’t even cover Non-Treaty nations, which did/do indeed exist. (Give the British/Americans diplomatic recognition after you’ve gotten a bunch of refugees telling you all about how that works out? Better pass on that, if you can.) Excellent Canadian blog: Non-Status Indians.

It was/still is in the government’s interest to practice this pen-and-ink witchcraft on as many people as they could–including ones who “emigrated”, from the get-go. A lot of the Choctaws described here were not on the official rolls at the time they left their homelands (so were not even allotted food); this was not an unusual situation with removals. It says something when at least 75% of your family’s surnames are on Plecker’s infamous list, nonetheless, even when people in your “backward” region were better able to avoid becoming “dead bugs on bark”.

Personally, I have often wondered how much of the passive hostility toward the Mandans owed to the fact that their very existence forcibly exposed the racist lie, still shamefully current, of Europeans as the world’s only “white-skinned” people. Like the Iroquois and the Cherokees, the Mandans were famously light-skinned Indians, whose members sported brown or even blue eyes and light-colored hair, sometimes described as “gray.”68 When a country’s expansionist propaganda paints Indians as half-baked hunters, farmers like the Mandans reality-check the fantasy. Worse, when a country’s genocidal rationale is based on a racist assertion of “white” skin privilege, Indians who can “pass for white” are a decided obstacle.

Yeah, that kinda gets some of us coming and going, as light-skinned-at-Contact “imaginary” people who evaded Removal. Also interesting is earlier perceptions of “half-breeds”, who kinda got conveniently erased in English-speaking areas (see “History isn’t just ‘their-story’”: consensus reality):

The key word in the Lewis smokescreen, likely to be missed by modern readers, is “half-breed,” in references derived from the pseudoscience of race.166 Widespread from the mid-18th through to the mid-20th century, race science was considered unchallengeable until it was thoroughly discredited by the Jewish Holocaust in the mid-20th century. The science of race posited western Europeans as the top of the racial hierarchy, with the “lesser” races degenerating from the Exalted Caucasian Pinnacle of Being down to the lowest rungs of Africans and Native Americans. Nineteenth-century polygeneticists held that Africans, Asians, and Native Americans were not even of the same species as Europeans. The monogeneticists disputed this, but nevertheless concurred that only Europeans were fully developed human beings capable of civilization. 167

Under the rubrics of such race science, it was obvious that, as Indians, the Cayuses, Walla Wallas, and Nez Perces possessed a natural “disposition to murder”.168 The only thing lower or more dangerous than a primitive, “full-blooded” African or Native American was a “half-blood,” with one half contributed by its respective “lower race” and the other half contributed by the “superior” European race. It was well known that “half-breeds” exhibited the worst traits of both races and possessed an irresistible impulse toward criminality. This was why, well into the 20th century, it was sufficient to mention Lewis, Finley, and Hill’s mixed ancestry to prove that they were liars and murderers from the womb. Mentioning that they were Catholics, besides, just sealed the deal. That their racial identities are still mentioned in modern texts on the Whitman saga takes my breath away. 169

Now we multiracial folks are just considered untrustworthy and so extra-subject to the Identity Police, who would prefer that we did not exist at all, making some of their national mythology look as paper-thin as it is.

I have a friend who has been bullied and harassed online for years, largely AFAICT because sie persists in saying unpopular things about power and abuses thereof. (I am impressed at the strength it takes for hir to keep carrying on, high as the personal cost can be.) This friend understandably avoids talking about hir ethnic background and religious beliefs publicly, knowing that it would provide extra fodder for the discrediting smear campaigns. I can’t say sie’s wrong about that, and it leaves me both despairing and furious.

Think about that for a minute. What kind of society are we living in, when a person’s ethnic/racial background and religion are considered fair game for public debate, and really can lead to loss of credibility? Why does anyone else own our identities–no matter how private and fundamental the aspects–to this extent, much less gangs of bullies? And why is this so very relevant on a daily basis to people with certain characteristics?

As I talked about some in On Being Out, I am painfully aware that I’m in a far better position than a lot of other people just to say I don’t give a rat’s ass. Bullies and Identity Police can go hang. I don’t have much to lose, so I can be stubbornly outspoken. Not everybody is in anything like this set of circumstances. And I worry about the people who have more to lose.

I also feel like I owe it to my stubborn ancestors, who went through a lot so I can sit here–alive and safe–and run my mouth (fingers?) more freely than they were able to for generations. The more I read, the more I appreciate this.

The identity policing? I don’t care nearly as much about it, since I know where it’s coming from. Hopefully the damned reflexive panic attacks will catch up with my conscious thoughts on the matter soon. 😉


68. For Mandans, see Letter of 28 January 1852 from D. D. Mitchell, then Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to Schoolcraft, Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects, 3: 254; and Catlin, Letters and Notes, 106. For the Iroquois as light-skinned people, see Adriaen Cornelissen van der Donck, “Description of New Netherland,” 1653, in Mohawk Country: Early Narrative about a Native People, ed. Dean R. Snow, Charles T. Gehring, and William A. Starna (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 106, 107; Gabriel Sagard, The Long Journey to the Country of the Hurons, ed. George M. Wrong (1632; repr., Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1939), 136; Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., The Jesuit Relations: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791 (New York: Pageant Book Company, 1959), 5: 23; Samuel de Champlain, The Works of Samuel de Champlain, ed. H.P. Biggar (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1936), 4: 53; Lafitau, 1: 89; Pierre de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North America (1761; repr., Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, Inc., 1966), 2: W. Specifically for Cherokees, who are an Iroquoian people, see Benjamin Smith Barton, New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (1798; repr., Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint Co., 1976), xlv. Appallingly, the pernicious myth of Europeans as the world’s only light-skinned people persists, and is especially active among quantum-counters, hang-around-the-forts, and identity police, both European and Native…It is well past time for this skin myth, the most degrading of racist contentions, to die.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 30, 2011 11:35 pm

    I know this is an old post, but I was also archiving and this resonated with me. My grandmother is adopted, records are sealed, and because she chooses not to know about it, I can’t unseal the record until 2020 or if she dies (and even if then, I have to wait a year after she dies). Also, my grandparents continuously cockblock me from pursuing tribal affiliation (because in MA, wampanoags are only state recognized and there is a cap-limit on who can be in) because they continue to say No no no no. They won’t look at facts because it’s still shaming to be Indian, apparently.

    As for my Kiowa ancestor, that I have valid proof. Carrie Everton, head of household, married twice. She’s my ancestor. Gtfo, BIA.

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