"Even Jay Silverheels knew it."
August 5, 2014 2:38 PM   Subscribe


 
So they can help perpetuate the myth that the Washington NFL team's name is a way to honor Native Americans?
posted by terrapin at 2:48 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


My family has this same "lore" on my paternal grandmother's side. However, it would be patently dishonest for me to call myself Native American on an application.
posted by goethean at 2:51 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Man, I remember back when the state history chapters came up in elementary school, and my mom (an elementary school teacher) bemoaned having to teach the state history units, specifically because it was the time when every kid would stand up and loudly proclaim to be 1/16th Cherokee and therefore an expert on this rock they found in their back yard.

She then looked over at me and glared, and said something very close to: "if I ever hear you or your brother say you have Native American ancestry I'll knock you silly. The actual number of people with Indian ancestors is vanishingly small and everyone else is full of shit. FULL OF IT. DO YOU HEAR ME?!!"

And then of course I went in to school the next day to learn about Tomochichi and James Edward Oglethorpe and three quarters of the fucking class stood up to be all "my great great great granddad was half Cherokee it's true!!!"
posted by phunniemee at 3:01 PM on August 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


The one thing you always notice is that the Native American hiding in the family tree was female, preferably a princess. There are a few exceptions, but on the whole, it was a woman from a tribe being taken as a wife.

There's a lot to unpack in terms of patriarchy and colonialism in there, I suspect.
posted by Hactar at 3:07 PM on August 5, 2014 [22 favorites]


From the article:
By the early 1970s, then, Iron Eyes Cody was not only simply a Native American character actor, but one of the most important figures in fashioning Americans’ ideas about the “authentic Indian.” The culmination of his long career was undoubtedly the “The Crying Indian.” The Ad Council, a pro-bono conglomeration of companies that creates public service announcements, sponsored the commercial. Rosie the Riveter, Smokey Bear, “Just Say No”: all public service announcements produced by the Ad Council. During the Cold War, the Ad Council turned to blatant U.S. propaganda, urging Americans to take an active role in promoting U.S. industry in the fight against communism. At the same time, the modern environmental movement was born and urged industry to promote recycling and reuse of materials. The Ad Council countered with its own “environmental” message, which stressed the responsibility of individuals—not corporations—to fight pollution.

One of the taglines of this Keep America Beautiful campaign was “People start pollution. People can stop it,” which seemed benign enough, but turned out to be part of a political attack on more progressive environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. Keep America Beautiful was a non-profit group supported by bottle manufacturers to prevent bottle deposit laws, and encouraging more and more consumption, according to investigative journalist Ginger Strand. Bottle deposit laws—most enacted with the birth of the environmental movement—were driving down demand for new glass and aluminum. The Ad Council’s “Crying Indian” spots tried to change the conversation, making the environmental movement a question of personal ethics, not corporate responsibility.
Wow. I had no idea.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:08 PM on August 5, 2014 [67 favorites]


Speaking just for my family, my sister and I are pretty sure that our own "one-sixteenth Cherokee, descended from a princess" lore seems to have been concocted at some point by our grandmother (or possibly our great-grandmother) to cover up for the fact that we were Jewish on one side of the family -- i.e., it was a way of explaining why certain family members "looked dark."
posted by scody at 3:10 PM on August 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


"I am 1/64th Cherokee!" - Ancient White proverb
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 3:11 PM on August 5, 2014 [51 favorites]


I think the writer could have done more to split between those who knowingly make up a Native American identity, and those who thoughtlessly repeat handmedown tales about their "1/16th Cherokee forebears".
posted by Thing at 3:11 PM on August 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


and half a shit over what Barack Obama thinks about issues facing the black community

This is so, so, so not how being multiracial works.

This is not to say that everybody who thinks one great-great-grandparent was maybe a member of some fashionable ethnic group isn't just spewing bullshit, but that's still not how being multiracial works. Barack Obama might not have the same lived experience as someone descended from slaves on both sides--but he wouldn't have that if both of his parents had been black African immigrants, either. Racism doesn't somehow halfway skip over you when they're only being racist about half of your family, and you aren't somehow only halfway a member of a community you exist in. Not even for those of us who pass, but in particular for those who don't.
posted by Sequence at 3:13 PM on August 5, 2014 [36 favorites]


It would be interesting to delineate between people who actively invent their own fake Native backgrounds, as opposed to people who are passing along (false) family histories.

It would be interesting to compare and contrast this phenomenon with other forms of dubious "folk ancestry" from around the world, such as the Venetic Theory, or Phoenicianism.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:14 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


There's no real answer in this essay, but it's a decent exploration.

This is something that mystifies me, and what's more, it seems to be always the same tribes. I grew up 20 miles south of the Crow Reservation, and while I've heard numerous people claim some type of ancestry, it's never Shoshoni or Crow or Ute, but Cherokee, Choctaw, Cheyenne, or Comanche. It's like it has to be the "right" tribe. (Whenever I meet someone who claims to be some fraction of Comanche, I always get a kick out of saying they're really Shoshone, and if they're frauds about it, they'll get upset for the wrong reasons.)

It's almost as if by claiming that heritage, it's claiming the right to have prior claim of the land or not being part of the shameful history of North America; it's claiming a right to some kind of entitlement due to history. It's similar to saying, "Well, my great great grandparents didn't own slaves."

The one thing you always notice is that the Native American hiding in the family tree was female, preferably a princess. YES. Where does that shit come from? Did everybody steal the idea of their ancestry from the Land o Lakes butter box? Or is it more related to the idea of Sacagawea or some kind of hand me down image from Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show?
posted by barchan at 3:15 PM on August 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


The one thing you always notice is that the Native American hiding in the family tree was female, preferably a princess. There are a few exceptions, but on the whole, it was a woman from a tribe being taken as a wife.

There's a lot to unpack in terms of patriarchy and colonialism in there, I suspect.


Yeah. In my case, it was a great grandmother. My grandfather (and siblings) birth certificates list their mother's race as Ute. But, see, here's the thing. The Utes were in CO/NM and later Utah. All of my ancestors on that side are from Ohio.

Now, nobody is around to even ask, and of course my GGM has no documentation or anything. So, it's a mystery. And I suspect something of a scandal, like the fact that my mom was born out of wedlock in the late 40s and as a result some of my grandmothers family disowned her.

Anyway, all of that and 1.75 gets me a 20oz coke. I care about NA issues not because of some tenuous claim to heritage, but because I went to HS with lots of kids from the Anishinabe and Fond Du Lac tribes and came to understand what it meant to grow up native in White America.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:18 PM on August 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


The finest playboy centerfolds of my childhood were supposedly part Cherokee ( I read the bio page just in case i ever met them and needed a conversational edge).
posted by srboisvert at 3:18 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


parody of this trope - (1/8th Blackfoot, 3/4 Red Sox)- "I'm more Indianer than all y'all")
posted by bartleby at 3:21 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Did everybody steal the idea of their ancestry from the Land o Lakes butter box?

Family lore says grandmother was a wise woman who loved sitting on the shelf of the fridge, enjoying the sight of cold eggs
posted by Greg Nog at 3:23 PM on August 5, 2014 [44 favorites]


Speaking of passing along fake family histories, I'd love to read the new memoir by Brandon Skyhorse, whose mother told him he was half Indian to cover for his being half Mexican.

it seems to be always the same tribes.

I was thinking the same thing: why is it always Cherokee? Is the Cherokee Nation somehow the most famous? The most attractive? Is it because of the Trail of Tears? No one ever has a fake story about being 1/16 Iroquois.

As for the princess thing: it always has to be a (noble)woman, because our historical racist/misogynistic tropes necessitate it -- that is, it's perfectly acceptable (even romantic) that a white man would marry an Indian woman (preferably of high standing), but entirely unacceptable that a white woman would marry an Indian man.
posted by scody at 3:26 PM on August 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Well, for one thing, America's fraught history with whiteness is a major part of the story here—or not here, really. I mean, all of the people claiming to be Cherokee—as scody notes, almost always Cherokee—are white.

In many ways, "Indian" blood serves as the contemporary autochthonous claim to U.S. soil, since "I have Pilgrim ancestors" has fallen out of vogue. It's used to legitimate the speaker as a "true" "native" American and differentiating the speaker from all those others who are maybe just of poor immigrant stock, and especially those of brown or yellow immigrant stock. Having non-white "blood" also serves to steel the speaker against (some) claims of white privilege; it seems to be said to show that "things weren't always easy" and deployed within a Horatio Alger story of hard work, the American Dream, etc.

By contrast, you can actually see many of the same claims to autochthony show up in the Chicano Power movement (today mostly moribund), especially in the claims to Aztlán. But because that's fundamentally a discourse about American settler-colonialism and imperialism—one that ignores similar processes by Spain and then Mexico—it's not one we see used by people attempting to claim an American-American identity.

One more notable thing here is that for large swaths of the US, Native Americans are simply outside of everyday, mundane existence. But they're still produced as semi-white, and claiming that ancestry makes no threat to the racial order that makes whiteness both the default race and the actively privileged race. So as an identity and as as symbol, we have this group of people ("Native Americans") who everybody knows exists, few know much about, and whom seem to legitimate the contemporary speaker's privilege even though the speaker readily passes as white.
posted by migrantology at 3:40 PM on August 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


I wish the article had spent more time discussing Ward Churchill.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:40 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've heard a number of suggestions that follow scody's story: that a lot of these family legends about so-and-so being some flavor of Native American were because some member of the family was actually from a darker-complected ethnic group that was more stigmatized. The anti-miscegenation laws, for example? In many states, Native American descent didn't count, but the one-drop rule was in effect for African descent. So.
posted by Sequence at 3:46 PM on August 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


I grew up with this mythology too and never really believed it and thought some of my relatives claiming to be 1/16 Okanagan kind of offensive since they thought it somehow made them special without having to deal with any of the bullshit that goes along with being a Native American.

I finally took a 23 and me DNA test that proved that my mom's family was descended from my great grandfather's later French wife and not his first Okanagan wife (who was of course kidnapped from an Indian Reservation when she was 5 and blah blah blah.)

At least they were original enough to not claim Cherokee or Cree, I have to give them that.
posted by mikesch at 3:55 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of the things that always irritates me about stories like this is that it ignores people of Native heritage who are not (and not eligible to be) enrolled members of the tribe. It also ignores the long history of Natives and Anglos intermarrying, and the Native heritage getting swept under the rug. I think this is why Cherokee is such a popular tribal identity to claim -- as far back as 1828, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation John Ross was 1/8 Cherokee and 7/8 Anglo.
Several of my ancestors came from Tennessee to Missouri at the same time as the Trail of Tears. Their contemporaneous records (censuses, wills, etc.) give mixed accounts of their heritage including "Black Dutch", which isn't even a thing. It suggests that they were of not exclusively white origin, possibly African but possibly Native American (or both). My great-great-grandmother became old and senile and could no longer speak English, but a language none of her children knew or could understand.
Even if they were Cherokee, because my family did not go to Oklahoma and aren't on the Dawes Rolls, I wouldn't be eligible for tribal membership. That's fine with me -- if they chose to pass for white and live that way, then they opted out of whatever benefits any of us might derive from tribal membership.
To be clear, I'm not saying that I should have a voice in tribal anything, or that I get to speak for Cherokee people because I may be distantly related. When it comes to actual Native issues, Indian Law, BIA -- I have zero extra standing beyond that of a concerned American citizen. I have a great deal of white privilege that is not elided simply by my possible heritage.
But people like me aren't lying or fabricating when they speak up about their heritage. My ancestors apparently (and understandably) chose to sweep their heritage under the rug, but unlike them, I lose nothing by being open about it. I prefer to recognize the many ethnicities involved in my background rather than perpetuating the whitewashing.
posted by katemonster at 3:55 PM on August 5, 2014 [25 favorites]


and half a shit over what Barack Obama thinks about issues facing the black community

This is so, so, so not how being multiracial works.


Thanks for that. I had friend whose parents were Italian and Ojibwe. He grew up on a reserve and worked at the reserve's casino until he moved to Ottawa. I'd really have a hard time with the idea I should only give half a shit about what he has to say about his experience being First Nations in Canada. Because one of his parents is of European descent he can only half understand? I don't think so.
posted by Hoopo at 4:02 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


"Speaking just for my family, my sister and I are pretty sure that our own "one-sixteenth Cherokee, descended from a princess" lore seems to have been concocted at some point by our grandmother (or possibly our great-grandmother) to cover up for the fact that we were Jewish on one side of the family -- i.e., it was a way of explaining why certain family members "looked dark.""

I grew up with the family legend of being part Cherokee, on my mom's side. We went to powwows, tribal gatherings, what have you, all in an effort to, you know, "educate me about my heritage."

My mom's side is from rural Indiana, and while the pictures of great grandpa and a few other ancient relations are unmistakably dark, the narrative has shifted over the years. When my grandma was growing up, that swarthiness was because they were "part Italian," then by my mom's generation, it was that they'd been part Cherokee. Great grandpa had claimed Native American blood, but there was a time when Italian was more acceptable, so…

Come to find out through the magic of the internet making more public records accessible that old Hillbilly Willy (his nom de Hoosier) had been listed as African at birth, then when he was about 20 he changed that to Ethiopian for the census. Then he moved some 40 miles away and in the next census, damn, he was just white.

Entertainingly, that "move 40 miles, become white" happened on the other branch of my mother's tree for most of her kin, but one of them moved to Detroit and married a Civil Rights preacher and was black all day long, despite having "white" siblings. (Which mom's aunts begged her not to make public because they were worried that, living in Tennessee, someone might find out and fire them.)

We've taken to calling that complexion "Indiana white." You're "Indiana white" if you're black in the town you grew up in, but can move to the next town over and pass for white.
posted by klangklangston at 4:04 PM on August 5, 2014 [36 favorites]


I recommend the documentary "Reel Injun" (on Netflix), which covers Iron Eyes and has lots of details into Hollywood portrayal of Native Americans, but also tackles the damage done by cultural appropriation and popularization of "Indian" fashion among white people (not just clothes, but also 'spirit animals' and fake ancestry).

No one ever has a fake story about being 1/16 Iroquois.

Growing up in the Hudson Valley, I can assure you there were lots of fake ancestry stories about the Iroquois. Mostly because streets, rivers, mountains, and towns all in the area were named by them and our history lessons always focused a lot on them.

I had no idea growing up that people made up their ancestry, though. My family are all recent immigrants with a really well documented family tree, so I just assumed that people whose European families emigrated a long, long time ago would totally have some race mixing and that they would know. (Although "1/16th black" was always conspicuously absent from these stories.)
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 4:04 PM on August 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I was thinking the same thing: why is it always Cherokee?

this song perhaps?
posted by philip-random at 4:15 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]




Huh, I always assumed the choice of faux-Cherokee was because of their 1/16th blood quantum laws but I see that I was conflating the Eastern Band with the Nation all along.
posted by elizardbits at 4:20 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


My family has fake Mi'kmaqs. My mom and I have done the family tree, up one side and down the other and it is just full of English people, all the way back to the old country in the 1600s. The most exotic person we found was Swiss. Yet one branch of my family persists in their delusion and is always posting pseudo Native wisdom on Facebook with pictures of dream catchers.
posted by Biblio at 4:20 PM on August 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


Compare also the stories around the Melungeons.
posted by gimonca at 4:21 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


this song perhaps?

Yeah, I was wondering if that song might have something to do with it -- also, Cher's Half-Breed. But did they put "being Cherokee" in the public consciousness, or did they reflect the fact that it was already a trend by that point? Also, oh my god, 1970s music video production qualities and men with Carol Brady hair, WUT
posted by scody at 4:27 PM on August 5, 2014


I've shared my family's weird story before. Because of where they were from, it is fairly possible my great-great grandparents were both Lumbee, but the Lumbee themselves are a group whose origins are somewhat in dispute--they are frequently considered to be a Melungeon group themselves. It is also possible that one or both of them was a black person passing as white. What I do know is that their son, my great-grandfather, was raised as white in rural Georgia, in a wealthy, politically powerful family, went to medical school, and married a white woman. He died quite young, and my white great-grandmother raised my grandfather as white. Whoever our genes might have come from, we have been culturally white and had white privilege for many generations.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:28 PM on August 5, 2014


I grew up with family lore that said my father's side had some Indian ancestry from intermarriage back in the 1600s.
This past Christmas, we got all four of my son's grandparents DNA tests. My dad is 99.2% European -- and 0.5% sub-Saharan African.
I'm guessing someone 300+ years ago was not 100% European in appearance, and explained it away as Indian.
posted by fings at 4:29 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


This romantic, false belief in having Native American ancestry is by no means limited to white people in the U.S. It's also popular amongst African Americans. Regarding people seeking DNA testing to find information about their ancestry, "The African Americans almost always guess that they have much higher percentages of Native American ancestry and much lower percentages of European ancestry than they actually have, which is not surprising since African Americans have long embraced the myth that their great grandmother with “high cheeks and straight black hair” looked that way because of a relationship between an ancestor who was black and another one who was Native American. But scientific results show that very few African Americans have a significant amount of Native American ancestry: In fact, according to a study just published by 23andMe researcher Katarzyna “Kasia” Bryc . . . only about 5 percent of African Americans have at least 2 percent of Native American ancestry, while the average African American has only 0.7 percent Native American ancestry. At the same time, Bryc’s research shows that the average African American has a whopping 24 percent of European ancestry, which explains why great-Grandma had those high cheekbones and that straight black hair."

Meanwhile, about 4% of "white" Americans have Black ancestry no more than 200 years in the past, and there are many with Jewish and Sicilian ancestry, as others have mentioned, that the family wished to conceal, since back in 1900 Jews and Sicilians were both considered "black races" by eugenic science.

So what partially explains the phenomenon of Native American wannabeism is a desire on the part of rather darkish white people not to be perceived as "tainted" by blackness and somewhat lightish African Americans to create a story of their ancestry that didn't involve the sexual "usage" of their foremothers by white people that was so common in American history. Native American ancestry is seen as a neutral, safe territory outside of black/white relations, almost a fairyland, since the genocide of first nations and methodical destruction of their cultures means that nobody is likely to be nearby these people to correct their misperceptions or false assertions.

I am certain that other factors are also important, like the idea that Native ancestry would somehow exempt or exonerate a white person from the history (and present state) of white racism, and the Little Tree sort of homogenized pan-Native-American romantic notion of being, like the Crying Indian, one with nature and spiritually superior. But I think the desire to escape uncomfortable histories of racial mixing to a romantic fantasy land of happy mixes is central.
posted by DrMew at 4:30 PM on August 5, 2014 [15 favorites]


One of the things that always irritates me about stories like this is that it ignores people of Native heritage who are not (and not eligible to be) enrolled members of the tribe. It also ignores the long history of Natives and Anglos intermarrying, and the Native heritage getting swept under the rug.

Thank you. There are some of us white people out here living in white society with no real ties to any tribal anything for a couple generations who actually know who our native ancestors are, but have just lost all connection. I'm one of those "1/16th" people who could just be making it up, I suppose. My granny, were she still here though, would set the issue straight. She knew her grandmother's name, we still have it written in family history. She wasn't a princess -- she was just a Blackfoot who married a white guy in the 1880's. My granny up and walked to down one day and got a job (as a live-in maid for 2 schoolteacher spinsters) when she was 12 and never looked back because her itinerant sheep-herding dad was abusive, so at that point we came unhinged. I'm also descended from the original Vreelands who set foot in New Amsterdamn in 1623 or so, which makes me culturally confused. I'm a Pilgrim! I'm an indian! Truth be told, the Dutch ancestry is more diluted than the Kainai ancestry, at this point. I don't know what to think, really. I'm just an American mutt.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:30 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


In the time since this was posted I have discovered a brand-new one never before observed by myself without even trying.

Jamake Highwater

This pioneering work on American Indian culture provides an uncommon insight into the world of Indians and into Western civilization itself.

I have no idea why there are so many, but in this particular instance it looks like this was how he made a living.
posted by bukvich at 4:42 PM on August 5, 2014


It's kind of amusing -- I do have a tiny fraction of Native American genes, and due to genealogy mapped against genes I have a very good idea that it is Powhatan, and even specifically who it came from (a woman who was the illegitimate daughter of an English immigrant and a fellow indentured servant.) But practically everyone I share the gene markers with has a different Indian princess story, usually Cherokee. Even some of my genetic relatives who have no NA genes at all have them!
posted by tavella at 4:45 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why is blood so important? Heck, the ethnic category 'American white' is a relevantly recent construct based on looks of a whole bunch of people of varying family backgrounds that are expected to act the same. For that matter 'Asian' and 'Black' are, too.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:54 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the writer could have done more to split between those who knowingly make up a Native American identity, and those who thoughtlessly repeat handmedown tales about their "1/16th Cherokee forebears".

I agree. The author is being awfully meanspirited towards people who are just reciting the usual American nonsensical equation (My-Dad-is-half-German-a-quarter-Irish-an-eighth-Scottish-an-eighth-Polish-&-my-mom-is-one-quarter-Scottish-one-quarter-Swiss-German-&-a-bunch-of-stuff-we-don't-know-because-no-one-would-talk-about-it-but-which-is-rumored-to-include-Native-American) that is polite chit chat among most of us. More homogeneous countries use "what's your sign?"

That's not the same as Forrest Carter or Iron Eyes Cody and it's a little rude to conflate the two.

Also, it's possible that it was useful to call the darker complexioned branch of the family Indian instead of Colored or whatever, but it still wasn't good. If you were more than 1/16th Indian princess it wasn't something to brag about, at least in our family. They were poor as dirt and illiterate and the only people they could look down on were the Indians where they lived, from what I can gather. I think that's changed. I hope so.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:01 PM on August 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


(As a side issue, all these Germans and Dutch folks I run into who have their own teepee and "live like Indians" a few months out of the year irritate me all out of proportion to anything.)
posted by small_ruminant at 5:03 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


And nary a mention of Elizabeth Warren.
posted by jpe at 5:11 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Huh? She's mentioned 11 times in the article.
posted by katemonster at 5:15 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


11 is Cherokee for "nary".
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:22 PM on August 5, 2014 [26 favorites]


Long Lance Is another interesting case of ambiguous, trumped up ancestral claims that didn't bear out to be quite true. He appears to have had some celebrity in his time.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:39 PM on August 5, 2014


Zalzidrax: "the ethnic category 'American white' is a relevantly recent construct"

Well, insofar as American anything is a relatively recent construct since America has only existed for a little less than 250 years. But, for the record, every American census dating back to the very first in 1790 has explicitly counted (and, by implication, classified) "whites". The 1790 census specifically counted free white males (over and under the age of 16), free white females, all other free persons, and slaves. So, while the exact definition of whiteness has evolved over the years (and of course our present concept of whiteness would not match 1790's version), I think it would be fair to say that the category of whiteness has been American so long as there has been an America.
posted by mhum at 5:44 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just moved, so it will be a little hard for me to pull cites, but I took a Native American Studies class in college, and in one of our textbooks, it had a lot of quoted primary sources about how some of the Cherokee in particular tried a lot of interesting tactics to survive, including deliberate interbreeding and assimilation with white Americans. So when I hear "I'm part Native American," I think it is actually more likely than not to be true, especially if you're considering ancestors three hundred years back.
posted by corb at 5:49 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


to cover up for the fact that we were Jewish on one side of the family -- i.e., it was a way of explaining why certain family members "looked dark."



LEZEM GAYNE!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:59 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Excuse me, but the likelihood that other people lie about their ancestry in no way negates the fact that I am 3/19 Nez Perce.
posted by univac at 6:01 PM on August 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


this song perhaps?

Yeah, I was wondering if that song might have something to do with it -- also, Cher's Half-Breed. But did they put "being Cherokee" in the public consciousness, or did they reflect the fact that it was already a trend by that point?


The pop culture reference that I remember from slightly earlier is Mingo.
posted by worldswalker at 6:02 PM on August 5, 2014


mhum - Part of what I was thinking was that there was a ton of European migration in the mid to late 19th century, and those folks weren't "white" until they got here. They were German or Swedish or Irish or what have you.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:04 PM on August 5, 2014


(As a side issue, all these Germans and Dutch folks I run into who have their own teepee and "live like Indians" a few months out of the year irritate me all out of proportion to anything.)


Blame Karl May.



Note- I went to a summer camp founded by a Czech fellow who had similar ideas about Native identity, inspired by the same source. Lovely man, but that was some weird shit.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:05 PM on August 5, 2014


Huh, I had no idea that the specific fraction 1/16th was so common for supposed native ancestry. According to my mom, I had a Cherokee great-great-grandmother, making me one of the many 1/16thers. I don't know whether it's true or not, but I certainly wouldn't claim tribal identity on that basis. If I ever mention it, it comes after French, English, and Scottish as part of my ancestry.
posted by tdismukes at 6:11 PM on August 5, 2014


Oh boy! I do genealogy and not only do people most often want me to search their "Indian" ancestry, they aren't even interested in hearing about any other part of their family.

They have relatives that crossed the ocean like livestock in the 1620's, grandparents that fled the potato famine and worked in the mines and lost 7 of their nine children, or despite losing both parents before they were 8 worked in a factory and eventually owned their own factory. Fascinating, amazing people.

Instead I have to tell their great grandmother may have "looked" Native American but she wasn't. The desire to believe is too strong and the the records aren't or the DNA test is messed up. sigh.

(Out of about 30 genealogies with supposed Native American ancestry I have only found one. And it was a doozy. Her Great grandmother really was the Chief's daughter!)
posted by beccaj at 6:11 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I kind of wish the "spirit animal" phrase would die a quick death. I'm personally interested in tribal mythology, a few tribes in particular, but tribal practices and cultural mythology are not interchangeable. What the hell is a "spirit animal", anyway? Did you go on a vision quest? On Facebook, everyone and their dog is Native.

At least I don't pretend to be anything but white with the ancestry of a mutt. "Poor immigrant stock" represent!
posted by quiet earth at 6:14 PM on August 5, 2014


I was one of those people with the family lore (Blackfoot, supposedly). I started doing genealogy to find out more, and eventually figured out that any Native ancestry was either much further back than I had been told, or non-existent. There was basically one person in that branch that I hadn't found enough info about to be pretty sure they weren't Native. In her case, all I know to this day is that she was born in Canada. So it was theoretically possible, but looking unlikely.

Then I did 23andme and not only is there not a molecule of Native dna as far as they can tell, I'm one of the most European people possible. And mostly northern European at that.

I'm not disappointed -- my ancestors are interesting no matter where they came from -- but I am kind of embarrassed that I told people I was part Blackfoot, back in the day. I never claimed it was a large part, and I certainly wasn't making it up, but instead basing it on what my mom had told me. (I am pretty sure she wasn't the one making it up either! The story went back further.)

It's not just Indian ancestry that people claim. My ex-husband's family claimed to be Pennsylvania Dutch. I started doing his genealogy, and surprise, no sign of it whatsoever. Not even anything close. And then, surprise again -- it turned out that my family tree was crawling with Mennonites. :) And there wasn't any family lore about that. But the dna tests backed it up.

Anyway, I agree that the article was harsh, considering that it is likely that many people are not claiming Native ancestry as a lie, but instead as an honest belief based on what their family has told them. And sometimes that story goes back a few generations. Many people really don't know a lot about their ancestors and it is very easy for confusion to take root. (The incorrect information that people's grown children often placed on their death certificates shows how quickly the truth can be obscured.) People take pride at having something "special" in their heritage whether it is Native, Amish, Pilgrim or whatever.
posted by litlnemo at 6:17 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm guessing that the author hasn't been reading shes2rez4ubro.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:22 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wait, it's cool (in the Western world) to have *distant* ancestors who escaped from pogroms and forced labor, but it's racist/colonialist to have ones who did so within their lifetime? As a Jew with Israeli Holocaust survivor relatives, I am confused.
posted by Dreidl at 6:25 PM on August 5, 2014


Wait, it's cool (in the Western world) to have *distant* ancestors who escaped from pogroms and forced labor, but it's racist/colonialist to have ones who did so within their lifetime? As a Jew with Israeli Holocaust survivor relatives, I am confused.

Well, European-American culture and Cherokee culture are not without their similarities vis-à-vis power structures.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:27 PM on August 5, 2014


Too bad the piece doesn't mention Peggy Seltzer--fake Indian and fake gang banger. Two in one!
posted by Ideefixe at 6:29 PM on August 5, 2014


(Or forced migration, for that matter.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:29 PM on August 5, 2014


I can see how it's tempting for vanilla Wonder Bread white people such as myself to believe the family lore about being a little bit Other, especially when the Other is something that's been romanticized to the extent Native Americans were once we finished killing most of them. I remember a twinge of disappointment when my mother mentioned to me that my grandmother Beth was in fact a black woman (albeit pale enough that it hadn't occurred to me, except to wonder why Duke Ellington talked just like her) -- disappointment because she was my grandmother via divorce and remarriage, so I was still just plain white. There are positive and (probably mostly) negative things that can be read into that desire for a little Other heritage.

Me, I'm only 1/19th Cherokee, so I can't claim membership.
posted by uosuaq at 6:33 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Ad Council’s “Crying Indian” spots tried to change the conversation, making the environmental movement a question of personal ethics, not corporate responsibility.

I remember a comment from somewhere (here?) stating that it was Richard Nixon who threw the trash at Iron Eyes Cody in that commercial.

It seems appropriate enough...
posted by Pudhoho at 6:37 PM on August 5, 2014


I always tell people I'm descended from a long line of ass stabbers and sheep thieves. My middle sister is going bonkers over genealogy right now and discovered that my father's family has lived in Mississippi, since before the revolutionary war. I feel justified in my beliefs now.
posted by evilDoug at 6:41 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


this song perhaps?

You've seen nothing until you've seen Donny Osmond perform that song in full "Indian" headdress. I'm here to tell you: I saw that as a child and I was scarred for life.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:43 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I live in Oklahoma - you wouldn't believe how many people claim to be American Indian. Wait.
posted by bradth27 at 6:43 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I remember a comment from somewhere (here?) stating that it was Richard Nixon who threw the trash at Iron Eyes Cody in that commercial.

It seems appropriate enough...


Nixon was a scumbag on so many levels, but remember that:

[in 1970] "The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order."
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:46 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


whose mother told him he was half Indian to cover for his being half Mexican.

Wait... I missed this earlier... An awful lot of Mexicans ARE half Indian. The Spaniards interbred with the native people of Mexico much more freely than the northern European settlers to their north. She might have only been half-wrong.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:52 PM on August 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


This actually just came up in my own family. For generations, the family story has been that my maternal grandfather's grandmother was (I think) Choctaw. That was really, really believable, because he had really dark bronze skin and jet black hair. You could absolutely buy that he was 1/4 native American. Actually, the hard part would be believing that he was only a quarter native.

And then last month, my mother sent a DNA sample off to one of those mail-in companies, and when she got the results back, it showed 98% English ancestry and about 2% Italian. Nothing at all but Western European.

My brother and I talked about that this afternoon and while I'm inclined to believe that we are one of the countless white families with a legend about native ancestry, it's really hard to see where Pawpaw's coloring came from if we are basically completely Anglo. Which leaves the other, more scandalous possibility, but we'll never know unless my aunt has her DNA tested and it comes back different.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:00 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


(As a side issue, all these Germans and Dutch folks I run into who have their own teepee and "live like Indians" a few months out of the year irritate me all out of proportion to anything.)

They've got nothing on the Danes.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:00 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wait... I missed this earlier... An awful lot of Mexicans ARE half Indian. The Spaniards interbred with the native people of Mexico much more freely than the northern European settlers to their north. She might have only been half-wrong.

But being Mexican Indian isn't as cool as being US Indian. There isn't the same romanticism associated? Or something. If it ever does become cool, I am totally going to be like, yeah I'm 1/16th Purépecha. Mexica who?
posted by Mister Cheese at 7:14 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


PS Do not know if actually 1/16th Purépecha
posted by Mister Cheese at 7:26 PM on August 5, 2014


I sent away for the National Geographic Genome kit and found out that my French Canadian grandfather had NO Indian blood and I am in fact, Whitey McWhite-White.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:29 PM on August 5, 2014


[in 1970] "The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order."

He did indeed! But I also remember that he did it to "placate the hippies" (can't remember if that was an actual quote).
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:29 PM on August 5, 2014


Didn't the Cherokees and Comanches feature heavily in John Wayne era westerns? That could explain their popularity.
posted by stp123 at 7:39 PM on August 5, 2014


-No one ever has a fake story about being 1/16 Iroquois.

--Growing up in the Hudson Valley, I can assure you there were lots of fake ancestry stories about the Iroquois.


My family had one! (It's hard to claim Cherokee ancestry if your family's been in New York and Pennsylvania for centuries.) I suspected it to be false long before Mom's genealogy work and later DNA test ruled it out, but we all grew up with it.

We finally did find what may have been the inspiration for the legend, though, in several newspaper accounts from the 1700's. During the Revolutionary War, when the British were encouraging conflict between the natives and white settlers, one of my ancestors' houses was burned down by a hostile party of Native Americans. The family ran outside, the father was killed with his two-year-old daughter in his arms, and the raiding party took the baby back with them and brought her up. When her brothers grew up, they went and got her back, but she only stayed with them a little while before going back to the people who had rasied her. We're descended from one of the brothers. So, supposing she married and had descendants among the Iroquois, I might have some incredibly distant cousins who can claim that heritage.

I think a lot of people cling to the idea because it eases the white guilt a little. You don't feel so bad about your ancestors stealing a continent if you can feel some kind of connection to the people it was stolen from.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:43 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


uhm.. what is this 23 and me and how can it pinpoint "3% Italian" or similar?
posted by dabitch at 7:50 PM on August 5, 2014


My DNA stuff came up with the obvious mostly native plus iberian ancestry, and even the subsaharan african was not unexpected. But the miniscule percentage of apparently ashkenazi jew was extremely startling and made my entire family hilariously excited.

Also iirc there was something like 6% "unassigned" and I am 100% certain that 6% is xenomorph.
posted by elizardbits at 7:54 PM on August 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


Man, I've always had the 1/16th thing in my family (paternal, and my grandma would switch it up with Cherokee and Blackfoot... no idea). I always half believed and thought that it was BS, especially given that my grandma was a bit crazy and full of soap opera-esque stories. I now just stick with the fact that we were definitely 100% white trash.

Anyway, why Cherokee--historically, the tribe was the least scary to whites. They had their own written language! This also makes them the biggest sell outs to other tribes (that last bit is my own research, I can't really point ya to a source or anything).
posted by sleepy pete at 7:59 PM on August 5, 2014


No one ever has a fake story about being 1/16 Iroquois.

Funny you should mention it because back in the 1500s it was fashionable among the Iroquois to claim a little bit of Viking ancestry.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:00 PM on August 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


My family has a fairly plausible story, in that the locations, timeline, and appearance of my great-great-grandfather (not a princess!) fit. I remember poking around the Dawes rolls but I don't remember finding anything conclusive, and I'm not that curious anyway. It's not going to change my life in any way. No one ever mistakes me for anything but white and I have zero cultural ties to anything Native.
posted by desjardins at 8:09 PM on August 5, 2014


The myth in our family was that we were part German. We are not a romantic family. Grandma explained to me long ago that I was mostly descended from dirt poor farmers.
posted by Area Man at 8:09 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


My grandfather's mother actually was full-blooded Native American, but he wasn't my biological grandfather, though he raised me as if I were a son. It's possible I'm mistaken about the tribal background, but my understanding is she was Cherokee. I met my grandfather's side of the family as a kid once and played "cowboys and indians" with my young cousins blissfully unaware of the perversity of the game in context. There is no doubt he was half Native American--once you knew it, it was obvious. He had light enough skin to pass for white, but his features were distinctively Native American otherwise.

Everyone in our family worshipped him: He was tough as nails and a great hunter, worker, builder, mechanic and all around provider. In my case, I like to talk about him because I'm proud of everything he accomplished in life despite his humble background, and I want everything about his story to be remembered.

But I think part of the allure of lying about being part Native American is that it eases people's guilt when they're confronted with the facts about how their real ancestors came to run this place.

I get no comfort there since my grandfather, much as I loved him, wasn't really my ancestor.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:10 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anyway, why Cherokee--historically, the tribe was the least scary to whites. They had their own written language! This also makes them the biggest sell outs to other tribes (that last bit is my own research, I can't really point ya to a source or anything).

Here's one source and in my opinion it's a good reason why these tribes are commonly claimed as ancestral:
In the early 1800s, the Cherokee tried to assimilate, along with their neighbors the Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws and Seminoles. Most of the leaders were convinced that to survive they would have to adopt white ways. These tribes became known as the Five Civilized Tribes.
posted by desjardins at 8:14 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am descended from Tennessee Melungeons. My mom always told me the "Cherokee princess" story, but I did the Ancestry.com DNA test and got 0% Native American and 3% African. I have photos of my great-great-grandmother, and it is surprising to me that she ever passed as white. She was registered as "mulatto" in the 1910 Census (but her husband was white, and though her children were listed as "mulatto" in 1910, they were "white" by the 1930 Census). This side of my family has people who are very racist towards black people, even today. There is a great deal of denial and self-hatred involved in the Melungeon story - and the Cherokee lie is an "honorable" explanation of the not-quite-white.
posted by candyland at 8:49 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Bonobo, thanks for the French Canadian reference. After my second cousin stumbled across my genealogy page, she handed over documents linking us to the patriarch of the family, who came from France to Canada in the 1600s. We recently joked that he'd probably been fooling around with the natives since his future wife from France didn't arrive for several years. Until we have some DNA tests (to see what else we are, not looking for native links), I think we'll stop with those jokes.

And about the common claim to CHerokee--I too thought it was the blood quantum issue but aren't the Cherokees also the largest tribe because of their expansive definition of who qualifies? Except for the black people they've kicked out in recent years?

And one more thing: nearly all the members of the Shinnecock tribe on Long Island that Ive met over the years appear to be African-American, which is a result of escaped slaves and freed blacks finding a home with them.
posted by etaoin at 9:05 PM on August 5, 2014


The Cherokee Nation requires no blood quantum, but your ancestor must have been enrolled in the Dawes Rolls. The Eastern and United Keetoowah Band have their own requirements (1/16 and 1/4 blood quantum, respectively, and Baker census enrollment for Eastern Band).
I started to write it all out, but this blog post explains it better: My Grandmother Was a Cherokee Indian Princess. Among other things, a lot of Cherokees fell away during the Trail of Tears or otherwise separated from the tribe and settled in other states -- chiefly Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Kansas -- rendering them ineligible for enrollment in the Dawes Rolls.
posted by katemonster at 9:37 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


As for the princess thing: it always has to be a (noble)woman, because our historical racist/misogynistic tropes necessitate it

It's pretty common. "We" have Pocahantas, but there's also La Malinche. Strangely, it's never a prince getting enslaved and raped as part of the original myth.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:38 PM on August 5, 2014


I think anybody who feels guilty about what their ancestors did is nuts. But wait! The Ames Brothers broke up?!
posted by carping demon at 10:22 PM on August 5, 2014


But being Mexican Indian isn't as cool as being US Indian. There isn't the same romanticism associated? Or something.

Yeah, my family story was always that we were fractionally Mexican Indian, and the ancestor wasn't supposed to have been any sort of princess, just some lady my n'th great grandfather married in a remote mining town. It was something of a relief to get the DNA ancestry results back and find that I actually am 3% Native American and I hadn't been inadvertently lying about it for decades!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:44 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can see how it's tempting for vanilla Wonder Bread white people such as myself to believe the family lore about being a little bit Other, especially when the Other is something that's been romanticized to the extent Native Americans were once we finished killing most of them.

That was especially the case in the 1970s, when being part Indian was Othered in an exotic and romanticized way. I blame the counterculture, and Billy Jack, and the like. Ten year-old me wanted to be something exciting and cool like Chinese or Indian or anything but boring old white.

I never actually pretended I was one of the other races though, and ventually I found science fiction and found other things to daydream about,. It's embarrassing to Remember it now.
posted by happyroach at 10:51 PM on August 5, 2014


I remember a comment from somewhere (here?) stating that it was Richard Nixon who threw the trash at Iron Eyes Cody in that commercial.

That was what I was told as a child, by my (formerly liberal) parents, to indoctrinate me against Nixon. Which is ironic, considering A) my folks eventually became Tea Partiers, and B) as I learned from the article in this post, the Iron Eyes Cody ad was actually a conservative attempt to to divert criticism from corporate polluters to individuals.
posted by scody at 12:06 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Wait... I missed this earlier... An awful lot of Mexicans ARE half Indian. The Spaniards interbred with the native people of Mexico much more freely than the northern European settlers to their north. She might have only been half-wrong.

"Mexican" is a nationality, not an ethnicity.

To be "1/4 Mexican" makes no sense. People in Mexico are a mix of European and Native American.
Some Mexicans are more European than most Americans and some Mexicans are from Indian tribes.

The political border doesn't divide ethnicities of Native Americans. In fact, many tribes were split apart because of the border, the Pima being one of the more famous example and used in obesity studies.

Of course people also use "Native American" to mean those people/tribes within the US, with all their own special political history but thats different.

I always took the "I'm 1/16th Cherokee" to be an attempt by people to say "I'm not the oppressor. I'm not vanilla white. I'm complex. I sympathize with the underclass." It is a political statement.

In Mexico, people with lighter skin oppress people with darker skin but everybody has some Indian blood so a statement like "I'm 1/8th Aztec" is a bit ridiculous. Who isn't?
posted by vacapinta at 12:19 AM on August 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


In Mexico, people with lighter skin oppress people with darker skin but everybody has some Indian blood so a statement like "I'm 1/8th Aztec" is a bit ridiculous. Who isn't?

I'm not. I'm pretty certainly more Otomi than Mexica.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:45 AM on August 6, 2014


Oh man, my mom has a thousand hilarious theories about this. Most of them extremely sarcastic.

See, my mom is native. Not in this sort of sense, like 100%, no doubt about it from a glance. The only thing she ever gets is people thinking she's light skinned but black. My dad, on the other hand, is a big stocky german dude.

I ended up coming out with the forehead and eye shape of my mom which is pretty stereotypical "1800s B&W photo of a native dude", but the skin tone of about... a really tanned guy.

This shorts peoples brains out. I look "other" just enough that people ask me where i'm from, but i'm not actually brown enough for them to believe me. I end up having skid mark conversations like this. Which by the way, was a complete cold call, there was no previous conversation here, I was just eating my fucking lunch and staring at my phone:

Random dude in crepe shop: Hey, if you don't mind me asking, where are you from?
Me: Uh, here
RDCS: No i mean like, where are your parents from?
Me: Yea, here. Are you asking what my ethnicity is?
RDCS: well, yea
Me: *short explanation of tribe, parents, etc*
RDCS: Dude no you're not, you're white

And then he went and got his friends from the other side of the shop, and asked them to look at me, and what their opinion was. They all concurred, and accused me of being one of those 1/64th grandma people.

It was staircase wit as i boarded the bus 20 minutes later, but i realized that i need to start responding to that with "So if i look white, then why did you ask me where i'm from out of nowhere?".

But yea, basically, fuck white people doing this for creating that stupid catch 22 situation i'll likely encounter for the rest of my life.


There is a funny flip side to this. A really snarky friend of mine made the point that Rob Schneider is sort of a chameleon. You put him next to basically anyone and do his makeup a little different and he'd look like them.

In certain circumstances this seems to apply to me too. When i would hang out with my latina friend in high school, people would just assume i was too and speak spanish to me. People always try and speak russian with me when i'm with my partners armenian family. It's usually just funny, but always leaves me thinking "oh god, am i just like, generic slightly light brown person?". Oh, and people who think me and my partner are siblings. That's actually happened more than a few times.
posted by emptythought at 1:47 AM on August 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


Oh gods...Rural Indiana is chock-full of people like this. They get wind that they might be (insert miniscule percentage) Native American, and suddenly their homes are filled with dream catchers, kokopellis, drums, images of wolves baying at full moons, and umpteen more bric-a-brac. Any conversation with them inevitably includes references to their "[whichever tribe] name."
posted by Thorzdad at 4:41 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


We have the same Cherokee grandmother stories in my family (no princess). It's so much less pretending and more just not knowing otherwise. It's likely Cherokee simply because of the area of the country in which I grew up. Maybe the stories are there as a way to try to individualize the family or make it special. The only features that are ever related are high cheekbones, which certainly appear with all kinds of peoples. Sometimes I wonder if it didn't all start because we just didn't know that far back. Three of my four grandparents died before I was born, so definitely no great grandparents around either. There weren't many things handed down, as my ancestors were poor farmers and turpentiners for generations. When I've researched recently, we trace back to the Appalachian Scots-Irish, which is interesting enough to me.
posted by bizzyb at 5:55 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thank you. There are some of us white people out here living in white society with no real ties to any tribal anything for a couple generations who actually know who our native ancestors are, but have just lost all connection

This is me too, only the lost connection to the ojibwa community/white privilege starts with me.

My father is "only" half native - the other half being French Canadian - and you can absolutely 100% tell that he is native. Me? Not so much. Like emptythought, I often ping with some people as not completely white, but with others, they wouldn't believe that I'm 1/4 native if I told them.

Even being as "close" as 1/4 native, all it takes is one generation for that cultural connection to be shattered. If my father had not been destroyed by alcoholism, maybe I would have that now. And I have no doubt, none at all, that there are many more like me.
posted by aclevername at 6:18 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Mexican" is a nationality, not an ethnicity.

To be "1/4 Mexican" makes no sense.


I realize that. I was being glib, but I think you got my point, that saying "You're actually not an Indian after all -- your father was a Mexican" is tantamount to saying "Actually, you're still some part Native American."

I'm actually in the middle of a big, fat book on Mexican history -- an overview of the whole schmeer, from which I will launch tangents into detail -- in which the author claims that even 25 years or more after the conquest, the ratio of Spanish-born women to men in Mexico was 1/9, so the intermarriage was early and often.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:19 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


My brother and I talked about that this afternoon and while I'm inclined to believe that we are one of the countless white families with a legend about native ancestry, it's really hard to see where Pawpaw's coloring came from if we are basically completely Anglo.

I think the myth people need to let go of is that Western European=white.

Most of the reference populations for Western European DNA goes back to whoever was living in Europe in about 1500. Even by then Europe was not only white people but included Moors, Northern Africans and a mix here and there of some Asian populations. Those genes had already mixed in to the population.

As a specific example, my wife's family on her mother's side have traced most of their branches back to the 16th century. All were living on the Iberian Peninsula. She also took a DNA test and the result was 100% European. My mother-in-law is definitely someone you'd describe as dark-skinned.
posted by vacapinta at 6:26 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


I used to work with students applying for financial aid. You ask 100 people if they have any tribal funding available and you'll get maybe 30 responses of "I'm 1/8th hip-native-tribe on my father's side." The follow-up question is: Have you registered with your tribal council? 30 responses of "No. What do you mean?"

I had two out of two thousand actually qualify for any funding, but they were half and 100% Native American. They did not romanticize their heritage or heredity. They were just living it.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:34 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Someone managed to trace our family tree in Europe back far enough (on my dad's side) to discover that Isaac Newton's father & one of our ancestors were brothers. So we're, like, practically Newton's cousins! 12th cousins, 9 times removed, or some such but still! I think that's where my daughter gets her smarts. My mom disowned her family when i was very young, so my contact with half my genealogy is pretty vague, and as I've gotten older that bugs me. I need to find my living aunts, uncles and cousins again.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:36 AM on August 6, 2014


My Nephews qualify as Metis (well, two of them do, the other two are Caucasian and Trinidadian/Indian/Caucasian respectively)

In the former case, the two that qualify as Metis really look the part, taking skin tone and bone structure from their Dad in a big way. They took their mothers name, so as they have kids their kids will have a native legacy if they wish it. I don't know if that will mean in a few generations there will be more or less Metis in the family; but considering we are (if you excuse the expression) off the boat immigrants to North America (as a family) we have Family members who have more claim to being Native than many, many, many who do so; but do not have that same qualification.

Neat.
posted by NiteMayr at 6:57 AM on August 6, 2014


It's really interesting how one's own assumption of their race can affect their lives. A former apartment manager of ours grew up believing she was Hispanic based on her appearance (I think she was a foster kid or adopted) and so really threw herself into Hispanic culture, which introduced her to her now husband, also Hispanic. Then one day she did a DNA test and discovered she was actually Lebanese.

My wife is descended from a Cherokee fellow who was living in Missouri at the time of the Dawes Roll, so his name never made it on them. She doesn't run around telling people that she's 1/whatever, though, as it's just part of her ancestry and that element of her family tree had no impact whatsoever on how she was raised or her personal identification. No more than the myriad of other people in that tree with their various origins.

My mother did raise us telling us that we were descended from a Cherokee woman (along with the high cheek bone thing), and it wasn't done out of her own made up belief, but was something she had accepted from her mother and so on. This had no impact on how our family operated, there was no spiritual allusions or intense discussions on possessing an identity related to this ancestor. Thanks to a DNA test and finally seeing a photograph of the woman, I'm pretty convinced that the Cherokee ancestry was raised to cover up the fact that she was really African-American.
posted by Atreides at 7:21 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Did everybody steal the idea of their ancestry from the Land o Lakes butter box?

Family lore says grandmother was a wise woman who loved sitting on the shelf of the fridge, enjoying the sight of cold eggs
posted by Greg Nog at 5:23 PM on August 5


Funny, my family lore tells of a woman whose breasts look suspiciously like her knees...or maybe that's the other way around.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:24 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've had the opposite experience. I was always told growing up that my paternal grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee meaning that I am 1/8 Cherokee. I sort of stopped believing it until I met her in person. Perhaps a result of a bit of disbelief stemming from my English-Irish-German mutt side that doesn't find it likely that no one along the line didn't marry outside their little circle, but I'm still not quite buying the full-blooded part. Perhaps I'd buy half, making me 1/16 Cherokee. But when anyone asks, I usually just say "Irish" (or sometimes Irish-Italian as I'm actually more Italian) and people look at my skin tone and leave it at that.

But every now and then I'll give a wide grin and my glasses will lift up half an inch resulting in someone commenting on my cheek structure and I'll reply "Cherokee" but for the most part, I still take it with a grain of salt.
posted by dances with hamsters at 8:25 AM on August 6, 2014


Georgia man, 1/16th opossum per #FAMILYLORE, seeks southwestern lady any race/ethnicity, must be at least 1/16th armadillo. Object, bigtime fun blowing geneticists' minds.
posted by jfuller at 8:43 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


in which the author claims that even 25 years or more after the conquest, the ratio of Spanish-born women to men in Mexico was 1/9, so the intermarriage was early and often.

I'm Canadian and European all the way according to one my grandfathers*, except he's also the one who proudly told me that ALL of my great grandparents were born in North America. Which, according to somebody else, makes my chances of having no native blood in me very close to zero. And I've got fairly high cheekbones.

So whatever. What I don't have is anything remotely close to first nation status, or any sense of being a part of any first nations culture, nor any serious compulsion to pursue such. I mean, seriously, after everything that folks of my basic skin tone have done to first nations of the Americas, intentionally or otherwise? The word shame comes to mind.

When asked about my roots, I generally say, Euro-suburban.

who I loved but he most definitely had a racist side to him, a man of his times and all that
posted by philip-random at 8:48 AM on August 6, 2014


Vine Deloria wrote about claims of Cherokee ancestry back in 1969 in Custer Died for Your Sins. This article excerpts a few relevant paragraphs from the book.
posted by maurice at 9:22 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, I've spent some time in Oklahoma and it's not terribly uncommon for card-carrying tribe members and even tribal leaders to look "white", so this is definitely not something you want to make assumptions about, at least in certain parts of the U.S.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:41 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


These days, the question can be settled with a personal genomics test, as others have pointed out. So there's no need for it to be a mystery. Growing up with some friends from the Tulalip Indian reservation, I do remember this topic of "Cherokee" heritage being joked about. They said whenever white people had supposed native ancestors, it was always Cherokee. I also remember one of my white friends quipping that the Tulalip tribes were not "real" Indians because they formed out of a group of tribes that consolidated in the past. I always thought that was kind of a dick thing to say about a group of people who've been forced onto a reservation and probably banded together for purposes of survival. Hopefully, he doesn't think that anymore since that was way back in high school and we're adults now. Anyway, I digress.

Some trivia: Link Wray and Elvis Presley are also a couple of famous people who claimed native ancestry.
posted by ChuckRamone at 9:41 AM on August 6, 2014


I think a lot of Americans have the "maybe" genealogy talk in their family.

However, there is something way more racist and annoying when you have an actual, conscious Pretendian in your midst. There is a white woman in my town (she's actually Scots-Irish descent) who left many years ago, ended up living on a reservation, changed her name to something vaguely Native, dyed her hair black, started wearing Plains Indian jewelry, and landed herself an Ojibwe boyfriend. She moved back and now is actually a leader in a recently-famous Native American rights org locally.

I have no idea what the actual Native community thinks of her takeover, but it seems to be a sort of "retreat"--in that this group around here isn't very active.

Why does it matter? Because she's now a "spokesperson" for Native issues around here. What the hell.
posted by RedEmma at 9:54 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wow, there sure were a lot of Cherokee princesses back then! Who knew? I too, have the Cherokee princess myth in my family, going back to a great-great-great grandmother from North Carolina. So, far, have not found any evidence for this.

My maternal grandmother always claimed we were part Pennsylvania Dutch, which struck me as odd. I, not surprisingly, have not found any evidence of this in my research either. I think my grandmother's adoption of this possibly stemmed from World War II and having the most German of last names. Glossing over her ancestry by claiming descent from a relatively neutral lineage might have been her way of dealing with possible anti-German sentiment.
posted by ElleElle at 10:35 AM on August 6, 2014


wait wait wait a second...

if the Cherokee thing isn't true...

maybe my ancestors didn't own a castle in Switzerland either

damnit
posted by desjardins at 10:43 AM on August 6, 2014


These days, the question can be settled with a personal genomics test, as others have pointed out. So there's no need for it to be a mystery.

My one uncle, who's wrapped up so much of his identity in the family legend, won't believe the DNA test my mother had and is planning on getting his own. Siblings can have differences in what they inherit, but accompanied by the lack of historical evidence for Native American ancestors and the preponderance of historical evidence for British ones, I fear he's in for a disappointment.

(He wouldn't be the first person to discount a scientific test he didn't like the results of...)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:46 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


My maternal grandmother always claimed we were part Pennsylvania Dutch, which struck me as odd. I, not surprisingly, have not found any evidence of this in my research either. I think my grandmother's adoption of this possibly stemmed from World War II and having the most German of last names. Glossing over her ancestry by claiming descent from a relatively neutral lineage might have been her way of dealing with possible anti-German sentiment.

As the Pennsylvania Dutch were German, was she trying to find the least offensive way to say she was part German or did she think they were actually people who came from Holland (which is a common misconception)?


On the other hand, I've spent some time in Oklahoma and it's not terribly uncommon for card-carrying tribe members and even tribal leaders to look "white", so this is definitely not something you want to make assumptions about, at least in certain parts of the U.S.


My wife's sister-in-law, nephews and niece, are all card carrying members of a tribe in Oklahoma and from at least my untrained eye, there isn't nary a physical trait that screams aloud that they have Indian ancestry. Which made it slightly awkward when the kids rode on some float in a local parade about Indian Pride.

However, there is something way more racist and annoying when you have an actual, conscious Pretendian in your midst. There is a white woman in my town (she's actually Scots-Irish descent) who left many years ago, ended up living on a reservation, changed her name to something vaguely Native, dyed her hair black, started wearing Plains Indian jewelry, and landed herself an Ojibwe boyfriend. She moved back and now is actually a leader in a recently-famous Native American rights org locally.

Wow.

It reminds me of everyone who claims to be descended from the "Northern Cherokee." Faced with the problem of having no evidence that they can link themselves to a real tribe, they have created a new one entirely out of thin air.
posted by Atreides at 11:33 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I had no idea that claiming to be part Native American was such a thing.

I suppose the New Yorker version of this is something along the lines of "well, I'm Italian/Greek/Jewish/etc so I'm not *REALLY* white..."

It seems to be some kind of dance around trying to deny white privilege while distancing yourself from the shitty things done by people in this country.
posted by inertia at 11:44 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


I also remember one of my white friends quipping that the Tulalip tribes were not "real" Indians because they formed out of a group of tribes that consolidated in the past.

This is one of the dumbest things i've ever heard. So is Ukrainian not a real identity because some of its territories were absorbed later on and those people were integrated into it? How about mexican or latino, what with spain and everything?

I'm surprised i haven't heard that one, being from the PNW. I sure have heard a lot of white people still trying to decide what is and isn't a legitimate way for a minority to define themselves, though. Especially for such a progressive part of the country that's supposed to be like, totally ahead of everyone else on social justice maaaaan.

Fuckin honkies being all like "oh, that isn't a real" tribe while they do shit like refuse to federally recognize the Duwamish(clinton signed off on it, then bush 2 reversed it JUST BECAUSE clinton had done it, then no one would touch it the entire time he was in office). I can't even.

It seems to be some kind of dance around trying to deny white privilege while distancing yourself from the shitty things done by people in this country.

There's more to it than that. It's that, but it's also wanting white privilege without having to have any of the downsides, and getting the bonus exoticism/mystique of not just being a boring white person.

It's like going to subway and saying "can you just toast the meat, not the bread?" except with you know, actual consequences and baggage.
posted by emptythought at 11:47 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Link Wray and Elvis Presley are also a couple of famous people who claimed native ancestry.

As did Johnny Cash. Cash realized he was mistaken later, but fortunately not before he released Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian in 1964. Because lemme tell you buster, we might've lost his "Custer."
posted by octobersurprise at 11:48 AM on August 6, 2014


I suppose the New Yorker version of this is something along the lines of "well, I'm Italian/Greek/Jewish/etc so I'm not *REALLY* white..."

This is a bit of a derail, but as a passport-carrying member of one of those groups, we definitely don't perceive ourselves as white in a lot of ways. When my grandpa was a kid, the Klan rode against their community and they sat on the non-white side of the schoolhouse. When my mom was a baby -- in the '50s -- the neighbors had a meeting to discuss what would happen when Those People moved onto the block. We were officially, legally non-white for a long time, and still refer to "white people" as something Other. My aunt gets made fun of for "trying to be white" -- i.e., like the Americans, rather than like her immigrant family.
Obviously, none of this does away with the external white privilege we largely -- but not completely -- enjoy. I've never been racially profiled. My sister has, though, as she looks Mexican to some people, thanks to our ethnicity. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. But I think "I'm not REALLY white" says more about our construction of what white is -- we still feel othered because of our religion, our coloring, our cultural practices, being deemed exotic (yeah, that's happened to me, white though I may look). So please don't be so quick to dismiss it as entirely -- their lived experience may indeed involve less white privilege than you think, and their self-perception may be of a non-white person regardless of external indicators. A blond, fair-skinned, green-eyed African American is still a Black person, if she says she is, and is the recipient of some "white" privilege but not all of it. You can't know just by looking at someone what they and their families have experienced or how they identify.
posted by katemonster at 12:02 PM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


The kids in my horrible suburban Orange County California school wouldn't brag about Native American heritage (yeah, how very Orange County). They'd go on about being related to Presidents and pilgrims and arrgh! It was annoying to me! My parents were first-generation US with family in Ireland and Switzerland. I didn't have any cool stories like that!

So I complained to my mother about it.

She drew up very straight in her chair. "Tell them you are descended from the bastard child of William the Conqueror!"

Wow! What a story! I couldn't wait to tell those drips at school!

Boy, did I get in trouble. :-/
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:24 PM on August 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is a pretty weird thing. When I was a kid, I can recall there being some kind of esteemed mystique associated with being an Indian of some kind. Acquaintances, usually adult parents of friends/neighbors, would sometimes ask me if I was Indian, being a dark skinned, round faced boy with a mop of straight black hair, looking a bit like an extra from Billy Jack. It didn't take long to figure out that the easiest way to answer was, "Yeah, sure". It was somehow comforting to know that this little brown kid speaking English with a TV inspired California accent had such an exotic heritage, rather than being just another fucking Mexican. And of course, it wasn't really a lie. But any tribal affiliation, in the United States/Native American sense, had been jettisoned generations ago. And my own parents had worked hard to distance themselves from their low brow/migrant working class roots, never quite capable of making the leap very far.

Eventually, running into the teen years, I began answering something like, "I'm 7/8 homo sapiens", or sume such smartass thing, to puzzled or dismissive reactions. But it was a good way to diffuse the direction of the query.

Creating an exotic, proud lineage seems to me a very common impulse among pretty much every group I've come across. The interesting thing to me is that the US is populated largely by people of distinctively humble beginnings. How many people came to start anew in North America because things were going so well in the old country? So many were compelled by economics or worse. Yet the success of these humble people speaks to how nobility isn't predestined by genealogy, a lesson subsequent generations have the luxury of forgetting. Reminds me of this wonderful Tom Russell/Dave Van Ronk tune, The Outcaste, from Tom Russell's fantastic album, Tom Russell's "The Man From God Know's Where"
posted by 2N2222 at 12:41 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is a bit of a derail, but as a passport-carrying member of one of those groups, we definitely don't perceive ourselves as white in a lot of ways.

Oh, I'm not denying that, and I'm actually Greek and Jewish myself. I know that my family has experienced discrimination and anti-semitism, and what constitutes whiteness shifts with the times and geographic location of the people around you.

My great-grandmother grew up in New York City and had to keep it a secret that she was Jewish because no one would hire Jews--but now I experience white privilege in a way that she perhaps never did.
posted by inertia at 1:03 PM on August 6, 2014


"if the Cherokee thing isn't true...

maybe my ancestors didn't own a castle in Switzerland either

damnit
"

My dad's side of the family was all German, and came over in the late 1800s. The common lore was that they'd fled anti-socialist legislation, and my grandfather's uncle was murdered in a particularly gruesome sawmill incident.

But as my great uncle Herb lay on his death bed, he started telling us the real story: We were descended from Prussian nobility, who had fallen afoul of the Kaiser and had our lands seized. But because this was after WWII, the power of the old Kaiser had been crushed, and reparations were being made. Oh, the palaces we had! Oh, the vast hunting estates, full of boar and bears! We simply had to return to Germany to claim them. Our name here, which roughly translates to "Climbers" was a bitter joke to remind us of our rightful station. To reclaim our land and our titles, we just had to return to Germany under our real names! And Herb, oldest of my grandfather's brothers, was the sole keeper of this family secret. So there, on his death bed, he was prepared to reveal it for there would never be a better time — our noble name, the name that entitled us to riches beyond belief, was Witzbold.

(As a side note, my dad's bit of genealogy research turns up a more likely reason for us leaving Germany: Apparently, in the area of Germany that we're from, our last name was a popular one for Jews who converted to Catholicism, and he found an old conversion certificate for one of our ancestors — it didn't say what he'd converted from, just to Catholicism. Given that Prussia went through spasms of anti-Polish and anti-Semitic expulsions right around the time we immigrated, it seems plausible.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:36 PM on August 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


"Oh, I'm not denying that, and I'm actually Greek and Jewish myself. I know that my family has experienced discrimination and anti-semitism, and what constitutes whiteness shifts with the times and geographic location of the people around you. "

Oh, god, I once worked with an incredibly privileged intern who said she knew what it was like to experience racism because she was Irish American and grew up in State College, Pa. It was pretty fucking infuriating.
posted by klangklangston at 1:43 PM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


> I suppose the New Yorker version of this is something along the lines of "well, I'm Italian/Greek/Jewish/etc so I'm not *REALLY* white..."

It seems to be some kind of dance around trying to deny white privilege while distancing yourself from the shitty things done by people in this country.


Nah. It's just a New York thing. In New York terms, White = WASP and black = descended from former slaves in the US. Jews and Italians aren't white, they're Jewish and Italian. Jamaicans, Dominicans and Haitians aren't black, they're Jamaican, Dominican and Haitian. This makes sense in a city with large, culturally distinct ethnic enclaves. I've heard the exact same kind of classification from black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers.

Sometimes it's best not to jump to, or invent, the worst possible conclusions just because someone uses language a little differently than you. If you don't understand, you can ask.
posted by nangar at 3:19 PM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


My ancestry is so English and German I have a combination of milky tea and warm beer flowing through my veins, but I'm often mistaken for Greek by Greek people, Jewish by Jewish people, and sometimes even the Iroquois I have no claim to.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:57 PM on August 6, 2014


I've hit something like the 50 comment mark. Are there no enrolled band members commenting here?

This is a button push issue for me, so I shouldn't be reading this thread on three hours of sleep.

Look, I appreciate that so many Americans (I refuse to use the stupid term USAan or whatever that word is) have fake family stories about being partially First Nations. However, this really elides the real life experience of people who live as minorities. Can all the stories not be about the majority experience? The majority experience in the US is that the majority of people from the South and Midwest think they have a native princess in the woodpile. Ok, great. Have we not progressed enough yet that people realize that's a complete fiction? You are not part native, and if you are then you're family line is most likely a product of rape. (Not absolutely, but very likely. You think the Sacageweas of the world were consenting? Please.)

The destruction of the native population in the Americas isn't just about removal and murder. It's also about rape and assimilation. When people make ignorant claims about being part native they're unfortunately being extremely offensive to people who struggle daily with being a minority that is disenfranchised at the same time they're fetishized.
posted by syncope at 5:32 AM on August 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


My DNA stuff came up with the obvious mostly native plus iberian ancestry, and even the subsaharan african was not unexpected. But the miniscule percentage of apparently ashkenazi jew was extremely startling and made my entire family hilariously excited.

oh man, me too, elizardbits, with the Ashkenazi Jew stuff! I think it may have to do with the fact that Latin America was where a lot of Spanish Jews went to go hide out.
posted by corb at 7:58 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


When people make ignorant claims about being part native they're unfortunately being extremely offensive to people who struggle daily with being a minority that is disenfranchised at the same time they're fetishized.

If someone is in fact part native - which is, as mentioned above, provable through 23andme and other services - then they're not "ignorant claims." They may be claims that don't suit your perception of what part-Native American identity should be, but that doesn't mean they're bullshit.
posted by corb at 8:06 AM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've hit something like the 50 comment mark. Are there no enrolled band members commenting here?


I qualify to be an enrolled band member. Ironically the realities of Native Canadian life is exactly what prevents me from getting that band membership.

My Grandmother married a white man and therefore lost her "Indian Status" under the Indian Act. Therefore non of her ten children "qualified" as Indian until 1986 when the supreme court overturned that rule. But even then, those 10 children had to register under the Indian Act and with their band. By this time my father was well into alcoholism and domestic violence and all sorts of the fun stuff that comes from being a part of a disenfranchised population. He's now lived on the street for 10 years or more and pretty much drank himself into dementia.

Did he register himself? Of course not. Because he didn't register as a band member, I can't prove my lineage and register myself. I could get membership with his long form birth certificate, but good luck getting a homeless alcoholic with dementia to order a copy of that for you.

It's sad. The very system has been built to remove us from our bands and our cultures, and my father and myself are proof that it worked.
posted by aclevername at 9:43 AM on August 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


oh man, me too, elizardbits, with the Ashkenazi Jew stuff! I think it may have to do with the fact that Latin America was where a lot of Spanish Jews went to go hide out.
That's true, but Spanish Jews aren't Ashkenazi, more or less by definition. And can DNA tests really differentiate between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews?

Years ago, there was an article in Lingua Franca magazine about Hispanic people in New Mexico who thought they were descended from hidden Jews who moved to New Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries because they thought they would have a better chance there of getting away with practicing their religion in secret. The point of the article was to debunk this belief. In fact, it said, modern New Mexicans wanted to be descended from Jews because that seemed more acceptable than being descended from American Indians, which was the real explanation for dark coloring and whatnot. Also, a lot of their ancestors had embraced Jewish symbols during a brief, now-embarrassing flirtation with Protestantism, and it was more acceptable to say that your ancestors were hidden Jews than that they were Protestants. But I read that recent genetic research has tended to support the contention that lots of Hispanic people in New Mexico had Jewish ancestors, although it's impossible to tell whether that meant that their ancestors actually were crypto-Jews at the time they moved to North America. It might just mean that their way-more-distant ancestors were Jewish, and their families were sincere Catholics by the time they migrated to New Mexico.

I'm not sure why people seem so excited about a really distant ancestral link to Jewishness, but it would sort of tickle me if stories that seemed so far-fetched turned out to be true.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:50 AM on August 7, 2014


And can DNA tests really differentiate between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews?

Yeah, I think so. Ashkenazi jewish genes are among the most highly studied groups in the world. There is a high degree of intermarriage within the community, which presumably narrows the gene pool, plus all the hereditary diseases means that more study has been devoted to the population. Also iirc these genetic diseases are not present in Sephardic populations.
posted by elizardbits at 10:30 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh Heya! First Nations Here, Okanagan, REPRESENTIN . I think its a very sad thing that alot of Indians are disconnected from their tribes and Reservations. But thats the reality of our people needing to leave to escape the harsh realities that exist on the Rez. Then to go live in the white world and leave your culture, never get to hear your language every day, mostly being an Indian in a sea of world transplants here, hardly EVER.. even seeing/interacting with our own.
That said I do have to say the MOST annoying thing we get to deal with is all the white people coming up and saying and squeeling how their quarter Cherokee and oooh aaaah about themselves, Yet dont even bother to ask what tribe Im from. Its more important for them to make sure (this Indian), should recognize them as being Indian, through their cute little noses and blonde hair/blue eyes. Now that is just ignorant. Even if you do have a 1/4 of this or that what the Fuck is your point coming up to me like that? I get stopped everywhere I go in the world, its never to ask about me or acknowledge our culture and people. Always to "brag" about their so called Indianness. So, you fools out there saying these things to us, stop it, its insulting and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Go read some Real history written by our people. I dare you to go to a PowWow and tell everyone there about how much Indian you are.
posted by SteelDancin at 11:07 AM on August 7, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm half Crow (our reservation is outside Billings, MT), but I live in Chicago. Indian heritage is something of a novelty here and I hear the same "You're Indian! Wow! So do you have a spirit animal?! I've always felt like mine was a cat. I feel really drawn to cats. I think it's because my great grandma was like 1/8 Cherokee". People ask me if I have pow wows. You get the point.

In Montana it's very different - my grandma (dad's side) very much encourages us to hide the fact that we are Native American, as my brother and I can "pass" for white. She herself hides her heritage, so much so that she's changed her surname to something more Anglo Saxon. I've never met my grandfather, but I've heard plenty of racist comments lobbed at how dark he was.

In my experience, in the more liberal areas, it's cool to be Native American. So diverse! In the red states (i.e. the places more likely to have a larger Native American population) it's not considered as cool. In my experience, the perception of Indians as people who come off the reservations to commit crime, steal your things etc. is more pervasive. So, being Native in Montana? Not so cool. Wyoming? Not so cool. Chicago, where there are no reservations? Neato! NYC? Cool! I'm being hyperbolic, but hopefully you get my point.

Reservations aren't always nice places. When you're removed from the reality of life there, it's easy to know little else than pow wows, spirit animals and pretty head dresses. And you want to share in that perceived reality because there is a mystique and beauty in those things that exists nowhere else in America. Who doesn't want to join in that?

But the reality of being a participatory member of life as a Native American (whatever that means) is that you see the complicated dynamic at play - reservations contain both incredible poverty and need, but also languages, art, and not just one "Native American culture" but dozens of entirely unique cultures that are vibrant, beautiful, and passionately upheld.

So why pretend to be an Indian? It's cool because it's different and it's mysterious. You only see the pretty parts and they are awesome. Because you live a life of relative privilege and you don't realize you're playing Pocahontas dress up and that's a jerk move. Because you perceive being an Indian as rare and, thus, special and everyone wants to be special. Maybe a little bit of white liberal guilt. And maybe, just a little bit, because we're extra cool. ;)
posted by Imogenetic at 12:03 PM on August 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


Look, I appreciate that so many Americans (I refuse to use the stupid term USAan or whatever that word is) have fake family stories about being partially First Nations. However, this really elides the real life experience of people who live as minorities. Can all the stories not be about the majority experience? The majority experience in the US is that the majority of people from the South and Midwest think they have a native princess in the woodpile. Ok, great. Have we not progressed enough yet that people realize that's a complete fiction?

I obviously have no experience of what it's like to live as an ethnic minority, so I both believe you and agree with you that more minority stories need to be told.

But I would like to understand the objection to the majority stories being told here. My feeling was that the more people who came out and said, "I grew up being told this story about our ancestry, but it turned out to be completely false, not to mention ridiculous," the more people would start to question their own similar family yarns and maybe think twice before propagating them as truth. But maybe that has less value than I thought it did?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:14 PM on August 7, 2014


I think they're calling out those people who like to claim they have that Cherokee princess in their family tree, not the people relating their stories to how they learned their own family stories were false.

I could be wrong, but that's my interpretation.
posted by Atreides at 2:13 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Imogenetic - I was born and raised in Milwaukee but I went to college in Montana (Bozeman). There are lots of kids from the Crow reservation that go to school in Bozeman and it was quite a shock for me (a white person) to hear them denigrated (by other whites), because as you said, Natives are romanticized in the midwest due to their relatively low profile. I don't think I ever heard a white Montanan claim to be 1/4 or less Indian. I did know Indians who pretended to be white if they could pass. A very dear friend of mine, a full blooded Crow, told everyone he was Brazilian (everyone kind of rolled their eyes behind his back). I lost track of him after graduation, but I hope he was able to make peace with his identity and culture.
posted by desjardins at 2:34 PM on August 7, 2014


Different tribes had different experiences of their contact with Europeans. The Cherokee, the Nez Perce, the Navajo, and the Apaches no more have the same histories than they have (or had) the same societies, beliefs, or customs, even though the results seem to have eventually headed the same way every time. The situation in the Southeast may have been unusual in that the Cherokee, Creeks, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and to some extent the Seminole lived in close proximity to white Europeans for much longer than tribes farther west did, well over 100 years from significant white settlement all around them until the Indian removals and 300 years from their encounters with DeSoto.

These tribes, and particularly the Cherokee, often worked towards acculturation and accommodation, and intermarriage (actual marriage, not just rape, although that surely happened, too, and from both sides) was not at all unusual (see John Ross, Elias Boudinot, John Ridge, Sequoyah/George Guess, Nancy Ward, Major Ridge, and on and on). And there were many Cherokee, and there were many white settlers to mix with living in or passing through their territory as major routes west opened up. But how far back can DNA tests detect ancestry? Not that far, really (23 and Me says five generations is enough for measurable Native American DNA to disappear). So did families pass down that there was Cherokee (or Choctaw or Chickasaw or whatever) ancestry because they wanted to cover up something that was a little more troublesome socially, or because they romanticized it, or because it was really there? How can you know, when DNA can't accurately show you ancestry that far back? Surely what's more of a concern isn't whether white people claiming Indian ancestry really have the ancestry or not, but whether they feel that it leaves them entitled to something - a name, money, absolution, a free pass on racism and ignorance, authority in what they say?

Yeah, of course my family has a claimed Indian ancestor somewhere back in my great-grandmother's family. They always said Cherokee, but they were from East Tennessee so it's more believable than if they popped out with Shoshone, isn't it? My great grandmother (who was no princess of any kind, and may actually have been a prostitute for a while) and my grandfather, her son, certainly looked as it were true - but her parents equally looked entirely white. I don't feel deeply invested in that story, although as a kid I did pay attention to history about the Cherokees. 23 and me says there's nothing there. But then, which do I believe, 23 and Me or my grandfather's folded eyelids? I just call myself a hillbilly and have done with it.
posted by dilettante at 3:37 PM on August 7, 2014


In my experience, in the more liberal areas, it's cool to be Native American. So diverse! In the red states (i.e. the places more likely to have a larger Native American population) it's not considered as cool.

I grew up in connecticut near one of the Native-run casinos. Liberal enough area, reservation/casino a big deal in local politics, the kids who lived on the reservation attended my high school. It was not cool to be part of the local tribe, and I absorbed some racist rhetoric that attempted to discredit them as not really being native american, preserving "real" native americans as cool.

Being a liberal area probably has an effect, but my experience is that a significant native american population in the area is enough to provoke a negative response.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:04 PM on August 7, 2014


I didn't mean to demean anyone or call into question anyone's personal identity.

More importantly, however, I would like to say that for people who read my comment and are unable to get on band roles because of political reasons, please forgive me if using that term bothered you/caused you to think I was judgmental about your status. That could not be further from the truth. The internet (and sites like this) really don't give you much of a chance to be intimate and explain yourself well sometimes. We all get reactionary at times. If you've been disenrolled or denied enrollment, I actually work my ass off to change that situation for my own people and support anyone else who is attempting to get legit enrollment. It's a serious issue and ALSO a product of removal/disenfranchisement/racism. Why should the federal government of any occupying state tell you who you are and who can be part of your community? Also, why do our own people do it to us.

Ok, done.
posted by syncope at 6:09 PM on August 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


Hey Syncope thank you for pointing out that some of us just don't have the tools to get us in our bands because of what the government has done.

It really hurts me. I know it's dumb. But I'm 1/4 Irish, Italian, French Canadian, Ojibwa

I have travelled to Ireland & Italy and at "1/4" to them I am Irish, I am Italian. With my last name French Canadians assume I am one of theirs.

It's the Native Community that rejects me because of politics, culture, and the Indian Act. Thank you for working for us.
posted by aclevername at 9:13 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ok, done.

No, you still have to finish sorting through all those gravy boats.
posted by elizardbits at 10:05 PM on August 7, 2014


The destruction of the native population in the Americas isn't just about removal and murder. It's also about rape and assimilation. When people make ignorant claims about being part native they're unfortunately being extremely offensive to people who struggle daily with being a minority that is disenfranchised at the same time they're fetishized.

No kidding! My (adoptive) grandfather never traded on his Native American roots because his identity was 100% Florida cracker, and as a good Republican and entrepreneur, he wanted nothing more than to join the country clubs and play golf with the Hunt brothers. And he'd actually grown up as a poor sharecropper in Alabama, quitting school himself to support his family when his father couldn't work anymore due to illness. If even people with his background can easily be socialized to identify with the majority and see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires, it's not surprising to me that assimilation works so efficiently. Especially if claiming to have Native American roots ends up being stigmatized due to too many people making false claims to that ancestry. There is no doubt about my grandfather's ancestry. He never disowned his mother, and yet, he never seemed to see himself as Native American or felt the need to put dream catchers everywhere. I think he always identified more with his dad, who was from poor English farming stock.

I think anybody who feels guilty about what their ancestors did is nuts. But wait! The Ames Brothers broke up?!

Why? Is history just a series of isolated moments? It's not like there aren't people still suffering as a direct result of what some people living today's ancestors did to them. I guess there's only so many times you can bail old drunk uncle Jack out of jail before you just stop trying to clean up his messes, but you know, somebody still needs to clean it up! Without a sense of generational/familial responsibility, who's on the hook for cleaning up the messes? If it's all of us, fine, that works for me. But the answer can't be no one.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:07 AM on August 8, 2014


You know, on further thought, maybe the tendency to claim Native American ancestry is just of a piece with all the other identity-based weirdness we're seeing in the culture. Maybe it's just people casting about for an identity that feels comfortable.

I mean, it was driven home pretty sharply to me how much people really seem to view social identity as a matter of conscious choice these days when one of my wife's nephews (born in Connecticut, moved to Florida when he was a young child; stayed in Florida when mom moved back to Connecticut) recently got a tattoo declaring himself "100% Florida Cracker." His roots to Florida literally don't even go as deep as a single generation, and yet, now this kid consciously dresses up like a red neck and drives a big monster truck because he made a choice to identify himself as a Florida Cracker.

On the other hand, I suspect my nephew-in-law would never cop to consciously choosing that particular social identity for himself and would insist it's just what he really authentically is. I think the appeal is the authenticity of the identification as a brand. In other words, people want to be things that they associate with authenticity and historical significance because our newer social identities (whatever those might be) seem less stable/authentic.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on August 8, 2014


This thread encouraged me to look up the family records I'd already tracked down once to see if I could confirm the family lore-of-the-elusive-Cherokee-grandmother.

It took me a few days to confirm that the great-great-grandmother who was supposedly Cherokee or Choctaw was probably not, tho there were a lot of folks with her name on the Dawes rolls and she died and was buried in Oklahoma.

Then this afternoon I had a breakthrough - turns out this great-great-grandmother was married once before she married my great-great-grandpa and her first husband was Cherokee on one side and Osage on the other, and their only child (my great-grandfather's half-brother) has an Osage allotment card and is listed on the Dawes rolls.

So while we are not Cherokee, my great-grandfather's looks notwithstanding, I can see why my family was a little confused about it since my great-great-grandmother's first mother-in-law had the same first and middle names and she IS on the Dawes rolls.

Thank you Metafilter once again for helping me be productive with my babysitting time. And for helping me use up all these hyphens in my punctuation library.
posted by annathea at 3:30 PM on August 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


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