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[Marxism] Who is an Indian?

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Subject: [Marxism] Who is an Indian?
From: Louis Proyect <lnp3@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 09:42:39 -0400
Delivery-date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 07:43:04 -0600
Victory for Churchill or Reprieve?

Another stage in the University of Colorado?s long process of reviewing Ward Churchill is done ? and his lawyer is claiming that it was a victory for the controversial professor.


Lane told The Denver Post that one charge that is not being forwarded for additional review concerns allegations that Churchill has misrepresented himself as being an American Indian. Churchill has always said that he is a Native American, but as the controversy over the professor has grown in the last year, several newspaper reports ? with backing from some Indian groups ? have questioned his ethnicity. Lane told The Denver Post that he was pleased that the committee had rejected these charges.


NY Times, August 21, 2005
The Newest Indians


How much easier (though scarier) life might be if we all got ethnic identification cards so that when encountering a very light-skinned person claiming to be black, you could reply, ''O.K., show me your federal identification card guaranteeing the proper amount of African blood to qualify you as an African-American.'' Here's the thing: you could ask an Indian that question. Some Native Americans carry what is called, awkwardly, a white card, officially known as a C.D.I.B., a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. This card certifies a Native American's ''blood quantum'' and can be issued only after a tribe has been cleared by a federal subagency.

The practice of measuring Indian blood dates to the period just after the Civil War when the American government decided to shift its genocide policy against the Indians from elimination at gunpoint to the gentler idea of breeding them out of existence. It wasn't a new plan. Regarding Indians, Thomas Jefferson wrote that ''the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people.'' When this idea was pursued bureaucratically under President Ulysses S. Grant, Americans were introduced to such phrases as ''half breed'' and ''full blood'' as scientific terms. In a diabolical stroke, the government granted more rewards and privileges the less Indian you were. For instance, when reservation lands were being broken up into individual land grants, full-blooded Indians were ruled ''incompetent'' because they didn't have enough civilized blood in them and their lands were administered for them by proxy agents. On the other hand, the land was given outright to Indians who were half white or three-quarters white. Here was the long-term catch: as Indians married among whites and gained more privileges, their blood fraction would get smaller, so that in time Indians would reproduce themselves out of existence.

Compounding this federal reward for intermarriage was the generally amicable tradition most tribes had of welcoming in outsiders. From the earliest days of European settlement, whites were amicably embraced by Indian tribes. For instance, the leader of the Cherokee Nation during the forced exile of 1838-39 -- the Trail of Tears -- was John Ross, often described as being seven-eighths Scottish.

A lot of Indians haven't looked ''Indian'' for quite a while, especially in the eastern half of the country, where there is a longer history of contact with Europeans. That fact might not have been the source of much anxiety in the past, but in the post-Civil Rights era, the connotations of the word ''white'' began to shift at the same time that the cultural conversation progressed from the plight of ''Negroes'' to the civil rights of ''blacks.'' Suddenly ''white'' acquired a whiff of racism. This association may well account for the rise of more respectable ethnic descriptions like ''Irish-American'' or ''Norwegian-American,'' terms that neatly leapfrog your identity from Old World to New without any hint of the Civil War in between. According to the work of Ruth Frankenberg and other scholars, some white people associate whiteness with ''mayonnaise'' and ''paleness'' and ''spiritual emptiness.'' So whatever is happening in Indian Country is being aggravated by an unexpected ethnic pressure next door: people who could be considered white but who can legitimately (or illegitimately) find an Indian ancestor now prefer to fashion their claim of identity around a different description of self. And in a nation defined by ethnic anxiety, what greater salve is there than to become a member of the one people who have been here all along?

The reaction from lifelong Indians runs the gamut. It is easy to find Native Americans who denounce many of these new Indians as members of the wannabe tribe. But it is also easy to find Indians like Clem Iron Wing, an elder among the Sioux, who sees this flood of new ethnic claims as magnificent, a surge of Indians ''trying to come home.'' Those Indians who ridicule Iron Wing's lax sense of tribal membership have retrofitted the old genocidal system of blood quantum -- measuring racial purity by blood -- into the new standard for real Indianness, a choice rich with paradox. The Native American scholar C. Matthew Snipp has written that the relationship between Native Americans and the agency that issues the C.D.I.B. card is ''not too different than the relationship that exists for championship collies and the American Kennel Club.''



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