David Shorter states in his 7/1/15 editorial slam piece against Andrea Smith, “Four Words for Andrea Smith: I’m Not an Indian”,
“But the value of the conversation will only emerge if we must start first with honesty. That’s the power of saying what we know to be true.”
I have met Andrea on one occasion when she was speaking at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She was a co-editor on a recent anthology from the University of Arizona Press which I had an essay in. The title of this essay was Blood Policing. How very timely indeed. Clearly, I don’t know Andrea Smith in the way that these sometimes anonymous and sometimes not bloggers purportedly do.
But what I do know “if we must start first with honesty” as the venerable Professor Shorter states, is that what is missing from these conversations is just that. So let us start with Professor Shorter who says he is Mexican, but not Indian. A ton of my Mexican friends will want to kick the guy in his teeth as soon as they read that strange line of reasoning as they absolutely identify as Indian. Okay, so that one is settled. On to the next…and please note that everything I am writing here today are words I have been writing about for years and have spoken of directly to the insulting parties.
Enough of the (enrolled tribal member/citizen) tag line as “Indian racial authenticity” identification, okay? Being an enrolled member/citizen of a tribe has nothing to do with one’s race. If you took the Five Civilized Tribes located where our family lives in Oklahoma and did a research project on the numbers of tribal members possessing less than 50% Indian ancestry, they would number in the 80%+ range. We are talking about 100s of thousands of tribal members. The vast majority of these are in 1/16-1/4,096 range. For someone like this to claim that they are Indian simply by stating tribal enrollment is clearly what Indian identity police should consider “ethnic fraud”, but I can assure everyone, David Shorter won’t be writing an essay on that. Those individuals get a pass. Their new “race” is protected by sovereignty, right?
In very recent times, our neighborhood has exploded with “Indians”. These are all people who we have daily interactions with and who have never in any form mentioned their Indian ancestry, yet have asked us questions over and over again about how we feel as an Indian family about certain issues. The sudden rise in “Indians” is due to the fact that the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations recently started issuing tribal license tags and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, who has had them for many years, now offers them outside of their 14 county jurisdiction. My neighbors are going to be the nation’s university system’s next Indigenous studies professors. Just wait and see. Folks, like me, they are white. I have zero issue with their tribes making them members through minor lineal ancestry, however, I do have a problem with any of these individuals now telling me that I have to accept them as racial Indians. And they should have the same issue with me if I professed a racial Indian identity.
Our unwillingness in Indian Country to accept our whiteness is the tragedy of the whole deal. When I look in a mirror how could I not believe I was white? And that is coming from a guy who was not raised with white Americans or Indians, but rather in the Conch, Black Bahamian, and Cuban hub of the nation’s drug economy (Key West, Florida) prior to its reincarnation as a partially-sanitized tourist mecca. Therefore, I have to actively reach for my American whiteness (I am not even a U.S. citizen), as I have no cultural grounding in it. After graduating from high school and moving north, however, I certainly received its privilege; the same white privilege that most white phenotype tribal members across the nation receive. Just because I am a tribal member, it doesn’t mean that I magically became a racial Indian. And this is what all of this is about, isn’t it? The fight isn’t over who is a cultural tribal member or who was integrated into the tribal community via any many forms. It is over who is an actual racial Indian. The complex problems associated with the Dawes Rolls, misidentification on Census records, father’s missing from birth certificates, and a host of other incongruities make absolutes impossible for descendants, but identifiable Indians overcome all such obstacles, as they are….wait….identifiable and therefore the recipients of direct racism, not “can I join your oppression fellow tribal member” marginalization.
When people think about Indian academics and tribal leaders, they are thinking about actual Indians, not “enrolled tribal members”. This is what makes the line of argument against Andrea Smith so insincere and more so in relation to those attacking, insecure. When I look at the list of people who have gone after her, it is glaringly pale in phenotype and glaringly absent of any indigenous community upbringing or at least community connectivity. Though trust me, those who are doing it will start attempting to put together a litany of examples of their community involvement, cultural aptitude, etc. Professor Shorter’s mention in regards to her Indian label as having, “…secured a comfortably middle-class profession and a position of respect” is remarkable. He has focused a professional career and clear advancement on studying Indians. Indians are his bread and butter. This guy teaches “Indigenous Worldviews” and even has a website in his own name http://www.davidshorter.com How very, “throwing stones in glass houses” of him, not to mention the narcissism. David clearly has no idea of the platform of disenfranchisement he is supporting. Maybe if he realized that those who have started this firestorm are represented by a person of 1/256 blood quantum, another who has two sets of nearly same aged children from a wife and a mistress, another guy who was referred to by his Indian colleagues at a previous university where he taught as “a white guy with a pony tail”, one more who said the only reason “non-recognized” tribes in the Southeast “look Indian” is because if you mix Blacks and whites together for generations they “look Indian”, someone who claimed enrollment in a tribe which he later admitted was the tribe of his step-father, and more unbelievably contradictory people, he may have taken a moment before he went on the offense.
Years ago, I phrased the phenomenon of these people III (Indian Identity Insecurity). It is a form of psychosis where an individual, in an attempt to make themselves seem more “authentic” and more “Indian”, attack the identities of another. Such individuals need to place someone below them and scream real loudly in an attempt to take the proverbial “eyes of the world” off of themselves. It never works. Over 90% of the time that someone assumes the identity of an Indian identity cop, it is because they are hiding their own sordid history of feeling inadequate. Most, unlike David (way to go buddy), further show their inadequacies by resorting to anonymous blog entries and article comment sections. They also become flippant in their comments. The internet is their insecurity empowerment tool. Professor Shorter’s “Okay, I did try to pull off turquoise jewelry for a few years” as some form of humor wasn’t funny, because he most likely literally tried to pull it off and through humor he felt he could escape that reality. The path he laid out for us clearly shows soul searching, and frankly, he shouldn’t be ashamed of that. This leaves us to the final point of evolving.
If someone holds the same views as an eighteen year old that they do now since turning 40, the world is in a difficult place. People’s viewpoints, including how they and others see their own identity, evolve over time. Mine surely has. Professor Shorter was most likely heading down “Indian Road” before he made an about face as he didn’t want to end up as the subject of the very article he wrote. But we are not going to get that level of honesty that he demands of us. And we are definitely not going to receive that same level of honesty from the rest of those blood policing Indian Country today.
Cedric Sunray can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org