Tag Archives: Anti-Blackness

Why Realness Fails Us in Native Studies

Chris Finley

In the shadow of the Rachel Dolezal scandal, mostly non-Cherokee Indigenous academics have raised an alarm about Andy Smith’s identity once again.  I want to point out that it is mostly tenured faculty that are doing this.  I want to know why you have an investment in Andy’s identity in particular.  Indian identity has always been heavily policed.  Usually it was the settlers trying to undo us, but in this case, it is ourselves.  This is the part that makes me truly sick.  There isn’t a settler in sight but there is a massacre occurring.  It isn’t only Andy who is hurt and scared by this discussion.  I know if my identity was held up to a microscope or even a magnifying glass, I would fail spectacularly.  I don’t speak my language, I don’t make it home much, I don’t eat venison because I’m a vegetarian (total Indigenous failure!), I don’t even like camping, I haven’t had sexual relations with an Indian in over 5 years, and I never wear turquoise jewelry.  Sure, I’m enrolled, but as an Indigenous person my identity is always scrutinized and measured.  (People often ask me for my blood quantum or specific questions about my cultural practices.)  As a Native woman, my identity and civility are always under attack.  Native men in the academy do not have their identities and work scrutinized as much as Native women do.

Andy Smith has done more for Indigenous people than I ever will and this is not because I think she blocked me but I just never had the energy she had to dedicate every waking moment to ending oppression.  To me the question or desire should not be for a self-confession from Andy about what went wrong or what she is or is not, because I think her actions speak louder than that.  My desire is for Indigenous people to stop tearing each other apart and to stop attacking someone who really tried to do some good.  Why didn’t so many people call out Kevin Costner when he was adopted by the Rosebud Nation and then built a casino and that was not about sovereignty or decolonization.  I tell you, I saw Andy go through her tenure battle at Michigan and the institution would have never treated a white woman that way, but it most certainly would have done so to a Native feminist.

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