So you’re telling me there are descendants of the people who massacred and brutalized my Indigenous ancestors who now want to remake themselves in the image of Native people? What? Holy shit! And you’re telling me this is a problem?
I’m no stranger to controversy. In fact, folks who visit my blog and social media do so waiting for my often peculiar but honest insights. I’m definitely not the ho hum it’s been done. And I’m not good at conformity. I like the periphery. The comfort of discomfort is a way of life. As an artist, I can’t draw new insights from the center of anyone’s circle. And that includes yours. In fact, if you don’t want your feelings hurt, then don’t try to make me dance around your drum.
Ultimately, my only concern is lessening the physical and emotional destruction of the most disadvantaged. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like power seekers. Narcissists looking for a group to control are always going to be agitated by my presence. Truthfully, I get tremendous pleasure in seeing between their words and watching them squirm as I expertly deconstruct their small little worlds.
So when I look at developing subcultures circling Indian Country, I don’t see them as groups or individuals to attack. What I see are people trying to remake themselves into a less brutalizing group. I see people who have looked into the soul of America and realized it’s destructive center, a destructive center that will only lead to the destruction of us all.
Besides, I’ve seen “card carrying” Natives exploit Natives to the same degree as “family lore” Natives. In fact, I’ve interacted and encountered both on my educational journey, and I can tell you this: their proximity to Native culture and community is identical. They are the same people. I’d even argue they are two distinct subcultures developing themselves in the image of Indigenous people. To me? This sounds like two sets of potential Indigenous allies.
But I’m from the school of retribalization. I think we all can benefit from an Indigenous past, including tribes of European ancestry. Especially when it comes to topics like economics, justice, and societal structures, reflecting instead giving ceremonies, restorative justice, and matriarchy. But those are radical thoughts from an artist dancing to the beat of his own hand-drum.
Tribal communities, or at least the ones I’ve interacted with in Oklahoma and New Mexico, tend to have pockets of very exclusive communities. Most people don’t even know there are tightly knit Cherokee communities of mostly full bloods in northeast Oklahoma. Most people think Cherokees don’t have any full bloods. They justify this reasoning because CNO (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) has a no blood quantum minimum to enroll. These folks need to educate themselves on the UKB (United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees) who have a blood quantum minimum of 1/4 and the EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) who have a blood quantum minimum of 1/16. CNO is the largest because of it’s no minimum, but we (I’m enrolled CNO) are not the only Cherokee government. Just the most visible.
Because of the political distinction, one can be enrolled Native and never have a Native experience. Just like I can grow up inside Kiowa and Cherokee communities and not consider myself a keeper of culture. My personal interests have always been toward things outside my culture, like reading and writing fiction. While I’ve engaged with cultural practices throughout my life, I’m more of a participant rather than culture keeper. My relatives are very much culturally centered, like many of my friends and coworkers, who are always trying to get me to participate more often. But like I said above: I like being on the periphery. There’s something uncomfortable about being comfortable. Besides, in any culture, there are some of us who are drawn toward tradition and some who find interests outside those boundaries. I wanted to move away from my hometown once I reached adulthood, and I did just that. I lived in northern New Mexico for 10 years, and I have two daughters who are half Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Equally, I enjoy engaging with tribal people outside my own.
Having this fluid movement between my two tribes and with other tribes, I see the world from an intertribal perspective. So when “family lore” Natives build themselves as a subculture that is akin to the Metis, I don’t see them as a threat. My tribal communities are tucked away safe and sound in our little pockets of exclusivity, in areas you’d never think to look. What I see are allies building their forces. What I see are the descendants of colonizers remaking themselves in the image of Native identity. What I see is a group of people who are realizing themselves more and more every day. And when they finally do? They’ll be the largest tribe in America.