I am Cherokee. There, I’ve said it.
I usually don’t claim my heritage publicly. In fact, I avoid it. I don’t work it into conversation. I don’t have a t-shirt stating, “Kiss Me, I’m Indian.” When asked outright, I sometimes lie.
Declaring my ethnicity right up there with discussing the merits of large man-parts at the Baptist Ladies’ Meeting: it’s something I won’t do. I don’t wanna. There’d be fallout. People would talk. C’mon. You know they would. They’d invite me to Rain Dance for school children and attend fairs in fake garb. I’d lose my name and just become known far and wide as just that “Indian Lady.”
It’s not that I am ashamed to be Native American. I’m not. Not at all. I simply do not want to be defined by it. It is a label as much as a birthright. I did not seek it. I did not earn it. I cannot control it. It is not exclusively mine. Therefore, it is not me. I am very much a person who believes you are what you make yourself to be. As such, I want to be judged and respected or reviled based upon my actions, my deeds and my relationships with others.
Of course, this mindset generates guilt, great heavy stinkin’ loads of it. It is my constant companion, settled deep in my bones where it sits pissing the day away by sowing seeds of self-contempt. Yes, I despise myself for not being Indian enough, brave enough or proud enough. I despise myself for failing to embrace my culture. I despise myself for being a fake plastic squaw. Then, I despise myself for adopting the belief that I must fly a flag in order to claim my own skin.
White people never have to explain their whiteness: how they are white and which kind of white. They are never expected to be spokespersons for all white people or asked stupid questions like: “So, what do white people eat?” or “What does the White People Community make of this or that?” Certainly, they are never judged by the deeds of other white people. Nope, one of you white folks can eat a child – and the world doesn’t seem to hold it against the rest. But as soon as you check a different box: things start to change. There’s baggage. There are questions and expectations. Suddenly, you represent an entire race of people and they represent you.
And I’ll be damned if America doesn’t promote this notion of the homogeneous brown.
I resent the fact that, despite my family being three generations removed from the reservation, I am expected to be an expert on all indians of North America I hate that I am lumped, stereotyped, defined and finally overshadowed by my cultural identity. And yes, it pisses me off when I am quizzed about the thoughts, feelings, habits, opinions and customs of all Native American people. Oh People of America – race doesn’t read like a Chaka Khan song. I am not every Indian. They are not me.
But you don’t seem to get that.
So, I’m writing an infosheet to distribute on these occasions when I am bombarded by questions that I can’t truly and legitimately answer. I will call this infosheet “Genuine Authentic Indian Answers to Your Genuinely Stupid Indian Questions.”
It would read:
(1) What is your Indian Name?
It is a tradition in Native American families that, when child is born, they have a sacred and traditional ceremony wherein a name of the utmost significance is selected for the child. This is called the “Completion of Application for Certificate of Live Birth.” During this ceremony, families often choose names like: Sherry, John, James, Jennifer and Stephanie. Therefore, my Indian name is Angelia:, which is, you know, the same as my non-Indian name. Loosely translated it means: she who thinks you are dumb ass.
Seriously, should any person of Cherokee descent possess the name Chief Running-Bear Turtle-Poots, this person is clearly employed within the tourism industry.
(2) Do you know your clan? What are they like?
I descended from the Long Hair clan. No, I do not know each member of the clan. This would be akin to me asking you: “So, how are the pilgrims doing? Are they pretty fun to party with?”
(3) How do Indians Dress?
This covers “What is the standard regalia for an Indian Princess?” “Why does your President wear a war bonnet?” and “Do Native American men really wear paint and loincloths because grrrr, Indian men in face paint and loincloths are sexy!”
First of all, you watch too much TV. There are no Indian princesses. There never was. There is also no president. The Cherokee Nation has a Tribal council, a Principle Chief and Deputy Chief. Most members wear suits. Other regalia varies by tribe – although I do believe there are Cherokee men in war paint and loincloths. Those men work as entertainers in Cherokee, NC: some will pose for pictures if you give them $5. They tend not to wear their get-up to the grocery store and normally opt for clothing which was handcrafted by WalMart.
Also as many Cherokee men are pudgy, this loincloth attire would not be as attractive you think. Remember, they usually get pretty Puerto Rican boys to play us in movies.
(4) Do you worship the Earth?
No, I do not commune with nature, see spirits, talk to animals, frolic through the woods, paint with all the colors of the wind or any of the other crap you saw on Disney. I’m Baptist.
(5) Does the exploitation of Native American culture upset you?
Not so much but I understand why many others are upset by the desecration of Native American ceremonies and spiritual artifacts just like every white person in America would flip out if Jesus Christ became a Halloween Costume and kids carried orange plastic crucifixes and played “Crusades.”
(6) Do you think Tennessee should have banned use of Native American symbols as mascots?
If the Patriots, Devils and Rebels aren’t pissed, don’t guess we should be either.
(7) Do you feel that, as a Native American, you may be genetically predisposed to addictive behaviors, such as drinking?
(8)Do you get checks from the casino?
No, casino money is used largely to fund social programs through the Cherokee Nation. However, I do get free doughnuts at the secret Indian meetings. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. We’re making a comeback.
(9.) Do you harbor ill will toward white people in general?
No, most of you assholes are okay. I stopped collecting scalps in my younger days.
(10.) What do the Native Americans think of allegations from the US Congressional Black Caucus that the Cherokee constitutional amendment limiting enrollment to those with an ancestor on the Dawes Rolls is racist?
Well shit, I don’t know. I’ll have to call and ask them. There’s about 300,000: so it might take me awhile to get back to you.
Wait right there. okay?