This was originally posted during Trump’s campaign, on my Blogspot.
Keep in mind: I know more about treaty status and band affiliation in Canada than I know about tribal enrollment in the USA. If something I say doesn’t jive with what you know to be true with the USA, don’t feel afraid to set me straight.
My daughters have Dëne heritage. They are registered under Treaty 8, and are members of a northern Saskatchewan First Nation.
But only half of their ancestry is First Nations. Thanks to the Indian Act in Canada, the half of their heritage that isn’t First Nations plays a big role in what they are legally allowed to claim.
The Blood Quantum rules set by the Indian Act say that my children can have treaty status, but their children will lose status, if they have a parent who does not have treaty status.
The reason: those children would no longer be First Nations Enough.
Think about that.
Family, culture, language, and land are all being reduced to a process you’d use to figure out the pure-bred status of a dog.
Why is this on my mind right now?
I have been thinking about JK Rowling, Elizabeth Warren, and Donald Trump.
Trump says he isn’t being a racist when he replaces Elizabeth Warren’s name with a racial slur, because her claim to First Nations heritage is false. He accuses Warren of being the one who is racist. My original point was that it isn’t up to Trump to make this determination. I stated this call should be made by First Nations people, specifically those of the nation she is claiming ties to.
There are a lot of people who claim Cherokee lineage in the USA, often based on little more than a family myth. Are all those claims legitimate? That is pretty unlikely.
Some of those stories stem from distant family members trying to create a link to people they thought would be gone by now, based on books they were reading. Literature is littered with stories of noble savages; the last of their people, ultimately doomed. First Nations people didn’t fade into the realm of myth, the way colonial story-books suggested they would. The people who created tales of First Nations people in the family died without setting the story straight, leaving generations of people falsely claiming heritage. These people could be said to be mislead, not necessarily malicious.
There is another group of people who claim heritage for more selfish motives. They want to gain an advantage for themselves. This could come in the form of increased chances/consideration during a competition, or some kind of monetary gain. Trump has accused Warren of these motivations. Her defenders have said she would fall in line with the mislead group, if her claims turn out to be false, since she sincerely believes the connections to be true. They feel she hasn’t tried to use her heritage for any type of advantage. My original point was that it isn’t up to Trump, or people outside of the First Nation Warren is claiming connections, to pass judgement.
The issue struck a personal chord with me. Trump is one of a long line of people who feel entitled to decide if a person is Native Enough. In Canada, blood quantum codifies this process of discrimination. The USA probably has similar processes connected to claims for tribal enrollment, or has in the past.
How would Trump feel if his heritage was questioned? I have zero desire to look up his actual heritage, so the following is a hypothetical scenario:
Imagine if Ancestry.com told him 30% of his family were from Ireland. Now imagine some blow-hard (who wasn’t Irish) saying he didn’t have a right to say he was Irish, but only doing this for his/her own political gain. For the scenario to be completely accurate, the person would need to replace Trump’s name with an ethnic slur used to dehumanize the Irish people. It might turn out that Trump really didn’t have Irish heritage. That doesn’t put the blow-hard in the realm of being justified.
This issue struck a personal chord because my grandchildren could be facing the same attack. Someone could tell them they aren’t allowed to claim the Dëne part of their family background. I follow many First Nations people on Twitter. One took a compassionate view of people who make claims to First Nations heritage, who can’t produce specifics of the connections.
This perspective fell more in-line with my original point. While acknowledging frustration, it is forgiving when it comes the the motivation.
Debbie Reese (@debreese) got me thinking about complicity, by connecting the Elizabeth Warren issue to JK Rowling.
Rowling has been repeatedly told, by MANY First Nations people, that her use of Native cultural stories in Magic In North America is inappropriate. She pulled stories from many different cultures, and mashed them together without context. She did this without any significant consultation or contact with the actual cultures the stories came from, resulting in the stories being misrepresented. Rather than listening and responding to critiques, she has pushed onward, into the mass marketing phase of her story-telling (because there always will be this phase with Rowling). Unlike most authors, Rowling has a platform to do incredible harm. Pottermore is already sorting people into North American houses.
Who wants to bet the criteria are a collection of offensively cliche traits concerning First Nations? How many Native children are going to see their cultural art sold in theme parks, while their family members can’t find a market for the items they are creating? How many First Nations children are going to feel like their fantasy escape has been stolen from them, so some English writer can profit? Does Rowling believe it’s too late to acknowledge the mistake, because she has a lot to lose? Does she imagine First Nations people have less at stake? More likely, she knows First Nations people are a minority, and other people won’t speak up.
How does this connect to Warren? Debbie Reese suggests that by not calling out Warren on her unproven claims, demanding she produce evidence before continuing to perpetuate the story, we are being complicit in the idea Warren is entitled to speak for First Nations people. That might not be Warren’s intention, but it is an already widely held belief that pretty much anyone’s words are more important than those of actual First Nations people.
People like Rowling are making it worse. Rowling seems to be disregarding protests of First Nations people, for the sake of profit. When Rowling disregards First Nations voices, she disappears them, the way colonial literature tried to. When we let Warren’s voice be more important than First Nations people with proven heritage, we also disappear First Nations people. Through apathy, we become complicit.