Thursday, January 25, 2007

All my relations.

My grandfather's grandfather was a full-blooded Apache Indian, which has at times seemed very far away from me. Having one-sixteenth Apache blood, I've never told people I was an Indian, or really felt like an Indian person. My mother, however, has always felt like an Indian, and has often identified herself as an Indian woman. Even though she's only *EDIT one-eighth EDIT* Apache, she identifies with the feelings of loss, injustice, doom, hopelessness, impotence, and equal parts of pessimism and optimism that come with being an American Indian. I grew up listening to stories about her Indian ancestors, or about other Indians in general, fighting and struggling and just desiring to live. And you know, I can identify with that struggle, with having to try and find a reason each day to keep trying.

I've often thought that I shouldn't say that I'm Indian. Filling out applications or questionnaires where I was asked to check my race, I usually faulter, have to think about it for a few minutes. My mother raised me as an Indian person, and has never thought that I ought to worry about calling myself Apache. I just feel like it isn't fair to American Indian people for me to claim to be an Indian. I've seen people who I know must be white, pale skin and blue eyes and blonde hair, who talk big talk about being Native American, about how "their people" are discriminated against and they're just so tired of it. And when I see those people talking that way it makes me angry, because I just can't help but think that they have NO IDEA what they're talking about. A woman with blue eyes, light skin, and blonde hair who is a nurse in Alabama and is from "North Alabama" will never know what it feels like to live on the reservation, will never know what it feels like to have to choose between her heritage, family, and culture and the possibility of a better life, will never know what it feels like to walk into a gas station and have people automatically assume that she's lazy, or stupid, or an alchohlic, or just inferior, based only on how she looks. It's because of this that I just feel false, like I'm taking something away from people like Russell Means and Dennis Banks and Leonard Peltier and all the other Indian people who have fought their entire lives to try and have a decent life, if I say that I'm an Indian person.

I spoke to someone on the phone a couple of nights ago who I had never spoken to before in my life, and who immediately changed my outlook on all of this. He said that I shouldn't be afraid to say that I'm an Indian person. I've thought a lot about all of the things he told me, and what I've come to is this: it's not about what I look like, and it's also not about other people's reactions or what they think of me. It's about my own state of mind, my own experiences, my own heart, and information that I have to offer to other people who might not even know that there are still American people, some of the MOST American people that there are, living in awful conditions and being completely ignored by their government, that they aren't extinct, or taken care of, or "gone back where they came from" (THIS IS WHERE THEY CAME FROM).

In short, I'm not about to start screaming it from the roof tops or anything, and I'm still not sure that I'm going to answer "Apache Indian" any time someone asks me about my race (I have had a surprising number of people ask me that over the past few years). But I'm not going to be afraid of that part of myself any more, in that I'm not going to try and squelch down the part of me that identifies so strongly with my mom and our heritage. It is the struggle itself, that very thing- the hardships, defeats, fears, and hopes, that gives me the right and duty to own my bloodline, however small.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

hell yeah! you raise your fist high in the air and be counted.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I had always thought of you as a Native American.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if REAL indians can do math. I believe your mother would be one eighth, not one quarter indian if your grandfather's grandfather was an indian, unless she just so happened to be one eighth on both sides of her family. Hmm, sounds like you are just as white and unaware of who YOU actually are as most of America.

angry betty said...

What is this nonsense?! Why can't the blonde haired, blue eyed girl be just as Native American as you are? You know genetics are a complicated and intersesting thing. You talk about racial sterotypes, but it sounds like you are the one using sterotypes. Even so, what makes you think that this girl, no matter what percentage of Native American blood runs through her veins, cannot relate to the Native American plight, but you magically can? I doubt either of you have lived it first hand. If you want to embrace your heritage, go for it. More people should know where they come from. Hey you might even get a better job because suddenly you are a minority. However, just because someone told you what you wanted to hear, does not mean he was right. You speak of social inequalities, but we will never be equal as long as people pick sides and draw a line in the sand.

buffy said...

Hm. Okay, several responses. First, to anonymous, I mentioned that I am one-sixteenth Apache; it was just a random error that I typed that my mom is one-quarter. She IS one-eighth. But thank you for pointing out my error. I couldn't have possibly gone on living if you hadn't done me that service.
Next, Angry Betty, I appreciate your response. There were a couple of points that I was making there that I don't think you got. One of those points is that I've FELT like it's unfair to American Indians for people like this fifty-year-old woman to walk around talking about BEING a Native American. I'm not saying my feelings were right, I'm saying they were my feelings. I spent several months in a class with this woman who spoke, at great length, about what life was like for her as a Native American woman. My next point is that I don't think she will ever fully know what life is like for a Native American woman, and neither will I. Saying I can relate is a little different than saying "I am discriminated against all the time because I'm an Indian." Lastly, I'm not really sure how I'm picking sides or drawing a line in the sand. Actually, I think what I'm saying is that I'm getting rid of a line that I previously drew- the line that said that I couldn't really consider myself to be Indian.

Jason said...

I've always kind of thought of you as a mutt Buffy. Kind of fuzzy and nice, but you can bark really loud and I don't think I'd want you to attack me (especially with your teeth). We're all pretty diverse. You're lucky that you can trace your heritage back to your grandfather's grandfather, not too many people can do that. Some of these issues people keep bringing up seem to blur the line between race and ethnicity.

buffy said...

And math, Jason, don't forget about the math!!!

Aunt Suzie said...

Don't you just hate fractions??? I wonder what fraction white I am.

Anonymous said...

http://youtube.com/watch?v=11-woBmxxBg

Anonymous said...

dots or feathers???