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.