What is an Indian?...careful...you might not really wanna know

The other day I realized that I have spent a lot of time discussing what is NOT Indian on this page...at least what is not Indian from my perspective. As I get my fan mail...ahem...I have realized that to some of the neo-Indians who have actually had the courage to write me… (hey I respect the heck out of ya for that....and see I'm not such a mean guy)…I see that they are still trying to defend themselves with the "How much blood does it take to be Indian" or "I still feel Native in my heart" reasoning. So at the risk that the wannabes are gonna get some tips on how to fool the unsuspecting non-Indian better, I feel it necessary to discuss what is Indian. What is it that makes us who we are?


The Blood Stops Here

Like it or not, Indian people have "Indian" blood. To be Indian, you pretty much have to be genetically Indian…at least to some degree. You can change your jeans, but not your genes. Let's say I have great admiration for a culture, say Japanese. No matter how many Judo lessons I take, regardless of the amount of food I ingest in preparation for Sumo wrestling; sitting through hours of agonizing lessons trying to speak the language where I get no further than hello; thank you, and where is the bathroom; or wear the finest silk kimono, I will never be Japanese. It is impossible. If I was to go to Japan and tell them I am Japanese because I feel it in my heart...I think they would personally send Godzilla after me. No my little WishIWas's, with out the genetics, you are not Indian...no matter how bad you want it.


When In Rome

There is more to being Indian than just having the blood though. Although necessary, blood doesn't always show. First hand knowledge of culture is an essential part of who we are. I am half-Irish, but I do not have any connection with the Irish people whatsoever. I have no clue as to their customs, traditions, way of thinking -- none of that. I mean I can put a stupid t-shirt on that says "Kiss Me...I'm Irish" every March 17th, but the fact remains that the only thing I know about Leprechauns comes from eating Lucky Charms. However, I do know the customs of my people. I why we dance the way we do. I know why things are done in a certain way. When I hear some Indian humor, I can laugh my head off because I know EXACTLY what they are talking about. This comes from being raised and hanging around the people. Each day of being around my own kind, put a culture into my being. Culture is more than just dress, dances, and foodstuffs...it is a mind set...a way of perceiving the world...shared experiences. I know many true Indian people who for one reason or another have been cut-off (or cut themselves off) from other Indian people. Now, this obviously does not make them wannabes, hey they got those genes. But I know several, including a very dear Kiowa friend of mine, who are trying to reestablish the connection. But she did not go gangbusters and dress in as much Hollywood Indian garb as possible, give a couple of good oratories, and tell EVERYONE she knew how the spirits told her to go and follow a rattlesnake around till she got bit! She took her time, got to know her biological family and is slowly reestablishing those ties with her tribe. And yes...she is an enrolled member of the Kiowa Nation.


We Are Family

So you got the blood and you know your ways...well what else is there? Glad you asked. There is one other vital component -- community recognition. Ok Mr or Ms Cherokee, I have one question to ask you...Who is your family? I highly recommend that you get familiar with that question, because if you go blazing down to your tribe of choice and claim to be one of them, that will be the first question you hear. It's not because they are questioning your veracity, but because they sincerely want to know. You have to understand, Indian tribes are very small communities. Even in the largest tribes, family lines are pretty short. Everyone knows everyone or at least they will know who your family is. It can get real uncomfortable for the latter-day Indian to be put on the spot. I had this one guy down here in San Antonio tell me he was Comanche. I thought, hey cool. So I asked him who his family was. A sick look crossed his face. I had to back up as I just knew that my boots were gonna covered in his lunch. Well, he regained his composure and said, "I am related to Chief Horseback." I told him, starting to become suspicious, "That's cool. But a lot of people are related to Chief Horseback. Who is YOUR family? Well, he hemmed and he hawed. Then came the ubiquitous answer of, "Well the family records were destroyed in a fire, we have no record of them."

"Fine, but who is your family?"

"Ah we are the xxxxxx family", he said (deleted to protect the guilty)

"Never heard of 'em. Nice meeting you."

Then there was the one who claimed to be a descendent of Chief Quanah Parker. Claimed to be a full-blood Comanche. I said, "You're a descendent of Quanah Parker and a full-blood, right? She proudly said, "Yes I am." I told her, "Hmm, that's kind of peculiar considering that Quanah was a half-blood enit? Kind of makes it impossible for you to be a full-blood." She turned tail and ran.

Do you see what being Indian is? It isn't a feeling, a spiritual nature, or any of that other stuff. We are real live people. We have genetics that make us, a culture that defines us, and family that sustains us as Indian people. There are folks that have all three of these elements, but never dance at a powwow…perhaps are devout Catholics rather than being "traditional". But you know what, they are more Indian than any NewAge "Spirtchul" wannabe hack ever will be. By the way, I'm heading to Dublin tomorrow wearing my best green suit, a pint of Guinness in one hand, a Shalaylee (sic) in the other, and speaking my best brogue...I'm sure they'll accept me with open arms.

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