Wannabes' Swell Indian Population Figures

DENVER (AP) - Population figures showing a quadrupling of the American Indian population in the past 35 years are skewed by Anglos wanting to claim Indian heritage, says a Navajo anthropologist. The figures also point to a lucrative market in which Indian religions and spiritual healing are exploited at a high cost to "Wannabes," said Dr. Charles Cambridge, an instructor in ethnic studies at University of Colorado-Denver. "I find a grim humor in all of this. You reach a point where you can't get mad any more. It becomes hilarious, like a Felini movie," said Cambridge, a member of the Folded Arms Clan on the Navajo reservation near Ship-Rock, N.M., where his family still owns land.

The American Indian census count was 524,000 in 1960, grew to 793,000 in 1960, then doubled to 1,420,000 in 1980. It was 1,959,999 In 1990 and is projected at 2,212,000 in 1994, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Cambridge said the population growth dates back to the 1960s and the emergence of the romantic idea of the Indian as a "noble savage," and the concept's adoption by New Agers, hippies and yuppies. American Indian "census numbers have increased way beyond that which can be explained by their birth and death rates. What we have are several different types of Individuals claiming to be Indians," Cambridge said. One source, he said, was Indians who moved to the cities, cut off relations with their tribe and intermarried. "Then the 'noble savage' idealism came into play. The grandchildren of these people who moved away are wanting to come back and be Indians.' he said. "But very few of these people actually want to chop wood on the reservation, " he said New Agers claim Indian ancestry from a previous life, Cambridge said. "That's their belief. They check the box on the census form and it pops up we have so many Indian people," he said. Census spokesmen say they have no control over which ethnic box is checked.

Cambridge said a man named Sun Bear exemplifies the exploitation of Indian religions and, in some cases, creation of new tribes. "Sun Bear saw an opportunity to make money by be coming a religious leader and healer with the naive, lost white folks. "He created the Medicine Wheel religion, which was made up of a hodgepodge of parts of ceremonies of many tribes" and started his own Bear Tribe with membership for a fee.

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