Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How Much Native American Are You?

How can your identity be quantified? Do you believe your identity can be dissected into bits and pieces? I know that my body and spirit cannot be quantified. As a spiritual being I know I am whole, I am complete. Being mixed by blood as many Native people are because we are dissected in our identity on a daily basis. Because of colonization and genocide the majority society takes a look at someone who says they are Native and then poses the question, "how much?" If the person is not stereotypically Native then we are asked this question. The more I talk to other people in the Native community the more I realize this question is a common question that is asked.

This weekend I was asked this question and instead of getting furiously mad like I would of in the past I was calm. I had a realization recently since reading extensively about privilege, race, class and oppression. If I become mad then I am giving away my power to this person when they have no power over me in the first place. I do agree that anger has a time and place but I have made a recent choice to rise above it all with calmness, wisdom and grace.

My friend and I were at a restaurant when this question was asked. The waitress said that she liked my earrings. She made the comment that there were very "Native American looking." I replied, "I am Native American." She replied, "oh cool." My friend and I told her the drinks that we wanted. She left and then came back with our water and tea. She then proceeded to ask, "so how much are you?" I took a deep breath and replied, "I choose not to answer that question. The waitress replied, "ok."

I spoke with my friend and she said, "all you have to say is that I am full in heart." While this is true and this is the best response to say when someone asks this question I feel that this question should not even be asked in the first place. It is not about blood quantum, skin tone, hair color, eye color, facial features or height. It is what is in the heart and spirit.

I know who I am, no one has power over me and I am whole.

27 comments:

Lisa ~ Urban Native Girl said...

Great blog post. Have you seen 'Club Native' yet? Here is a link to the clip on blood quantum: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rPi1RG3m1Q

Shell said...

I'm glad you didn't answer the question. How Much Native American are you is ridiculous question. If you say you are, then that should be good enough for people!

randombabble.com said...

It is not about blood quantum, skin tone, hair color, eye color, facial features or height. It is what is in the heart and spirit.

I know who I am, no one has power over me and I am whole.
Perfect and beautiful.

torgana said...

I think you answered the question perfectly. Have you ever read the book What Are You? I think it should be required reading for everyone.

Whit said...

That's beautiful.

davka said...

It's also an offensive question because so many native communities have been decimated with rape and such- so it's like a white person asking you to prove to them that you are close enough to their stereotypical conception that they need to feel comfortable categorizing you. Why did she ask this! Why does this question come up!

Or trying to guage how much white blood successfully infiltrated your ancestry by forced assimilation- so they can feel.. what! I don't even know. I think I might spend all day trying to deconstruct this question.

I am glad you didn't answer. That is inspiring.

I would argue that it isn't totally about what's in a person's heart because I know a lot of white people who get on appropriation kicks and suddenly claim to be native or middle eastern or whatever exotic culture they find to be the flavor of the month. they can claim they are these things in their heart, but there is something deeper to it, don't you think?

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

Lisa - Thank you for the link to the documentary as I can't wait to see it.

Shell - Yes, I have answered in the past and I refuse to answer this question now. Yes, it definitely should be good enough. No further investigation into my identity is needed.

RandomBabble - Thank you.

Torgana - I have never read the book What Are You. Do you know the author's name?

Whit - Thank you!

Davka - Also did Natives mix for survival purposes? We have to remember this in the colonization process.

It is something deeper than what is in the heart of course the genetic and ancestral connection. But, for me my heart goes out to the ancestors and future generations. So my heart is connected to the land and Great Spirit. The dilemma with appropriation is with anyone who is appropriated Native culture I feel they are lost and being extremely disrespectful. Everyone essentially has Native origins. Some have forgotten along the way, been pushed, forced or taken out of tribes 100 to 1,000 years ago. I feel it is within everyone but I don't agree with disrespect and dishonor a culture that was stripped down to nothing. If one is going to support not appropriate Native culture please to so with great respect and honor.

Morganna said...

I just found your blog, and I'm a Native woman who is scared to explain my spirituality and culture to my white friends because of the "how much" thing.

That's the best answer to that question I'v heard and I'll use it next time someone asks me. Thank you.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

Morganna - Glad this helps. It took me a couple tries to answer this way. I am also glad you came across my blog-please visit again!

nezua said...

so true. i hate when people try to slice and dice my bloodline. keep on. :)

Leah Jane said...

Thank you for saying this. For me, it's the "Are you a card carrying" question that irks me the most.
I'm glad you're brave enough to tackle this topic, it's very inspiring to take this on in such a beautiful fashion.

thelady said...

When people ask questions like how much or what are you it is because they want to know what box to put you in and what stereotypes to assign to you.

EHR said...

Good for you! That is the worst question I have ever heard, and the best answer.

scalesoflibra said...

Reminds me of the movie "A Day Without a Mexican." All the Mexicans in the U.S. disappear except for the protagonist. When she finds out that she was born in the U.S. and thus technically American, she is heartbroken. She says passionately that she is Mexican in her heart and the moment she does, she disappears too! (Everyone comes back in the end.)

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

nezua - Thank u!

Leah Jane - You're welcome! I have been asked that too and I can't stand it.

thelady - I am done with that, I can't be assigned to stereotypes. I refuse it as I am me ~ uniquely and beautifully!

EHR - Thank you!

scalesoflibra - Yes, it is about what I am passionate about in my heart and I can't stop that from shinning through.

torgana said...

The author's name is Paul Garskin. Here's the book's website:
http://www.whatareyou.com/

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

torgana - Thank you for the link to the website!

lesbian101 said...

My ex is Ojibwe and we lived on the Saginaw Chippewa reservation for a year. I'm Potowatomi but my mom is white and I have her skin tone so I can't tell you how many Ojibwe dismissed me out of hand as a white girl wannabe. I suppose I sort of understand that but it didn't make it any easier. My poor ex - a lesbian and married to a white girl? She had a hard time in her own way.

Lisa said...

I have just found your blog and wanted to Thank you for this entry. I get asked all the time "how much" I am. In the past I have answered and usually received rude remarks dismissing it. Some people say I cannot claim to be Native American if I am not full blood. Others have tried to downplay it because they think it's disgraceful (and I no longer associate with them). I am going to use your answer from now on. Thank you for sharing an honest, and personal story that many of us can relate to.

Lisa (Ojibwe)

Today is the Best Gay of My Life.... said...

Great blog! Just found it. I started checking "American Indian/Alaskan Native" BOXES (ugh) on forms. When people ask me, "how much" I say "enough, thanks" they want more info. I say I'm proud of who I am. I look white. I don't care anymore. My ancestors would be proud that I'm claiming it, not shaming my identity. I'm reviving it for me and those who come after me. Zhaawan-noodin-iikwe

Anne said...

Last time I was asked that I asked how much white they were. That was a conversation stopper.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

Thank you for your responses - lesbian101, Lisa, this is the best gay of my life and Anne!

Asking white folk how much white they are is a definite conversation stopper. It not only asks them to examine their privilege but to examine how they do not have to worry about their identity in the world. Which is a part of their privilege.

If I wanted to, like many of you, I could not identity as Native and deny who I am completely. But, I choose to honor my Native roots and say that I am Native. I am standing up for the generations prior that did not or could not. Someone has to realign the trauma and turn it into healing.

Aabaakawad said...

I am White, but there is that bit of Ojibwe (Minnesota) ancestry, 5 generations back in an unbroken matriarchal line, that speaks to me, though all connection was suffocated by the generations in between.

I can't say for sure if I am feeling the tribalness we all share from wherever in the world our roots happen to come, or it is actually my small piece of the spirit from the land where some of my mothers have lived for countless time, and I also happen to be.

Like I said before, I am White, and would not want to pretend otherwise. But the native part is the most comfortable part of my heritage. I ran a group home for disabled native adults for a few years, and it was a relief to have that in my life.

I would share with Native friends my bit of heritage (Oddly, it shows much more strongly in my appearance than might be expected) while being honest about its tenuousness.

Your post makes me concerned though, that what I was really doing was mild appropriation. After all, neither my mother, nor my grandmother paid this heritage any mind at all, although they were the connection to it.

Meanwhile, I stand barefoot on the soil. I'm not sure what all this means.

Thanks for listening.

Anishinaabekwe said...

Aabaakawad - By the way, what does Aabaakawad mean? Seems like it is Anishinaabemowin.

You are probably feeling the energy of the ancestors and the spirit of the land where you are at. Essentially we all have tribal roots if you go back far enough. It is good to embrace it from whatever direction it comes from. It sounds like you are committed to being in the place of the ancestors despite how the connection was suffocated by generations in between. The ancestors are around us all and many of us can feel them strongly if we have the opportunity to live on our ancestral lands. I feel what you are meaning to say by saying you are standing, "barefoot on the soil," is your strong connection to place and the land. Do you also feel this is true?

I want to share this link with you that you may find interesting. I have the cd that that this piece is from called -- Descendant Now Ancestors by John Trudell. This recording is called the Tribes of Europe - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-qO4pIK1Bg

Robert Shores said...

Hi, im 18 years old, my heritage consists of 3/4 scandinavian, and the rest of my heritage is a mixture of English, French, and last but also least Turtle Mountain/chippewa native. my point is if you saw me, you would beleive that i am a full blooded chippewa descendent. When spring comes around, I pretty much tan just by glancing at the sun. i have a very square jaw, high cheek bones, and dark hair. I actually am tanner, and more native looking than my biological father. It is quite a mystery. :-)

Joshua JRT said...

Love reading these blogs but even I have to sleep at some point or another. I did book mark the last page to come back tommorrow and read some more!

Anishinaabekwe said...

Joshua - Glad you enjoy reading my writings!