Here is a list of 10 things not to say to mixed race Native Americans from my life experiences, racial identity, and tribal affiliations with a Northern Great Lakes Ojibway/Métis twist.
1. How much Native are you? Never ask this question! Being that all Native American people are survivors of genocide and assimilation we don't need to divvy up individuals identities and ration off blood quantum. Every single Native person’s cultural identity is unique. Some identify with other parts of their heritage such as European, African American, and other Indigenous blood that may run through their veins. Native people may not identify as Native American but with their tribe such as: Cree, Coos, Dine, Micmac, Ojibway, Umatilla, Yurok, etc. Personally, I identify as Ojibway/Métis. Blood quantum is a touchy subject that makes many of us uneasy because of tribal politics and assimilation policies. Regardless our racial identity and how we choose to define who we are is up to us. You don't know our connection to land, water, community, elders, children, family, relatives, and culture. This connection to our culture, heritage, and traditions is not based on majority culture narratives. Don't ever ask a Native person how much they are. After hundreds of years of genocide and forced assimilation this is an insulting question.
2. Can I touch your braids? Braids and long hair are culture for many Native people. They are rebellion to boring majority culture norms. No you can't touch my braid as it took 20 minutes to braid perfectly.
3. Isn't it cool to be Native? Today and yesterday and in the future being Native American is risky business. We still live in a racist culture. We still are colonized people. We are still dealing with the huge traumas of being survivors of genocide, boarding schools, governmental assimilation policies, colonial imposed white government structures, and forced removal from our territorial homelands. While our people are healing, empowering themselves, participating in cultural activities, walking a sober road, helping others rise up in their family/community, and more, the colonial powers are racially hostile. It is cool to be Native but please don't romanticize who we are. Please don't romanticize what it is like to wake up and know you may just experience some sort of racial discrimination out there in the world. Let's shine light on the great improvements and triumphs but the reality is still pretty harsh.
4. Everyone is mixed race. Incorrect by a landslide! Everyone is not mixed race. As an Ojibway/Métis I am 0.5% of the population being “Native American” and “White.” According to the 2010 US Census the American Indian and Alaska Native alone or in combination with other races population is 1.7%. Please see chart on page 4 of this report -- The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010. My identity is more complex that “Native American” and “White,” as technically I am Ojibway/Métis. My Métis ancestry has been mixing since the early 1600's in Quebec with French, Huron, Nipissing, and Ojibway ancestry. The United States doesn’t recognize Métis people the way Canada does and we should. I’m still currently researching the Indigenous Saami heritage as well so my “White” ancestry is potentially Indigenous to Sweden.
5. Things are "better" for Native Americans today. Majority culture gets to skate on like nothing has gone wrong. Taking absolutely no responsibility for the damage done to our land, waters, communities, and cultures. Hello - we are survivors of genocide and continued assault on what we have of land, language, culture, and our lives. Healing and reclaiming who we are takes a lot of time and hard work. But where is the majority culture in this? What does better mean and who is defining it? Is the majority culture defining "better" based on their definition of "equal opportunity?"
6. You don't look Native American. You Look Black, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Chinese, White, etc. There is no "one" look to Native people. Many of us are mixed race, bi-racial, and multi-racial so there is no "one" look. I've been asked if I am the following: Mexican, Latina, Pakistani, Mediterranean, and Pacific Islander, to name a few. Our unique cultural identity throws people off all the time. These assumptions show how extremely disconnected the majority culture is from Native people. We look Native American because we are. In my multi-racial Ojibway/Métis family we span every skin color, eye color, and hair color that there is because of being mixed race.
7. Native Americans have casinos therefore you have a lot of money. Casinos are just one business that creates revenue for our communities programs for elders, youth, family services, mental health services, food supplement/distribution programs, head start, and more. Not every tribe gets per cap from casinos to distribute to its tribal members. Casinos also create jobs in many rural and remote reservation communities that have usually had a long history of generational poverty or extreme reservation poverty, which was created by colonization, the Dawes Act of 1887, and more. Casinos are a stepping stone to create other businesses such as game processing facilities, wild rice processing, or artists markets.
8. Do you live on the rez? The percentage of Native Americans that actually live within reservation boundaries is incredibly small. The Indian Relocation Act 1956 was another assimilation policy to force Native Americans into the majority culture to leave the reservation and move to cities. Therefore, because of this effort the majority of Native people live in big cities currently. There are more resources, more opportunities, education, diversity, music, and art. - Good Morning, Anchorage! Top 10 Cities With Highest Percentage Natives
9. Do you get per cap? Do you reap the benefits of being a settler, white entitlement and white privilege? What a rude question to ask oppressed and marginalized people. “Not every tribe has a casino. In 2011, NIGC reported out of 566 federally recognized tribes, only 246 tribes operate 460 gaming facilities in 28 states. Thus, 324 tribes (57 percent) have no gaming operations. Indeed, the rural and unpopulated geographic locations of many Native nations discourage gaming” - The Myth of Indian Casino Riches
10. This point includes some things that are said to us because the majority culture mind is vacuous, to say the least. Some of these mindless sayings include: "hey chief," "squaw," "hold down the fort," "Indian giver," "let's powwow it up," etc. Please refrain from spewing mindlessness from your mouth and put a little thought into your daily intellectual nutritional intake. Culturally insensitive and racist comments are just pure laziness on behalf of the majority cultures lack of enlightenment and living in the comfort of privilege that is toxic.