from the Ahnishinahbæótjibway (We, the People)
February 16, 1996
MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
FAX number: (612) 673-4359
In the Metro Section of the Thursday, February 15 Star Tribune, there was an article headlined “Heritage of Indian firefighters questioned.” According to the article, Leonard Thompson, leader of the American Indian Fire Fighters Association, charged that “as many as half of the 24 people claiming to be Indians in the Minneapolis Fire Department either are not legitimate Indians or cannot prove that they are [Indians].”
There are several issues at stake in the Wanna-Be fire fighter fracas: discriminatory hiring in the fire fighting department, who owns and controls the Indian identity, and exactly what is an “Indian.” The Strib quotes Thompson as saying that undocumented and self-proclaimed Indians are “taking our jobs;” according to the article, firefighter Thompson wants all those who were preferentially hired as Indians in the past to meet current documentation standards for being “Indian:” either through the U.S. Department of the Interior or its Indian Reorganization Act tribal councils; or by showing that “either a parent or grandparent is an enrolled tribal member.” This sounds good, but there are “Indians” on the White Earth enrollments, for example, with 1/32 or less “Indian Blood,” so city-sanctioned discrimination in hiring can be based on as little as 1/128 “Indian blood”—one great-great-great-great-great grandparent, born about two hundred years ago, who is now “federally recognized” as having been an Indian. For all of the disputed Indians to qualify under present standards, this well-publicized fuss adds up to less than 10% of one “full-blooded Indian,” and eleven (and nine-tenths) Black or White guys.
The real irony is that “Indian blood” does not have any genealogical correlation to having ancestors who are indigenous to this land. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Federal designation as an “Indian” was a purely political process—and it still is. Some U.S. Department of Interior regulations explicitly directed recording the ethnicity of certain white men as “half breed” (or other blood quantum) Indians. For example, Bazile Hudon Beaulieu, born 1815-16 and the patrilineal ancestor of the Indian who is presently director of the Minnesota Human Rights Department, was changed from a White man into “3/8 Indian” for the purposes of determining Minnesota Chippewa blood quantum, so that his descendants could sell land and participate in U.S.-supervised “tribal politics” ultimately intended to alienate the Aboriginal Indigenous peoples’ property and resources. In the process of researching a book, I have documented the genealogy of more than 50,000 so-called Chippewa Indians in Northern Minnesota. Less than two hundred have an Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodem—an Aboriginal Indigenous patriline and extended family; the rest have an immigrant European or African Moorish patriline and a culture based on nuclear families and fragmented French feudal social structures.
In order to receive federal funding, preferential hiring, grants for pow-wows, recognition as Indian Chiefs or artists, etc., Indians are dependent on White institutions to “authenticate” their identity. This is but a continuation of the Euro-Americans’ long and cozy relationship with their manufactured Métis and White Indians, beginning with Columbus, continuing through the treaty era (when European and Mediterranean people identified as “Indians” ceded lands which were not theirs), to the I.R.A. Tribal Councils’ Reservation and Indian gaming politics of today.
The policy of the Republican party, which the Eisenhower administration executed on a tribal level, was the termination of the Indians. United States policy and American culture have been directed toward making Indians into the Vanishing American since the Dawes Allotment Act of 1878 (as a part of Manifest Destiny); depriving people identified as “Indians” of land ownership and civil rights has been part of the American agenda since the United States Constitution described “Indians not taxed,” a Jim Crow category which so-called Indian leaders cling to as the basis of the apartheid and illusory “Indian Sovereignty” (both Whites and Indians get upset at the idea of amending this racist clause out of the Constitution and thereby creating a more level playing field and making affirmative action superfluous for protected-class Indians).
U.S. Congressional policy papers still carefully detail the legal foundations for terminating the Indians at any time. The problem with termination was not that Indians would lose their identity, but that political-spoils jobs would cease to exist for the Party faithful and political hacks—terminating the Indians hurts the Whites worse than it hurts the Indians, most of whom have a preponderance of White ancestry (almost all the rest could assimilate into the Black community and nobody would notice).
The real issue isn’t job discrimination or job creation, though—it’s the White man’s guilt at having committed genocide of the Aboriginal Indigenous people on a massive scale, and having despoiled this entire continent. As a community, as a culture and as a cohesive people, we the Aboriginal Indigenous people are extinct: intentionally destroyed by explicit U.S. Government policies including the Indian boarding schools. The Indians’ main purpose is as pretenders and imitations, “reel” Hollywood style Indians who are a living portrayal of the Euro-Americans’ mythology, projections, and stereotypes. Instead of wasting time and valuable resources playing games with minimal potential benefits, the Minneapolis firefighters and police could be lobbying for a Constitutional amendment to eliminate the built-in discrimination of “Indians not taxed,” and start protecting their own property as well as that of the people they serve.
Why not accept one’s real identity, and begin to address the root problems that plague the immigrants’ Euro-American society: violence, the destruction of the ecosystem and the extended families, water pollution, and the dehumanization of Euro-American culture, based on the nuclear family. This is reality, and sooner or later you immigrants won’t be able to run from your past—you’ll have to face it.
Bear Dodem, Ahnishinahbæótjibway
P.O. Box 484
Bemidji, MN 56619
Wub-e-ke-niew lives on his
ancestral homeland at Red Lake, writes a column for
Press/Ojibwe News, and is the author of We
Have the Right To
Translation of Aboriginal Indigenous Thought, The first book ever
from an Ahnishinahbæótjibway
(Black Thistle Press, 1995). Wub-e-ke-niew
is Ahnishinahbæótjibway—an Aboriginal Indigenous
person—he is not an
White Pine. Wub-e-ke-niew and Clara’s home in background