Elizabeth Warren and the Ins and Outs of Indian Country

What and who are the “Ins and Outs” of Indian Country?

Okay, so Elizabeth Warren is out as an Indian academic, but the 1/256 by blood folks I have worked with in academia are in. Johnny Depp is in and the nearly full-blooded Indian kid from southwestern Oklahoma whose 1/16 Comanche ancestry coupled with four or five other tribes is out. Pamunkey and Mattaponi Indians who have lived on their reservations for nearly 20 generations are out, while people whose aunties found a link to an Indian ancestor through Ancestry.com and are now enrolled with a federal tribe are in.

I think I am following the logic here. Fluent speaking 87-year-old Chukchansi Indian Ruby Cordero is out (i.e. disenrolled), while the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma enrolls someone who is 1/4,096 and they are in.

Unrecognized tribes who generationally attended Indian boarding schools such as Haskell, Bacone, Carlisle, Hampton, etc. are out, but tribes like the Poarch Creek who never had a community member sent off to such a school are in. DNA as a definer of “Indianess” is in and community cohesion and cultural retention are out.

Non-Indians and non-identifiable Indians running the Office of Federal Acknowledgment are in, while identifiable, cultural Indians petitioning the Office of Federal Acknowledgment are out. Communities who have been generationally discriminated against such as the Lumbee are out, but those who are in striking distance with a casino to protect (i.e. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) are in.

United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) signing resolutions stating that petitioning “groups” need to go through the federal acknowledgment process established by the BIA and should not be allowed access through Congress (even though half the USET tribes were recognized by Congress) in and the pot calling the kettle black, throwing stones in glass houses, and in complete irony out. Federal Indians with italicized Indian names and even US presidents (i.e.“Black Eagle” Obama) are in, but historic “non-federal” tribal members with similar names are out.

IHS funding racially white individuals with CDIB cards is in and brown skinned members of historic “non-fed” tribes attempting to access basic health care are out. Nouveau ideas of “sovereignty” justifying disenrollment is in, while the newly disenrolled are out. White Indians in, Black Indians out. Universities across the country requiring their presidents to hold a Ph.D is out, while Haskell hiring a president without one is in. People with minor Indian ancestry and zero cultural upbringing becoming Indian identity police are in, those perceived as ‘wannabes’ by them are out.

Fake screen names on-line are in, integrity and accountability out. Violence perpetrated by Indian men against Indian women in, as is covering it up by blaming non-Indian men for all the violence Indian women receive; there is no out on this one.

Silly, stereotypical, poorly acted, corporate sponsor plugging, Hollywood movies depicting Indian people such as Crooked Arrows in, while highly creative and original works by Indian independent filmmakers out. Gaming tribes with white lobbyists in, while everyone else out. Cooperation out and increased per caps in. The people whose backs literally helped build the Five Civilized Tribes (i.e. Freedmen) out, while the 50,000 white folks on the enrollment waiting lists, in.

Jim Crow out and Jim Crowfeather in. Coming of Age ceremonies which assist in the wellness of female community members, while educating male community members to the honor they hold in our communities out (i.e. google Winnemem Wintu), while patriarchal reinvented views on Indian culture in. Indian alphabet in….CDIBBIAIHSICWAOFABIEHINUCFRBQJOMVAWAUSETNCAIDOI…, while common sense, equitable ways to deal with the Indian alphabet out. Brown oppression out, while white privilege masked by a CDIB card in.

Sorry, but I gotta run to an Indian education meeting . My daughter, who is a brown-skinned, language-speaking, enrolled member of a federally recognized Canadian First Nation and a historic “non-federal”, reservation based, Indian boarding school attending state recognized tribe in the U.S. is getting kicked out of the public school’s JOM program. After that I have to get over to the federal Indian court where I am being charged as a “federally-recognized” Indian by the same people who were calling me and my tribe wannabes the week before. While there on my other charges I think I am going to be charged with possession of eagle feathers for not being a member of a federal tribe in the US.

Oh, the irony. And then I am heading over to a Haskell reunion with a 70-year-old Haskell Institute graduate from a “non-federal” tribe (which the BIA listed as ½ Indian) who recently applied to go back to Haskell to get her university degree, but was denied as they told her that her tribe is no longer Indian. When that is done I have to drop 30 points in our first game at the nearest Indian basketball tournament if they accept my enrollment. Fingers crossed. It seems that some people can get it both ways in this world. All that is required is a “current” CDIB, some historical revisionism…or a few Hollywood blockbuster movie roles. Fortunately I like grapes. Sour, sour grapes. Legal fiction in and social reality out. I’m out.

Cedric Sunray is one of four generations of enrolled family members of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians in Alabama.

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Elizabeth Warren and the Ins and Outs of Indian Country

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