Its so funny that its not funny.
A colleague at work was raised in Texas and claims to have a small percentage of Native American roots. He worked with Tribes in the Northwest U.S. so he thinks of himself as an expert on Native America. We were talking one day and he said “You don’t look like any Indian I’ve ever seen.” Ha!!! How am I supposed to take that? So what does an Indian look like?
When I was in grad school traveling with lab mates to work on our research plots in the corn fields, one lady said something intriguing. She knew I was Native American. And because she spent some time in New Mexico, she thought she was the world’s leading authority on Native American beliefs. When I would say something that she thought went against what real Indians think, she would say “but doesn’t that go against your beliefs?” It is almost like those who’ve interacted with us can say whatever they want. You don’t know me like you think you do.
Its one thing for a little kid who has only seen Indians on TV or in story books. It is a whole other thing to have an educated adult question your ethnicity.
I appreciate that people appreciate my culture. But have you ever heard of cultural appropriation? It is a form of racism usually based on some level of cultural ignorance. Dream catchers, feather headresses, war paint,…all these things have significance, often sacred and revered to Native American Tribes. Yet someone thinks it looks cool or they want to appear trendy, so they wear something or do something they think honors Indians. Believe me, it doesn’t. It is likely to offend instead.
We are real!
First of all, we ARE real. We have professions just like you do. We drive cars and live in houses. We see the things you promote as being US. We read and write and walk on our own two feet (if we have feet). Do we have problems? Yes! We have diabetes. Many of my relatives have gone blind or have limbs amputated because of it. We have depression and substance abuse. But I wouldn’t say it is different from what you see in the projects, the barrios, the ghettos, the hills, or wherever else you’d call the other side of the tracks. Regardless, we are real.
The biggest shock to you is that Indians aren’t monolithic in thought or culture. There are 535 Federally-recognized Tribes in the United States and many more not recognized. We all have different histories and different stories of our Creation. Our ancestors lived in different houses, had specific beliefs, wore different clothes, and had unique languages. We weren’t all warriors always looking for a fight. Many were and are farmers and fishers. And, yes, we look differently.
Many people say what they do is meant to honor us. They wear a t-shirt or feathers or something else that says “I love Indians”. But instead, they do dishonor. If they thought to pick up a book and read about our history and culture, maybe they’d have a clue. Much more could be done to support us by donating to Diabetes research or Native American Student Scholarships. It would mean SO much more than promoting false stereotypes.
We are real!
You don’t get to decide who we are or how we feel.