The Crucible of American Indian Identity


Churchill

 

Among the most vexed and divisive issues
afflicting Native North America at the dawn of the twenty-first century are the questions
of who it is who has a legitimate right to say he or she is American Indian, and by what
criteria/whose definition this may or may not be true. Such queries, and the answers to
them, hold an obvious and deeply important bearing, not only upon the personal sense of
identity inhering in millions of individuals scattered throughout the continent, but in
terms of the degree to which some form of genuine self-determination can be exercised by
the more than four hundred nations indigenous to it in coming years. Conversely, they
represent both an accurate gauge of the extent to which the sovereignty of North America’s
native peoples have been historically eroded or usurped by the continent’s two
preeminently colonial settler-states, the U.S. and Canada, and a preview of how the
remainder stands to be eradicated altogether in the not-so-distant future.

Defining for itself the composition of its membership
(‘citizenry"), in whatever terms and in accordance with whatever standards it freely
chooses, is, of course, the very bedrock expression of self-determination by any nation or
people. The ability to maintain this prerogative is thus a vital measure of its sovereign
standing. By the same token, intervention in or preemption of this plainly internal
function by any external entity may be taken as signifying a blatant abridgment of a
nation’s right to self-determination and a corresponding diminishment of its sovereignty.
For that very reason, under conditions of colonialism–where one nation is directly
subordinated to the politico-economic or strategic interests of another, and most
especially in the kind of "internal colonial" systems prevailing in North
America, where the colonizing powers have quite literally subsumed the territoriality of
the colonized within their own claimed geographies–such domination may be seen as a
structural imperative.

T’hings cannot be put so straightforwardly in practice, however,
since colonialism in all forms has been flatly prohibited by international law since at
least as early as 1960. In these circumstances, the kinds of subterfuge designed to create
false appearances are an essential aspect of maintaining and perfecting the modes of
colonial order. Hence, it is necessary for the colonizer not merely to preempt the
sovereignty of the colonized, but to co-opt it, inculcating a comprador consciousness
among son-Le segment of the colonized population in which the forms of domination imposed
by colonialism will be advocated as a self-determining expression of will emanating from
the colonized themselves.

At this point–with the codes of colonial domination embraced by
many native people as comprising their own traditions, and articulation of the latter
often perceived as a contravention of indigenous sovereignty–the colonized become for all
practical intents and purposes self-colonizing. hi this most advanced and refined
iteration of imperial order, confusion accomplishes much more cheaply, quietly and
efficiently what physical force was once required to obtain. Meaningful resistance, never
mind decolonization, among those so thoroughly indoctrinated and deluded as to accept and
enforce the terms of their own subjugation in the name liberation is, an its face, quite
impossible. Yet both resistance and decolonization are not simply rights but obligations
under international law and most other recent philosophical/moral schemas of justice.

The situation presents a dilemma of the first magnitude. Resolving
it, and thereby actualizing the potential for a coherent and constructive indigenous
response to the realties which now confront us, and which will confront our future
generations, requires a systematic unraveling of the web of mystification through which
North America’s native peoples have been bound ever more tightly into the
carefully-crafted mechanisms of our oppression and eventual negation. The purpose of this
essay is to make a contribution in this regard by sorting out that which has traditionally
been part of the "Indian way" of identifying member/citizens of our polities
from that which has not, and to sketch out the mechanisms through which the latter has
supplanted the former. From the resulting vantage point it should prove possible to
ascertain with some clarity the methods which must be (reasserted if we are ever to truly
throw off the yoke of colonial bondage, and those which must be rejected as perpetuating
and perfecting the colonial structure.

 

The Traditional Way

T’here is not, and has never been, much of a
genetic ("hereditary") distinction to be drawn between indigenous peoples in the
Americas. hi part, this devolves upon the probability that the great proliferation of
culturally-distinct entities evident in the hemisphere by the time the European invasions
commenced around 1500 had all evolved from three–or perhaps four–discernible "gene
stocks," figures correlating rather well to the evident number of root linguistic
variants. More to the point, native peoples have for the most part always maintained
relatively high degrees of sociocultural inclusiveness and consequent reproductive
interactivity ("inter-breeding") among one another.

Since time immemorial, Cheyennes (or their precursors) have
intermarried with Arapahoes, Ojibways with Crees, Cayugas with Ononadagas, Yaquis with
Turamaras, Choctaws with Chickasaws, and so on, ad infinitum. In such instances,
depending on whether the cultures in question were matrilinear or patrilinear, either the
male or female spouse would become a part of the other’s society, as would their
offspring. Genealogy rather than genetics was the core component of societal composition,
although procedures for incorporation of individuals and sometimes whole groups by
adoption/naturalization and occasional merger were similarly well-established and
practiced with varying degrees of scale and frequency by most peoples, either periodically
or continuously.

Whatever else may be said of such processes, they served over time
to erase any meaningful genetic distinctions between the groups involved. Indeed, there
are recorded instances–as when the Mohawks absorbed significant portions of both the
Hurons and the Susquahannocks during the seventeenth century–in which the number of
outsiders incorporated into a given society are known to have noticeably exceeded that of
the original members. Given these historical circumstances, the contemporary notion of
somehow being Mohawk "by blood" is self-evidently ludicrous, albeit no more so
than similar claims advanced with respect to the Pawnee, Cherokee, Apache, Paiute or
virtually any other native people.

Once non-Indians began to appear in substantial numbers across the
hemisphere, the same time-honored principles prevailed. Probably the earliest group of
English to have simply melted into a native society were the inhabitants of Raleigh’s
"lost colony" of Roanoak in 1590. A century later, there were literally
thousands of "white Indians"–mostly English and French, but Swedes, Scots,
Irish, Dutch and others as well–who, diseased with aspects of their own cultures, had
either married into, been adopted by, or petitioned for naturalization as member/citizens
of indigenous nations. By then, the phenomenon had become pronounced enough that it had
long-since precipitated a crisis among the Puritans of Plymouth Colony and figured in
their waging of a war of extermination against the Pequots in 1637.

T’he attraction of "going native" remained so strong, and
the willingness of indigenous peoples to accept Europeans into their societies so
apparent, that it prevailed even among those captured in Indian/white warfare. During the
1770s, George Croghan and Guy Johnson, both acknowledged authorities on the native peoples
of the mid-Atlantic region, estimated that the great bulk of the several hundred English
prisoners of all ages and both genders taken by the Indians had been adopted by them
rather than being put to death.

The literature of the period is literally filled with observations.
Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier, for example, noted that whites
"recovered" from Indians had to be "closely watched [lest] they will
certainly return to the Barbarians." Colonel Henry Bouquet, who headed a 1764
expedition to take charge of "captives" returned under terms of a treaty with
England by the Shawnees, Miamis and other peoples of the Ohio River Valley, issued orders
that "they are to be closely watched and well Secured [as] most of them, particularly
those who have been a long time among the Indians, will take the first Opportunity to run
away."" The Reverend William Smith, chaplain and chronicler of Bouquet’s foray,
noted that most younger whites seemed to view their "liberators" as captors and
"parted from the savages with tears."

Some, like fourteen-year-old John McCullough, managed to escape
Bouquet’s column and quickly reunited himself with his native family. Many Indians
reciprocated by refusing to surrender those they’d married, adopted, or otherwise accepted
especially children-under any but the most coercive circumstances." hi cases where
there was no viable alternative, the record is replete with examples of adoptive native
parents regularly visiting and otherwise maintaining familial relations with such children
for the remainder of their own lives." And, of course, children born of a union
between Indian and non-Indian were almost invariably never relinquished at all (not least
because whites, not Indians, tended to frown upon such "mixed-blood" offspring
and thus made little or no effort to claim them). One upshot is a marked proliferation of
European surnames among indigenous peoples, not only in the East but the West as well;
witness such sizable contemporary mixed blood families as the Morriseaus, Robideaus,
Peltiers and Bellecourts among the Chippewas, and the Pouriers, Gamiers, Amiotts,
Roubideauxs, Archambaults and Mousseaus among the Lakotas.

With respect to blacks-mostly Africans brought to the southeastern
quadrant of North America as chattel slaves, but the occasional few "free man"
as well-the situation was not dissimilar, albeit the imperative for them to reject a
return to Euro-American society was obviously greater than for whites, and a much larger
proportion of adults was involved. Escaped slaves were typically accepted among the native
peoples they encountered, married and produced children who were fully integrated into the
societies at issue. So prominent was this process of intermingling that at some point
around 1750 an entire people, the Seminole, was constituted as an amalgamation of the
remnants of several thoroughly decimated indigenous nations and a very substantial
element-about one-third of the whole-of blacks.

Hence, by 1830 at the latest, the notion of defining
"Indian-ness" in terms of "race" had been rendered patently absurd. It
has been reliably estimated that somewhere between a third and half of all native people
still residing east of the Mississippi River were at that point genetically intermixed not
only with one another, but with "Negroid and Caucasoid racial stock" as well, a
demographic pattern which would spread rapidly westward over then next half century. There
is little if any indication, moreover, that most indigenous societies tended to view this
increasing admixture as untoward or peculiar, much less threatening, in and of itself
(this is as opposed to their often bitter resistance to the cultural, political and
material encroachments of Euroamerican "civilization").

 

On the Matter of Fidelity

It has become an article of faith among
historical interpreters that mixed-bloods served as something of a Trojan Horse within
indigenous societies during the era of Euro-American conquest, undermining internal their
cohesion and thereby eroding their ability to effectively resist the onslaught. While it
is true that the colonizing powers–especially the United States–often sought to use
those of mixed ancestry in precisely this fashion (in ways which will be discussed in the
next section), the reality was rather different. The aggregate record of those who were
racially mixed in mounting a defense is not only equal in most respects to those who were
of the "pure" variety, it was plainly stronger in certain instances. It was the
Seminoles, after all–a people which may be seen as the very epitome of racial/cultural
hybridization–who proved to be the U.S. Army’s most successful adversaries east of the
Mississippi. During the twenty year period leading up to the Cherokee Removal of 1838, it
was John Ross, a man "seven-eighths Scotch-Irish and one-eighth Cherokee by
descent," who served as the primary leader of his people’s effort to revitalize their
traditional culture, prevent the loss of their homelands in the Georgia/Tennessee area and
thereby avert mass relocation to Oklahoma Territory. Conversely, it was John Ridge-son of
a full-blood leader called "Major" Ridge by whites, and himself only one-eighth
white by pedigree-who headed the accommodationist ("sell-out") faction of
Cherokee society and was Ross’s main political opponent. The dilution of unity that
weakened the Cherokee position, as well as the strife and divisiveness which plagued that
nation for generations after its Trail of Tears, was thus demonstrably attributable to
Ridge and his generally well-blooded followers rather than the "genetically
marginal" Ross.

Far to the west, a comparable example obtains in the person of
Quannah (Parker), "halfbreed" son of Peta Nacona, principle leader of the
Quahadi Comanches, and Cynthia Arui Parker, a white captive who was his wife."
Beginning in the late 1860s, after his father had been killed and his mother
"recovered" by white raiders, Quanah emerged as a major galvanizer of military
resistance to the United States, not just among Quahadis but with respect to a I 1
Comanches and allied Kiowas, Kiowa Apaches, Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos. After
consummation of the U.S. conquest of the Southern Plains during the mid-1870s-the Quahadis
were last to lay down their arms–he shifted to a position of primary political
leadership, a role which included introduction of the peyote religion, charting the
Comanches’ course through the perilous waters of the early reservation period and on into
the twentieth century.

Among the Cheyennes, there were, among others, the brothers George,
Robert and Charlie Bent, sons of William Bent, a noted white trader, and his Cheyenne
wife. While each of them fought for their people’s rights in his own way-George, for
instance, fought briefly against the white invaders and testified an three separate
occasions against perpetrators of the Colorado militia’s infamous November 1864 massacre
of noncombatant Cheyennes and Arapahos at Sand Creek-Charlie is the better example (or at
least the most reviled among mainstream commentators). Accepted into the Cheyennes’ elite
Crazy Dog Society ("Dog Soldiers," as they are usually called), he acquired an
almost legendary status because of his courage and the depth of his commitment to
physically defending his homeland. Ultimately, Charlie Bent gave his all, dying an
agonizingly lingering death in 1868 of wounds suffered during a skirmish with Pawnees
fighting for the United States.

To the north, among the Oglala Lakotas, there was the all but mythic
figure of Crazy Horse, the man who vanquished both Crook and Custer, establishing himself
in the process as perhaps the preeminent symbol of native valor and integrity, both to his
own people and to many others as well. Slight, pale-complected, with fair, wavy hair-he
was actually named "Curly" as a youth-the "strange man of the Ogialas"
may well have been of mixed racial descent." Regardless of his specific ancestry, it
is clear that those who figured most prominently in undercutting his ability to sustain a
coherent Lakota resistance-men like Red Cloud-were themselves "full-bloods." So
too was Little Big Man, the former friend who pinned Crazy Horse’s arms, allowing William
Gentles, a U.S. Army private, to get close enough to bayonet him to death during the fall
of 1877.

The same could be said of Bull Head and the rest of the contingent
of Indian police who murdered Sitting Bull in December 1890, the Arikara, Crow and Pawnee
scouts who guided men like Custer and Colonel Ranald Mackenzie on their bloody paths
across the plains, and the bulk of those who finally ran Geronimo to ground in the Sonora
Desert. Nor was it a question of genetics that prompted Crow Dog, a noted
"recalcitrant," to kill the U.S.-sponsored Brfil6 Lakota "chief,"
Spotted Tail, whom the former viewed as having sacrificed his people’s interest in favor
of personal gain (both materially and in terms of imagined prestige). The list goes on and
on, with deadly repetition.

On the other hand, it wasn’t necessarily required that one be of any
part "Indian blood" to assume a position of importance within an indigenous
society. A salient example is that of Jim Beckwourth (or "Beckworth," or
"Beckwith," there are various spellings), who was by all accounts, including his
own, of exclusively African descent. Having been adopted into the Crows during the
mid-1820s and marrying a woman named Still Water shortly thereafter, he was elevated first
to the station of serving as counselor to the headmen, and eventually to serving as a
headman in his own right. Although he left the Crows for a time after the death of his
second wife, he remained unstinting in his defense of Indian rights and returned in 1866
to die among the people who had accepted him as a naturalized leader.

On balance, then, it is both fair and accurate to observe that
questions concerning the likelihood that an individual might display a strong loyalty to
Indian interests never devolved upon his or her genetic makeup. Without question,
mixed-bloods and persons lacking even the pretense of a native gene, stood among the
foremost exemplars of patriotism in a number of indigenous nations during the nineteenth
century (and earlier). By the same token, it is readily discernible that many native
people "untainted" by any hint of admixture with whites or blacks conducted
themselves with all the fidelity of Vidkun Quisling. Such matters were well understood in
traditional societies, which is precisely why blood quantum was not considered a useful
factor in determining citizenship or cultural identity.

 

The Racial Dimension of Divide and Rule

The intellectual establishment of the United
States played a major role in pioneering and promulgating such emergent pseudoscientific
"disciplines" as ethnology, craniometry, phrenology and eugenics from early in
the nineteenth century onwards. In essence, although it has evidenced a variety of
offshoots and subtexts over the years, the entire project-which has lasted into the
present moment-has been devoted to devising "objective" criteria by which the
human species can be subdivided into "races" according to certain
"heritable" and "empirically demonstrable" characteristics. Values are
then assigned to these genetically-transmitted attributes in order to create the
appearance that there is a "natural hierarchy of humanity" ranging upward from
"Negroid" at the lowest level to "Caucasoid" at the highest.

With publication of Samuel George Morton’s Crania Americana in
1839, it is probably no overstatement to suggest that the Euro-American intelligentsia
stood at the cutting edge of "scholarly" efforts to lend the white supremacist
ideology attending European imperialism both a patina of academic respectability and an
aura of sheer inevitability in the popular consciousness. While it was put to various uses
abroad, such material was utilized in the U.S. to simultaneously justify a domestic order
of which black chattel slavery was an integral aspect and to rationalize a
continentally-proportioned trajectory of national expansion–America’s "Manifest
Destiny" to extend uninterruptedly "from sea to shining sea," and perhaps
beyond–which could only be attained at the direct expense of North America’s indigenous
population.

It is instructive that, while U.S. policymakers professed to embrace
racism m both scientific and philosophical grounds-standpoints implying an at least
minimal consistency in application-they advanced its principles in a "pragmatic"
fashion which was both transparently self-serving and utterly contradictory. Since blacks
were considered to be property, yielding value not only in their labor but as commodities
which could be bought and sold, it was profitable not only to employ but to breed them in
ever larger numbers. To this end, an elaborate system of "quantifying" their
racial admixture was devised–classifications such as "maroon,"
"quadroon" and "octoroon"–by which to assess their relative worth.
The overriding premise, however, the "one drop rule": a person with any amount
of "Negroid blood" could be considered black for purposes of law, even if
computation of their "quantum" revealed them to be 127/128 white.

Native people, by contrast, were legally understood to own
property-mainly land, and minerals within that land-coveted by whites. It followed then
(and still does) that any and all manner of reductions in the number of Indians "at
large’ in North America corresponded directly to diminishment of the cloud surrounding the
dominant society’s claims of clear title to/jurisdictional rights over its purported
landbase. Hence, any racial admixture at all, especially with blacks, was often deemed
sufficient to warrant individuals, and sometimes groups, being legally classified as a
"nm-Indians," regardless of their actual standing in indigenous society."
On this basis, most noticeably in the South, but elsewhere as well, the native societies
themselves were proclaimed to be "extinct," their entire membership being simply
(redefined as belonging to such catch-all categories of presumed racial inferiority as
"mulatto" or "colored." While the intermingling of natives with blacks
was invariably cast in a negative light, the mixing of Indian with white "stock"
came to be viewed more favorably. As Thomas Jefferson, America’s "most admired …
slaveholding philosopher of freedom," observed in 1803, a calculated policy of
subsuming native genetics within a much larger white gene pool might serve as an
alternative to outright extermination as an answer to what he termed the "Indian
Question. "In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them is to let our
settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people.
Incorporating themselves with us as citizens of the United States, this is what the
natural progress of things will, of course, bring on, and it will be better to promote
than retard it."

Completely oblivious to the reality of North America’s abundant
indigenous agriculture, and to the fact that whites had learned to cultivate corn and
other crops from Indians rather than the other way round, Jefferson actually urged a
delegation of Munsee, Lenni Lenape, and Mohican leaders to adopt a "farming way of
life" when they visited him in 1808. "You will become one people with us,"
he went on to tell the astonished Indians, "Your blood will mix with ours, and will
spread with ours across this great land."

The sentiments underlying Jefferson’s "humanitarian"
strategy were framed less pleasantly-but with remarkable clarity–by J.C. Nott, a racial
theorist whose views were endorsed by Morton and other prominent scientists of the day.
With reference to the idea that at least five southern "tribes"–Cherokee,
Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole–had been "civilized" in their own right
before being forcibly evicted from their homelands during the 1830s, he offered the
following observation: "It has been falsely asserted that the Choctaw and Cherokee
Indians have made great progress in civilization. I assert positively, after the most
ample investigation of the facts, that the pure blooded Indians are everywhere unchanged
in their habits. Many white persons, settling among the above tribes, have intermarried
with them; and all such trumpeted progress exists among these whites and their mixed
breeds alone. The pure-blooded savage still skulks untamed through the forest, or gallops
athwart the prairie. Can any one call the name of a single pure Indian of the Barbarous
tribes who–except in death, like a wild cat–has done anything worthy of remembrance
(emphasis original)?"

It followed, according to the noted phrenologist, Charles Caldwell,
that the "only efficient scheme to civilize the Indians is to cross the breed.
Attempt any other and you [will have no alternative] but to extinguish the race (emphasis
original)." Such views, posing the alternative of genetic/cultural absorption to
literal "extirpation," were avidly embraced by no less than Lewis Henry Morgan,
the "founding giant" of American anthropology. Indeed, Morgan was of the express
opinion that the former option was preferable to the latter mainly because a blending of
minute quantities of Indian "blood" into that of the white
"mainstream" would serve to "toughen our race" even while it
"painlessly" eradicated the indigenous population as such.

All told, by 1860 or shortly thereafter, Euro-American academicians
had forged the full range of conceptual tools necessary for their government to use the
traditionally inclusive structures of native societies in a manner which would facilitate
their rapid division, fragmentation and–so it was thought at the time–ultimate
dissipation en toto. Slowly but steadily, a national consensus was emerging to the
effect that this represented the most appropriate solution to what by then had been
transfigured into the "Indian Problem" within the popular discourse. What
remained necessary was for these tools to be applied systematically, through the
implementation of a comprehensive and coherent policy (or set of policies). And, to this
end, experimentation had long since begun.

 

The Impositions of U.S. Policy

Probably the first concerted effort on the
part of U.S. officialdom to use the incorporation of whites and their mixed-blood
offspring as a wedge with which to pry indigenous societies apart began in the late 1700s,
when Moravian missionaries were asked to serve as de facto federal emissaries to the
Cherokee Nation." Imbued with the mystical notion that white "Aryan"
genetics correlated to such "innate" endowments as intellect and "moral
capacity"- which in their minds corresponded with the potential to adopt
"civilized" (Christian) outlooks and values-the Moravians and, after 1803, their
Presbyterian colleagues "went out of their way to befriend" mixed-bloods rather
than "pure" Indians while pursuing their goals of obtaining religious converts
cum political allies.

Predictably, this racial bias translated into a privileging of
mixed-bloods in both political and material terms-regardless of their rank within the
Cherokee polity and irrespective of whether they desired such "benefits"–a
situation which was quite reasonably resented by other Cherokees (most especially those
whose authority was undermined or supplanted by such external manipulation). The result,
obviously intended by the United States, was the opening of deep cleavages among Cherokees
that greatly weakened them in military as well as political and cultural terms,
circumstances which amplified considerably the decisive advantages the U.S. already
enjoyed in its drive to dispossess them of their property. Meanwhile, similar initiatives
had been undertaken vis-a-vis the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and others.

Although the U.S. refrained from attempting such maneuvers during
the first 30 years of treaty-making with indigenous nations-an interval roughly
corresponding to the period in which the young republic, a veritable revolutionary outlaw
state, desperately required the legitimation which could be bestowed via native
recognition of its sovereign status (indigenous sovereignty having already been recognized
through treaties with the European powers)special provisions pertaining to mixed-bloods
entered its formal diplomacy with Indians, beginning with an 1817 Treaty with the Wyandots
and several other peoples of the Ohio/ Pennsylvania region. Thereafter, the performance
was repeated in compact after compact, at least 53 times by 1868.

In only few instances, such as the 1847 Treaty with the Chippewa of
the Mississippi and Lake Superior, in which it is recognized by the U.S. that "half
or mixed bloods of the Chippewas residing with them [should simply] be considered
Chippewas, is there acknowledgment of the right of indigenous nations to naturalize
citizens as they saw fit. In the great bulk cases, such treaty provisions are plainly
designed to accomplish the opposite effect, distinguishing those of mixed ancestry from
the rest of their people, almost always by unilaterally privileging them in a material
fashion. Usually, this followed upon the model established in the above-mentioned 1817
treaty, the eighth article of which provided that, while the Indians themselves would hold
certain lands in common, those "connected with said Indians, by blood or
adoption" would receive individual tracts averaging 640 acres each.

There were several variations on the theme. In one, exemplified by
the 1818 Treaty with the Miami, chiefs as well as mixed-bloods and intermarried whites
were assigned individual parcels, one-to-six sections each in this case, while the rest of
the people were assigned a tract in common. Hence, not only were mixed-bloods figuratively
elevated to the same standing as chiefs by external fiat, but the Miamis’ actual leaders
were implicitly linked to them rather than to their people as a whole. On other occasions,
as in the 1855 Treaty with the Winnebago, missionaries were substituted for chiefs. On
still others, as in the 1837 Treaty with the Sioux, money and/or other special provisions
was substituted for land. Even in cases like the 1861 Treaty with the Cheyenne and
Arapaho, where full-bloods and mixed-bloods were nominally treated the same, regardless of
rank–i.e., everyone was allotted a parcel and/or monetary award–mixed-bloods were often
singled out to receive larger quantities.

In a number of instances, as with the 1857 Treaty with the Pawnee,
provisions were explicitly designed to induce an outright physical separation of
mixed-bloods from their people, a practice which was particularly odious in instances such
as that addressed in the 1865 Treaty with the Osage where "breeds" were the only
group allowed (or coerced) to remain within a traditional homeland from which the rest of
their nation was removed." In the 1831 Treaty with the Shawnee, the notion of blood
quantum was first applied in a formal way to determine who would-or, more importantly, who
would not-be recognized by the U.S. as a "real" Indian. Moreover, racism aside,
the treaties often employed a virulent sexist bias-tracing descent, acknowledging
authority and bestowing land titles along decidedly patriarchal ‘lines even (or
especially) in contexts where female property ownership, political leadership and
matrilinearity were the indigenous norms–as a means of subverting the integrity of native
culture, undermining their sociopolitical cohesion and confusing or negating their
procedures for identifying member/citizens.

In 1871, sensing that the capacity of most indigenous nations to
offer effective military resistance was nearing an end, Congress suspended further
treaty-making with Indians. There then followed a decade of reorganization during which
the government shifted from what had been primarily a policy of physically subjugating
native peoples to an emphasis upon assimilating what remained of them, both geographically
and demographically. While there were a number of aspects to this transition-notably, the
extension of U.S. criminal jurisdiction over reserved native territories via the Seven
Major Crimes Act of 1885–its hallmark was passage of the 1887 General Allotment Act, a
measure expressly intended to dissolve the collective relationship to land which was the
fundament of traditional cultures by imposing the allegedly superior Anglo-Saxon system of
individuated property ownership.

The main ingredient of the Act was that each Indian, recognized as
such by the U.S., would be assigned an individually-deeded parcel of land within existing
reservation areas. These varied in size, depending on whether the Indian was a child
(forty acres), unmarried adult (eighty acres), or head of a family (160 acres). Once each
Indian had received his/her personal allotment, becoming a U.S. citizen in the process,
the law prescribed that the balance of each reservation be declared "surplus"
and opened up to homesteading by non-Indians, corporate usage, or placed in some form of
perpetual federal trust status (i.e., designation as national parks and forests, military
installations, etc.). In this manner, some 100 million of the approximately 150 million
acres of land still retained by indigenous nations for their own exclusive use and
occupancy at the outset "passed" to whites by 1934.

The bedrock upon which the allotment process was built was the
compilation of formal rolls listing those belonging to each native people, reservation by
reservations’ While the Act itself posited no specific criteria by which this would be
accomplished, responsibility for completing the task was ultimately vested in the
individual federal agents assigned to preside over the reservations. Endowed as they were
with staunchly racialist perspectives, and fully aware that whatever definitional
constraints might be applied in determining the overall number of Indians would translate
directly into an increased availability of property to their own society, it was
predictable that these men would rely heavily upon the sort of blood quantum
"standards" already evident in treaty language.

In practice, it was typically required that a potential
enrollee/allottee be able to demonstrate that s/he possessed "not less than one-half
degree of blood" in the particular group in which he/she wished to be enrolled
("intertribal" pedigrees were seldom accepted, even for ostensible full-bloods,
and the overall standard was almost never allowed to slip below quarter-blood). The upshot
was that anywhere from a third to two-thirds of all those who might otherwise have been
eligible to receive allotments were denied not only land but federal recognition as being
member/citizens of their nations.94 In total, government functionaries admitted to the
existence of only 237,196 native people within U.S. borders by the late 1890s, of whom
only a small percentage were less than half-blood members of specific groups.

To ice the cake of racialist reconfiguration of Indian identity, the
Act provided that those enrolled as full-bloods would, under the legal presumption that
they were genetically incompetent to manage their own affairs, be issued "trust
patents" for their allotments, to be "administered in their behalf by the
Secretary of the Interior or his delegate" (the latter term meaning the local Indian
agent) for a quarter-century. Mixed-bloods, by virtue of their white genetics, were deemed
to be competent for such purposes and therefore issued patents in fee simple. This, along
with other blatantly preferential treatment bestowed as a matter of policy upon those of
mixed ancestry, drove the final wedges into many once harmonious indigenous societies. In
the more extreme instances, such as that of the Kaws in Kansas, the full-bloods’ visceral
response was to repudiate mixed-bloods altogether, demanding their elimination from the
tribal roll and seeking to expel them as a body from their society.

By the turn of the century, then, virtually every indigenous nation
within the U.S. had, by way of an unrelenting substitution of federal definitions for
their own, been stripped of the ability to determine for themselves in any meaningful way
the internal composition of their constituencies. The manner in which this had been
accomplished, moreover, ensured that rifts even among those still recognized by the
government as being Indians were of a nature which would all but guarantee eventual
dissolution of native societies, at least in the sense they’d traditionally understood
themselves. Allotment and the broader assimilation policy of which it was part had truly
proven themselves to be, in the words of Indian Commissioner Francis E. Leupp, "a
mighty pulverizing engine for breaking up the tribal mass."

 

Internalization

The breakup and diminishment of the
reservation landbase were not the only factors leading to confident predictions that there
would be no Indians culturally recognizable as such in the United States by some point
around 1935."’ Beginning in the 1860s, there had been an increasing emphasis on
"educating" native youth on the ways of the dominant society, a trend which was
rapidly consolidated in the 1880s as a concomitant to allotment and other assimilationist
techniques. While there were several options available–reservation-based day-schools, for
example, all of them less expensive and more humane–the mode selected for delivery of
such instruction was primarily that of "off-reservation boarding schools"
located in places as remote as possible from native communities.

The model for what became an entire system was the Carlisle Indian
School, established in Pennsylvania in 1875 by Captain Richard Henry Pratt, a man whose
main qualification for the task seems to have been that he’d earlier served as warden of a
military prison at Fort Marion, Florida. Following Pratt’s stated objective of
"killing the Indian" in each student, Carlisle and other such
facilities-Chilocco, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Haskell, Riverside; by 1902, there were
two-dozen of thern-systematically "deculturated" their pupils. Children brought
to the schools as young as age six were denied most or all direct contact with their
families and societies for years on end. They were shorn of their hair and required to
dress in the manner of Euro-America, forbidden to speak their languages or practice their
religions, prevented from learning their own histories or being in any other way
socialized among their own people.

Simultaneously, all students were subjected to a grueling regimen of
indoctrination in Christian morality–mainly the "virtues" of private property,
sexual repression and patriarchy–"proper" English and arithmetic,
officially-approved versions of history, civics and natural science, the latter devoted
mostly to inculcating prevailing notions of racial hierarchy. To instill the "work
ethic"–that is, to prepare students for the lot assigned their racial group once
they’d been absorbed by Euroamerica–they were also required to spend half of each day
during the school year engaged in "industrial vocational training" (i.e.,
uncompensated manual labor). During the summers, most of the older boys were "jobbed
out" at very low wages to work on white-owned farms or local businesses; girls were
assigned as domestics and the like.

Individual native families and, often, whole societies resisted the
process. In 1891, and again in 1893, Congress authorized the use of police, troops and
other forcible means to compel the transfer of children from reservation to boarding
school, and to keep them there once they’d arrived. Hence, despite the best efforts of
their elders, and not infrequently of the students themselves, a total of 21,568
indigenous children–about a third of the targeted age group-were confined in the schools
in 1900. As of the late 1920s, the system had been diversified and expanded to the point
that upwards of eighty percent of each successive generation of native youth was being
comprehensively "acculturated" in a more-or-less uniform fashion.

By 1924, assimilation had progressed to the point that a
"clean-up bill" was passed through which the responsibilities, though not
necessarily the rights, of U.S. citizenship were imposed upon all Indians who had not
already been naturalized under the Allotment Act or other federal initiatives."’
Although it appeared as though this might represent the culminating statutory ingredient
necessary to allow for the final absorption of Native America, fate intervened in a most
unexpected fashion to avert any such outcome (formally, if not in terms of more practical
cultural, political and economic realities). This, rather ironically, took the form of
resources: the mostly barren tracts of land left to Indians after allotment–thought to be
worthless by nineteenth century policymakers–had by the late 1920s been revealed as some
of the more mineral-rich territory in the world.

Loath to see these newfound assets thrown into the public
domain-many had strategic value, real or potential-the more forward-looking federal
economic planners quickly perceived the utility of retaining them in trust, where they
might be exploited at controlled rates by preferred corporations for designated purposes
(and in the most profitable fashion imaginable). This resulted, in 1925, in the
recommendation by a committee of one hundred officially selected academic experts and
business leaders that allotment and the more draconian objectives of assimilation policy
be immediately abandoned in favor of preserving the reservations in some permanently
subordinated capacity and inaugurating a policy of carefully-calibrated "economic
development" therein.

This, in turn, led to passage of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act
(IRA), through which what remained of traditional native governments were for the most
part supplanted by federally-designed "tribal councils" meant to serve as the
medium for long-term administration of the newly–conceived internal colonial domain.
Although the IRA was imposed behind the democratic facade of reservation-by-reservation
referenda, the record reveals that BIA field representatives obtained favorable results by
presenting skewed or patently false information to voters in a number of instances, flatly
rigging the outcomes in others. And, while democratic appearances were reinforced by the
fact that the government of each reorganized reservation functioned an the basis of its
own "tribal constitution" the reality is that these "founding"
documents were essentially boilerplate contraptions resembling corporate charters hammered
out on an assembly line basis by Bureau personnel.

Nowhere is this last more obvious than in the language of the IRA
constitutions pertaining to criteria of tribal membership. Although there are certain
variations between instruments, most simply aped the then-prevailing federal quantum
standard of quarter-blood minimum, while all of them, regardless of the degree of blood
required, advanced genetics as the linchpin of identity."’ That there was no
noteworthy resistance among native supporters of the IRA to this conspicuous usurpation of
indigenous tradition is unsurprising, given that they were all but invariably drawn from
the ranks of those indoctrinated in the boarding schools to see themselves in racial
rather than national/political or cultural terms.

With the embrace of the IRA constitutions by what were projected as
solid majorities m most reservations, Euro-American definitions of and constraints upon
Indian identity were formally as well as psychologically/intellectually internalized by
Native America. From there on, the government could increasingly rely upon Indians
themselves to enforce its race codes for it. Indeed, whenever the existence of the latter
has been made a point of contention, Washington has been able to lay the onus of
responsibility directly at the feet of the IRA governments it not only conceived and
installed, but which remain utterly and perpetually dependent upon federal patronage for
their base funding and whatever limited authority they might wield."’ They, in turn,
defend such negation of indigenous sovereignty in the name of maintaining it. A more
perfect shell game is impossible to imagine.

 

Enter the "Purity Police"

The reconfiguration and structural
assimilation of the mechanisms of indigenous governance- by the early 1990s, IRA-style
councils were being openly referred to as a "third level" of the federal
government itself-was facilitated and reinforced, not only through the increasingly
pervasive indoctrination of native students via the educational system, but by lingering
effects of allotment. Foremost in this respect was the "hiership problem"
created by the fact that the reservation landbase had been reduced to a size corresponding
to the number of Indians recognized by the BIA as existing during the 1890s, with no
provision made for a population rebound of any sort.

There was no reserved land available to accommodate the fifty
percent increase over turn of the century number of recognized Indians recorded in the
1950 U.S. Census. Rather than remediating the problem by transferring some portion of the
lands unlawfully stripped away from native people back to its rightful owners, the
government launched a massive and sustained program to relocate the native
"population surplus" from the land altogether, dispersing them for the most part
in major urban areas. At the same time, as an incentive for them to leave, funding for
on-reservation programming of all sorts was sliced to the bone and sometimes deeper. One
result is that, while well over ninety percent of federally-recognized Indians lived on
the reservations in 1900, fewer than 45 percent do so today.

Another federal cost-cutting measure, beginning in the mid-1950s,
was to simply "terminate" recognition of entire nations whose reservations were
found to be devoid of minerals, or who were deemed to be too small and insignificant to
warrant the expenditures necessary to administer them."’ A total of 103 peoples,
ranging from large groups like the Menominee in Wisconsin and Klamath in Oregon to the
tiny "Mission Bands" of Southern California, were unilaterally dissolved, their
remaining lands absorbed into the U.S. territorial corpus and their population effectively
declared to be non-Indians before the process ran its course in the early ’60s. Only a
handful, including the Menominee but not the Klamath, were ever reinstated.

Predictably, rather than seeking to combat such trends,
federally-installed and supported tribal councils amplified them. In the face of declining
federal appropriations to Indian Affairs, they by-and-large set out to reduce the number
of Indians eligible to draw upon them. Arguing that the fewer people entitled to receive
benefits such as healthcare and commodity foodstuffs, or to receive per capita payments
against mineral extraction, water diversions and

past land transfers, the larger the share for those who remained,
the councils were able to peddle their bill of goods to many-though by no means all–of
their increasingly impoverished reservation constituents. In short order, the IRA
constitutions on many reservations were amended or rewritten to reflect higher blood
quantum requirements for tribal enrollment. In a number of instances, reservation
residency was required as well, a stipulation which excluded the children of relocatees,
regardless of their documentable degree of Indian blood.

The council heads, through a federally-funded lobbying organization
dubbed the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association (NTCA), then launched an aggressive
campaign to recast the definition of "Indian" in the public consciousness–and,
they made it clear, in law–as being only those "enrolled in a federally-recognized
tribe. Redefined as "non-Indians" in this perverse scenario was everyone from
terminated peoples like the Klamaths to the unenrolled traditionals still living an and
about many reservations, from nations like the Abenakis of Vermont who had never consented
to a treaty with the U.S.-and were thus formally "unrecognized"–to the NTCA
members’ own nieces and nephews residing in cities. Also sacrificed in the proposed ethnic
purge were thousands of hapless children, orphaned and otherwise, whom federal welfare
agencies had caused to be adopted by non-Indian families.

The government declined to adopt the NTCA’s simplistic nomenclature
of Indianness. Instead, it conjured up a proliferation of what by now amount to at least
eighty different and often conflicting definitions of its own, each of them conforming to
some particular bureaucratic or policy agenda, most sporting a larger or smaller claque of
Indian subscribers queued up to defend it under the presumption they would somehow or
another benefit by their endorsement."’ Under such conditions, it is possible to
challenge the legitimacy of virtually anyone identifying hiTn/herself as Indian on one or
several grounds (often having little or nothing to do with genuine concerns about
identity, per se). The result has been a steadily rising tide of infighting–occasioned in
most instances by outright race-baiting-between and among native peoples over the past
forty years.

Things became truly pathological in 1990, with passage of the
so-called Act for the Protection of American Indian Arts and Crafts, a measure which
purportedly makes it a criminal offense punishable by fines of $250,000 to $1 million and
imprisonment of up to fifteen years for anyone not enrolled in a federally recognized
tribe to identify as an Indian while selling artwork. Although Congress never provided the
statute an enabling clause to allow its enforcement-not least because to do so would have
technically required the arrest and prosecution of individuals deemed to be Indian under
other elements of federal law–its very existence unleashed an utter frenzy of
witch-hunting among Indians themselves. Within months, ad hoc patrols of "identity
monitors" were prowling selected museums and galleries, demanding to see
documentation of the "pedigrees" of the native artists exhibited therein, while
freelance "Indian spokespersons" such as Suzan Shown Harjo advocated that
comparable legislation pertaining to "ethnic fraud" should be enacted with
respect to writers, educators, filmmakers, and journalists, among others.

The theme was quickly picked up, tabloid-style, by papers like News
From Indian Country Today and News From Indian Country,
while the Internet came
figuratively alive with a swarm of essentially anonymous rumors that dozens of Native
America’s most distinguished artists, authors, thinkers and activists weren’t
"really" Indians after all. Perhaps most disgustingly, a literal flying squad of
self-appointed "purity police" in the San Francisco Bay Area took it upon itself
to systematically disrupt the functioning of all manner of community service organizations
in 1992-everything from the native programming on radio station KPFA, to an AIDS clinic
administered by the Indian Health Service, to the local school district’s Indian education
project-to ensure that everyone involved fit their particular notion of what an Indian
should be (children as young as eight years of age were buttonholed and ordered to prove
they were "genuine" Indians). Meanwhile, back on the rez, at least some IRA
leaders were arguing that the tribal constitutions should be amended yet again, this time
to disenroll members who married non-Indians on the premise that such measures had become
vital "to protect the purity of our Indian blood."

 

The Way Ahead

The internalization of Euro-America’s
conception of race by native peoples, the virulence with which it is now being manifested
in all-too-many sectors of the indigenous community, and the ubiquity of the confusion and
divisiveness this has generated among Indians and their potential supporters, represents a
culmination of federal policy initiatives originating nearly two hundred years ago. To all
appearances, Native North America has been rendered effectively self-colonizing and, if
present attitudes persist, it stands to become self-liquidating as well. The tale is told
in the demographic data pertaining to those who are federally-recognized.

"During the twentieth century population recovery of American
Indians there has been an increasing mixture between them and non-Indian peoples. Data
concerning this may be obtained from the 191D and 1930 U.S. censuses of American
Indians… [In 1910] 56.5 percent of American Indians enumerated in the United States
were full-blood–150,053 out of 265,682-with the blood quantum of 8.4 percent (22,207) not
reported… In the U.S. census of 1930, however, 46.3 percent–153,933 out of
332,397–were enumerated as full-bloods and 42.4 percent (141,101) were enumerated as
mixed bloods, with the d of Indian blood of 11.2 percent (37,363) not reported. Thus,
whereas the American Indian population size increased by slightly over 66,000 from 1910 to
1930, the number of full-blood American Indians increased by only 4,000; most of the
increase was among mixed-blood Indians."

Such trends have not only continued but accelerated. By 1970,
approximately two-thirds of the marriages of those on the tribal rolls were to people who
were not, with the result that only 59 percent of births reflected a situation in which
both parents registered themselves as possessing any Indian blood at all."’ The n of
supposed full-bloods has thus dropped to almost nothing–among populous peoples like the
Minnesota/Wisconsin Chippewa they now represent only five percent of the whole–while the
proportion and composition of mixed bloods has climbed dramatically. At present rates of
intermarriage, the segment of the federally-recognized native population evidencing less
than one-quarter degree blood quantum, presently less than four percent, will have climbed
to 59 percent or more by 2080. To tighten or even adhere to quantum requirements in the
face of such realities is to engage in a sort of autogenocide by definitional/statistical
extermination.

Some smaller peoples like the Umatillas in Oregon, have already
undertaken to preserve racial cant while offsetting the consequent prospect of
definitional self-extinguishment by proposing revision of their constitutions to require
that future enrollees demonstrate some degree of blood, no matter how minute, in addition
to "at least one-quarter degree of blood … in another federally-recognized tribe or
tribes." Left conspicuously unexplained in such convoluted formulations is exactly
how being a quarter-blood Lakota or Mohawk supposedly makes a person one whit more
Umatilla than does being a quarter-blood Irish, lbo or Han. In the converse, no
explanation is offered as to why a person genealogically connected to the group would be
less Umatilla in orientation, absent some sort generic "Indian" genetic
structure, than a person who had it.

T’he implications of sudi nonsense become most striking when it is
considered in juxtaposition to the actual-rather than federally-recognized-size of the
present indigenous population of the United States, and the potential power deriving from
its scale. Jack Forbes, perhaps the closest examiner of the issue, has noted that since
1969, "the Bureau of the Census, conspiring with the Office of Management and Budget
and political special interests, has [deliberately obfuscated] the ‘racial’ character of
the U.S. population and, as part of the process, has ‘lost’ some six to eight million
persons of Native American ancestry and appearance with a scientifically useless
‘Hispanic/Spanish’ category. In addition, [seven million or more] persons of mixed African
and Native American ancestry remain uncounted as such because of the way census questions
were asked and the answers tallied."

Forbes estimates that, even using standard blood quantum criteria,
the actual native population of the "lower 48" in 1980 was well over fifteen
million rather than the 1.4 million officially admitted by the Census Bureau. Employing
traditional indigenous methods of identifying population rather than racial criteria per
se would have resulted in an even higher number. And, as of 1990, when the official count
reached nearly two million, inclusion of these most rapidly growing sectors of the native
population results in an aggregate of as many as thirty million persons overall. The
ability to wield political and economic clout inherent to the latter tally, as opposed to
the former–which comes to less than .5 percent of the overall U.S. populations–is
self-evident.

Fortunately, there is at least one concrete example of how things
might be taken in the direction of realizing this potential. The Cherokee Nation of
Oklahoma (CNO), in its 1975 constitution, took the unprecedented step, still unparalleled
by other twentieth century indigenous governments, of completely dispensing with blood
quantum requirements in its enrollment procedures and resuming its reliance upon a more
traditional genealogical mode of determining citizenship. This had the effect of
increasing the number of persons formally identified as Cherokees from fewer than 10,000
during the late 1950s to slightly over 232,000 by 1980 (and about 300,000 today). On this
basis, the Cherokees, whose reservation was dissolved pursuant to the 1898 Curtis Act,
have been able to assert what amounts to a split jurisdiction over their former territory.
Moreover, while much has been made by assorted race mongers about how this course of
action was "diluting" whatever was left of ‘real" Cherokee culture and
society, the precise opposite result has obtained in practice.

Plainly, in and of itself, the CNO initiative has neither ended the
internecine bickering over identity which has precluded anything resembling unity among
native people, much less established the basis upon which to free even the Cherokees from
internal colonial domination by the U.S. It does, however, represent a substantial stride
in the right direction. If the model it embodies is ultimately seized and acted upon by a
broadening spectrum of indigenous nations in the years ahead, the tools required for
liberating Native North America may at long last be forged. hi the alternative, should the
currently predominating racialist perspectives associated with the IRA regimes prevail,
the road to extinction can be traversed rather quickly.