Who is an indian?
From: Tsi Nikayen' Enonhne'
A ~real~ Indian, in my view, is not someone who is romanticised as being the image of some big chested brown skinned buck sitting on a palamino on some knoll - often presented by a Harlequin romance or some other medium like Dances with Wolves or the like. Nor are we someone who can be called savage or heathen. These images were concocted out of ignorance and lack understanding. Unfortunately, many First Nation people who have been brought up outside of their culture have adopted these pan-indian images as something they feel they must live up to. Not only do they wear the buckskins and beads to look the part but they judge others, as well, as not fitting in simply because of the colour of their skin or because of their looks.
I consider myself to be a traditional Mohawk, though I do not live in a longhouse, eat nothing but corn soup, beans and squash, and do not go around with my chest unclothed.
I work at a computer most days, drive a van (maybe we could stretch that and say that I have 150 horses) and I interact with a technological world that helps me feed my household. I have blood cousins who are also Mohawk who have blond hair and blue eyes, some with light brown hair and some with very fair skin colour. But I don't identify them this way as either being Mohawk or even half breeds in the same way that some who only believes in the noble pan-indian image would.
No one ever asked me why I wear my hair long, but I can assure you that it has nothing to do with trying to fit someone's distorted image of who I am.
As a Mohawk, I count myself among those thinkers and other great but sometimes long-winded speakers who left me their gifts and their legacies so that I too would become a caretaker of what is important. The lessons of being a ~real~ Mohawk (and I know from my Anishanabe Elders that it is true for them, also) is contained in a statement of Ohenton Kariwehtenkwa "tho kati neniohtonhake ne onkwanikon:ra" which translates to "that is the way it is in our minds." Without a firm commitment and understanding of who I am as an onkwehon:we (human being) then I do an injustice to those who fought, suffered and survived the many attempts to take that understanding and knowledge away, generations before me. And, having a firm understanding about myself as a ~real~ indian I can afford to have other ~real~ indians find themselves in the same way. They certainly do not need or desire my judgements to define who they are.
There are many people who claim that they speak for the ~real~ indians of a community. And this can be quite confusing for people who use physical traits to define and separate groups of people into fine categories for political or financial purposes. Some of those who look the part don't often act the part and others who don't look the part may be suspected as just being wannbes or twinks.
So our dilemma is trying to decide who is real and who isn't - or is it? You see I have no trouble understanding who is real and who is just pretending, because I look for their words and actions and see if they fit in with the teachings and understandings left for us by the previous seven generations. The original instructions, the teachings of the seven grandfathers, the principles of Great Peace all become ingrained in the fabric those who can count themselves as real indians. It is about having a good mind and a good heart and wearing that with everyone we meet. And this includes those who were not born here but have adopted the way of thinking and acting towards Creation and each other.
It is on this point that many blood and tanned indians who are trying to reclaim their identity have so much difficulty, because they still think with the minds and ideas of the colonizers and of those whose interests are personal and dogmatic. It is with great sadness that these people are lost to us but we can be clear that the success of the residential schools and assimilation policies of the government and church are to blame. Unfortunately, these beaded and coloured ones often gain the most attention. However, simply by looking at the way they measure themselves, how others measure them and how they respond is a clear indication of their integration in western colonial thought systems. And so understanding where they come from is not only easy but their every action is predictible.
Even though these people will dismiss and condemn us because we refuse to think like them and follow their campaigns of reverse-racism, attack and defiance, I can still count them among us as ~real~ indians. Not for their reasons, but because I can gain small glimpses of the principles and ideas that they unknowingly carry that are directly connected to those original instructions. The residential schools and enfranchisements could not take away a way of thinking and could only get people to forget and to ignore their true principles. So they are welcome in our Circle regardless of the colour of their skin or their nation of origin.
There are still some who have made it their self-righteous goal to take back what they think is theirs. Well, let me tell everyone who will listen, that it was never gone. We can't steal back something that was shared in the first place and it was only our own rejection of the fundementals of being indian that we refused to acknowledge. By having our post-contact relatives share the land, the food and the understanding they still retained our portion. By gaining technology, knowledge of legal means and maintaining our principles we have had an advantage over our deliberate oppressors, only we didn't know it and many of us certainly don't act like it. And most of what is happening today to us, collectively as people, is the result of what we do to ourselves. We still have it, but refuse to rely upon it, especiually when they results we see don't turn out the way we expect them. The real problem in being indian is being able to hold the vision and to think out of the blanket box long enough to be able to witness the results, in a place where the worldview requires immediate stimulation and results. The way of being a ~real~ indian is by leaning on principles and teachings that work and sometimes we have to wait quite a while. It is by treating everyone with the same compassion and understanding, knowing that our actions speak louder than words.
So to put it simply, who is an indian? I think, therefore I am.
Sasewatst ne owenna nok sasewatst sewawen:na tanon nonkwa:ti tsi nahoten kaya'torehtatsheri:yo
I'll be looking forward to reading/hearing your replies...