Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thing About Skins


‘Who’s Your People?’ A Note About Real Indians and Native Identity

Thing About Skins: An award-winning Canadian author you should know

Gyasi Ross • January 9, 2017

Iron Eyes Cody - AP Images

AP Images

Iron Eyes Cody

Probably 8 years ago, a good friend of mine named “Chad” told me that ‘Native identity’ is going to be the biggest and most contentious issue in the future.  I disagreed with him. I believed (and still do, to a large degree) that many Native nations were on the precipice of moving more toward a “nationhood” regime where blood quantum wasn’t the primary consideration of citizenship. I believe that, at some point in the near future, Native nations are going to publicly acknowledge that an ethnically homogenous populace is not required to be a nation.  Instead, you need a certain level of common values, common language(s), and common goals.

I still think that’s gonna happen—Indigenous people will work together (as we saw in Standing Rock) because of common values and common goals.  Standing Rock showed us that when Indigenous people work together because of common goals and values, irrespective of tribal or ethnic difference, we can change move mountains (and pipelines).

However, we’re not out of the “identity” era yet.

For those of you folks who do not know who Joseph Boyden is, he’s an award-winning Canadian author who has written some pretty amazing works. As a writer, I admire him and wish I could write like him. He’s written with incredible passion, accuracy and insight about topics such as residential schools.  He’s probably partially responsible for the Canadian government and so many non-Native Canadians learning some level of empathy and understanding about the residential schools’ horrible, horrible history.  That’s powerful—he’s been an advocate, no doubt.  Problem is that he’s always represented himself as a writer of Aboriginal descent although the particular “Aboriginal descent” has been a bit fluid. At times, evidently, he has said it was Metis. Sometimes Cree. Sometimes Micmac.

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) recently did a pretty exhaustive examination of Boyden’s Indigenous bonafides and they found out that there were none.  If what they are saying is true, there is no middle ground for him to be partially right.  If what APTN says is true, he is a liar, a jive turkey, a huckster, at least at it concerns his lineage.

I don’t know if what they found is true. It sounds like they covered their bases and I certainly respect their journalism. But I’m not sure.

What I do know is that regardless of whether or not Boyden truly comes from Indigenous blood, he is an incredible writer. Whether or not he’s Indigenous has zero to do with that. He writes largely Native subject matter and maybe that gave him a bit more of a “hook”—an Indigenous descendant writing about Indigenous topics. Maybe that makes him more marketable. I don’t know. I do know that there is a long history of non-Native storytellers telling Native stories (books, movies, television) and those were oftentimes successful without that Indigenous “hook.”  So who knows?

I don’t know the answers. As I get older, I realize that I know less and less of the identity answers. I remember last year someone accused me of not being a “real Indian.” My first impulse was to brush it off or to get defensive, but then I thought about it a bit more. I thought, “Hey, maybe that’s correct.”  I realized, I don’t even know what a “real Indian” is. Like, if I were writing a mathematical formula to create a 100% “real Indian,” I don’t know what that formula would look like. Certainly biology is a part of the equation. But how much? 50%? 63%? But certainly biology cannot be all of it, I don’t think. How important is membership in a particular Native nation? That one is likewise tricky; there are full-bloods who are not enrolled in any particular Nation for a host of reasons. Conversely, there are Nations that require a member to only be a descendant of an enrolled member to be enrolled themselves. Therefore, would an enrolled person who is 1/16th  Indigenous blood biologically be more of a “real Indian” than a unenrolled person who is 4/4th Indigenous blood biologically?

I don’t know.

What about language? For me, I speak my language laughably bad. Yet, language conveys a particular people’s values and worldview. So can I really be a real Blackfeet—no matter what my biological makeup and/or enrollment status—if I don’t speak our language? Geography is likewise important. With so many sites with historical value, import and sacredness, how “real” can we be without consistently being in the land of our people?

So what’s the equation?  25% biology + 25% membership + 25% language + 25% geography = a 100% “real Native?”  Hmmmmm…what about wearing your hair down and looking stoic? Extra points? Geez, I used to be so certain.

So back to Joseph Boyden…I simply don’t know.  I wish he would answer his critics because I don’t think, in any event, the relationship between Natives and Joseph Boyden should be over. I’m pretty sure of just a few things though. Here they are:

  1. Yet just because a person chooses to identify as a particular thing does not mean that they are that thing. g., If I want to be and choose to identify myself as a three-toed sloth, cool. Still, there’s still a strong chance that I probably am not a three-toed sloth.
  2. People have an absolute right to identify as whatever they want.
  3. Also, whether or not I have a right to identify as whatever I want, it’s just kinda weird to act like a sloth when I’m not. Or a Mongolian. Or a Mexican. Or a Native. We have a right to, but why?
  4. Although we can identify however we want, people have every right in the world to question that identification, and particularly:
  5. If a person identifies as having Indigenous ancestry (or black or Mongolian or Pakistani) and that identification with a particular community becomes a large part of their professional/money-making schtick, it is absolutely fair for members of that community to question them about that ancestry.
  6. At the same time it’s okay to identify with a community that you’re not a member of, it’s also okay not to have a professional/money-making angle to it. I think a reason why these stories come out (Rachel Dolezal, Ward Churchill) because these folks seem to want to push themselves to the forefront of leadership and make money off of their identification.

Ultimately, there are no easy answers.  But I personally don’t think these so-called “fraud” moments are the worst things in the world. But to quote Tlingit writer Ishmael Hope, “…it’s about accountability. He just hasn’t been accountable to Native people in many ways, with having so much trouble answering the simple question of “who’s your people” just being one of them.”

I think “who’s your people” is a perfectly fair question and should be answered.  What do you all think?

Gyasi Ross, "Thing About Skins," Editor at Large

Wesley Roach, Skan Photography

Gyasi Ross, “Thing About Skins,” Editor at Large

Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large

Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories

Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

Instagram: BigIndianGyasi

Sunday, January 22, 2017


December 29, 2012 marks the 122nd Anniversary of the murder of
297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation in South Dakota. These 297 people, in their winter camp,
were murdered by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry who
had come to confiscate their firearms ?for their own safety and
protection?. The slaughter began after the majority of the Sioux had
peacefully turned in their firearms. The Calvary began shooting, and
managed to wipe out the entire camp. 200 of the 297 victims were
women and children. About 40 members of the 7th Cavalry were killed,
but over half of them were victims of fratricide from the Hotchkiss
guns of their overzealous comrades-in-arms. Twenty members of the
7th Cavalry's death squad, were deemed ?National Heroes? and were
awarded the Medal of Honor for their acts of [cowardice] heroism.

We hear very little of Wounded Knee today. It is usually not
mentioned in our history classes or books. What little that does
exist about Wounded Knee is normally a sanitized ?Official
Government Explanation?. And there are several historically
inaccurate depictions of the events leading up to the massacre,
which appear in movie scripts and are not the least bit
representative of the actual events that took place that day.

Wounded Knee was among the first federally backed gun confiscation
attempts in United States history. It ended in the senseless murder
of 297 people.

Before you jump on the emotionally charged bandwagon for gun-
control, take a moment to reflect on the real purpose of the Second
Amendment, the right of the people to take up arms in defense of
themselves, their families, and property in the face of invading
armies or an oppressive government. The argument that the Second
Amendment only applies to hunting and target shooting is asinine.
When the United States Constitution was drafted, ?hunting? was an
everyday chore carried out by men and women to put meat on the table
each night, and ?target shooting? was an unheard of concept. Musket
balls were a precious commodity and were certainly not wasted on ?
target shooting?. The Second Amendment was written by people who
fled oppressive and tyrannical regimes in Europe, and it refers to
the right of American citizens to be armed for defensive purposes,
should such tyranny arise in the United States.

As time goes forward, the average citizen in the United States
continually loses little chunks of personal freedom or ?liberty?.
Far too many times, unjust gun control bills were passed and signed
into law under the guise of ?for your safety? or ?for protection?.
The Patriot Act signed into law by G.W. Bush, was expanded and
continues under Barack Obama. It is just one of many examples of
American citizens being stripped of their rights and privacy for ?
safety?. Now, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is on the table, and
will, most likely be attacked to facilitate the path for the removal
of our firearms, all in the name of ?our safety?.

Before any American citizen blindly accepts whatever new firearms
legislation that is about to be doled out, they should stop and
think about something for just one minute-
Evil does exist in our world. It always has and always will.
Throughout history evil people have committed evil acts. In the
Bible one of the first stories is that of Cain killing Abel. We can
not legislate ?evil? into extinction. Good people will abide by the
law, and the criminal element will always find a way around it.

Evil exists all around us, but looking back at the historical record
of the past 200 years, across the globe, where is ?evil? and ?
malevolence? most often found? In the hands of those with the power,
the governments. That greatest human tragedies on record and the
largest loss of innocent human life can be attributed to
governments. Who do the governments always target? ?Scapegoats? and ?
enemies? within their own borders?but only after they have been
disarmed to the point where they are no longer a threat. Ask any
Native American, and they will tell you it was inferior technology
and lack of arms that contributed to their demise. Ask any Armenian
why it was so easy for the Turks to exterminate millions of them,
and they will answer ?We were disarmed before it happened?. Ask any
Jew what Hitler?s first step prior to the mass murders of the
Holocaust was- confiscation of firearms from the people.

Wounded Knee is the prime example of why the Second Amendment
exists, and why we should vehemently resist any attempts to infringe
on our Rights to Bear Arms. Without the Second Amendment we will be
totally stripped of any ability to defend ourselves and our
families. Jeffrey E.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗶𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗙𝗮𝗰𝗲𝗯𝗼𝗼𝗸 𝗙𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗻𝗱𝘀

At the risk of being called self-serving (𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘐 𝘨𝘶𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘱𝘰𝘪𝘯𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦) I am going to say something I have long suspected about the term “Facebook Friends”. That term is a misnomer and a lie at its very core. I believe the more honorable term should be “Facebook Acquaintance” which better speaks to the truth of what is being transacted here in this den of self-serving, sometimes hypocritical Ego boosting that goes on to pass the time that probably could be better spent reading a good book.

Case in point, I put out a GoFundMe request in a time of horrific sorrow, for my Facebook “Friends” to help me bring a new life into my life, truthfully to assuage my sorrow and provide a distraction so that I would not be faced with missing my best Friend every day. Self-Serving yes but in my view not a bad thing. I had three Friends donate to that cause – one $50 and two $25 donations. Two of those people I have never met and the other I haven’t seen in a number of years. I have another true Friend who gives to me without asking anything in return and we are Good with each other. I help him sort out some personal issues and come to terms with life and he helps me with what he knows to do to help me. That’s true friendship. I have spent the better part of my adult life helping folks sort out with their Spiritual and Relationship issues without asking for anything with the exception of my Spirituality Classes.

However since then which I think was about 3 weeks ago - nothing. My question began swirling in my head, how hard would it be to give $25 to someone you all call a Friend? From the result I would say I am anything but a Friend to you because to truly live up to the term Friend one must at times go a few yards farther down the road to help their friends not suffer so much. Some of the so-called Facebook Friends I know personally – have had coffee with them – ate dinner in their home and I was under the impression I was their Friend. Apparently the feeling was not mutual, but the memory resides.

So again I am requesting Facebook people to change the term “Facebook Friends” to “Facebook Acquaintance”.

An honest enemy is better than a false friend. When in doubt, pay more attention to what people do and less to what they say. Actions not only speak louder than words, they are more difficult to fake.      

In the meantime – if any of you have a need to be comforted, you can have no fear – “Come to me and we will work on your issue together”. Nothing asked – just given….

𝘎𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘛𝘸𝘰 𝘍𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘙𝘦𝘥𝘩𝘢𝘸𝘬