Native American America
By Rod Van Mechelen
We can change the complexion of the conversation about racism.
Part-Indians Are Not Part
2010 Olympia, Wash. - If every American who is "part-Indian" checked "American Indian or Alaska Native" on question 9 of the 2010 Census, and wrote in the tribe from which they are descended, as their "Principal Tribe," this would change the complexion of the conversation about racism in America.
For generations, many nations, and even many Americans, have claimed that America is racist because it is numerically dominated by White people. But by some estimates, more than half of all Americans today are "part-Indian." And by the criteria that apply to Asians, Blacks and Hispanics, all of those "part-Indian" Americans are Native Americans.
These criteria have nothing to do with tribal enrollment, but with ancestry and self-identity. So in reality, America might be "dominated" by Native American Indians. If that is the case, then all those people who claim America is a racist nation will have to rethink their position.
The genocidal history behind "part-Indian"
According to the US Census Bureau, Table 6, Resident Population by Sex, Race, and Hispanic-Origin Status: 2000 to 2007, 4,537,000 Americans reported being American Indian. In a 2007 population of 301,621,000, that represents 1.5% of the total, making American Indians one of the smallest minority groups.
Yet, millions of Americans claim to be "part-Indian." (Because so many identify as Cherokee, this has given rise to the joke: "Isn't everybody Cherokee?")
You don't find people claiming to be "part-Black" or "part-White." President Barack Obama, for example. He is half-Black and half-White, but everybody identifies him as Black, and history will remember him as America's first African-American president.
Why is this? Why do we identify some people as "part-Indians"? The reason is genocide.
During the 19th Century one of the federal government's policies that is very racist by our current standards was that full blooded Indians were Indian, half-blood Indians were "half breeds," and anything less was a "part-Indian" White, Black or Asian.
Being "part-Indian" meant they were not Indian, which meant that they could be disenfranchised from their native heritage and inheritance, because Indians, in those days, had neither citizenship nor property rights. (Those feminists who complain about the "historic oppression" of women, as demonstrated by how long it took for women to get the vote, generally ignore that women got the vote years before American Indians did.)
Federal agents promoted the use of the term, "part-Indian," and it became part of the common vernacular. As a consequence, millions of Americans today are disenfranchised from their native roots.
Hence, it is extremely common to hear an Asian, Black or Caucasian American say, "I'm part-Indian, but I can't prove it," or words to that effect. Fortunately, no proof of Native American descent is required on the Federal Census.
Nobody will demand proof. Tribal enrollment is not required. The Census is about how you identify yourself.
Why should we do this?
For most Americans, the reasons have to do with national identity and changing the complexion of the conversation about racism.
From its inception, America has had native roots. The assertion that the American Constitution is based on the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy is very debatable. But there can be no doubt that it influenced the founding fathers.
Moreover, American liberty was inspired by the liberty enjoyed by most Native American Indian tribes. Stories of this liberty inspired people around the world long before the American Revolution.
America's native roots run deep, yet more Irish-Americans feel connected to their Irish roots than America's "part-Indians" do to theirs.
There is an old observation that there are more Irish in America than there are in Ireland. Similarly, there are more Indians in America than there are members of Indian tribes.
Through the generations, most Native Americans have drifted away from the tribe(s) of their ancestors; yet, most Americans of native descent still feel some connection to their ancient heritage.
If millions of Americans reclaim their Native roots in the US Census, it will send a message around the world and to future generations that we are not a racist nation, but remember our native roots and are proud of it.
Why should American Indian tribes support this?
Officially, American Indians comprise only about 1.5% of the American population. Our "crunchy" conservatism is largely ignored because as a demographic we are perceived to be small.
But if it were known that 150 million or more Americans consider themselves to be Native American Indians, then our values, virtues and principles would be taken far more seriously.
And because there is a big difference between being counted as a Native American and being an enrolled member of a tribe, there is no reason why Indian tribes should not support this.
Taking pride in America
Every nation, great and small, has a variegated past. Some are dark, some are light, but few if any have so intentionally set out to be a beacon of hope for the world as America has.
As a nation we frequently fall short, but there remains so very much in which we can take pride. That includes our Native roots. As a nation, we should remember that, declare it and embrace it. The first step is through the US Census.
Every American who is "part-Indian" can begin this process by identifying themselves as "American Indian or Alaska Native" on question 9 of the 2010 Census, and writing in the principal tribe from which they are descended.
Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ Backlash.com. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.