The Weirdness of Being “Native American”

(Updated May 26, 2021)

From “Pocahontas” Warren (1) to “One-fourth Alaskan native” con-writer John Smelcer to fake Navajo Tim Barrus to “Canada’s foremost Indian movie director” Michelle Latimer, the world is full of self-proclaimed Native-Americans with dubious claims to that ethniticy. Take this recent picture of the Cherokee Nation’s Tribal Youth Council, which has way, way more blondes in it than 90% of youth organizations in Europe:


The flight-from-White and -into-Indian is a large-scale phenomenon in the U.S., and has been for a veeery long time. John Ross, legendary Cherokee leader of the 19th century, was mostly Scottish, and only one-eighth native American by ethnicity. (This trend is even more remarkable in Australia, but there you can’t even point it out without being in breach of the Discrimination Act.)

White people pretending to be Indian is a thing too in academia, where the advantages of being any kind of recognized minority (ask people from Rachel Dolezal to Jessica Krug) may be decisive to get an edge in the rat race for admission, funds and tenure. Perhaps the most spectacular case is that of Andrea Smith, who spent decades shamelessly chastising fake Cherokees while knowingly being herself the fakest of all fake Cherokees in history.

Then, the New York Times had this fascinating (and very poorly explained) story on old-settler Hispanics in New Mexico who, thanks to the wonders of genetic testing, are finding that they may have enough native ancestry to, like, maybe form a tribe and, who knows, get a casino or special federal subsidies or something. Some people reacted forcefully to the lack of context in the story about Spanish Imperial policies though:

Then there’s this guy below who at least is kind of 50% Indian, reported Christine Bold, in the Times Literary Supplement, 11.10.17:

“It is difficult to recall how confidently the 1960s were once pronounced the beginning of modern Native American literature, given the rush of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Indigenous voices more recently recovered. John Joseph Mathews (1895–1979) is one of the most intriguing. By his own account, Mathews’s Osage identity was “always suspect in the minds of some”, yet he came to be heralded, according to the writer Russ Tall Chief, as “one of the premier culture-keepers of our tribe”. Born on the Osage Nation in what was then Indian Territory (later, Oklahoma), Mathews was raised by a French Catholic mother and a part-Osage father involved in tribal sovereignty movements, including the fight to save subsurface mineral rights from the government land grab. Among other things, this oil wealth made it possible for Mathews to live the first part of his life like an Anglophile gentleman, attending the University of Oklahoma and then Merton College, Oxford (with an intervening stint in military aviation), travelling in high style across continental Europe, all the while indulging his passion for big-game hunting in the American Rockies, Scotland and Algeria. Around 1930, with economic Depression, a failed marriage and real-estate career in California behind him, he returned to the reservation, building a sandstone retreat on the Osage prairie, The Blackjacks, variously likened to an Englishman’s hunting lodge, Thoreau’s Walden Pond, and an Osage return to the land. From there he launched the literary career and tribal service which shaped the rest of his life.”

One of the strangest facets of modern life is that we not-Americans know sooooooooo much about America, down to the disgusting peanut butter sandwiches nobody else would eat; and yet Americans know almost nothing about Native Americans, even if they grew up playing cowboys and Indians, and the rest of the world, of course, knows even less.

Let me give you a couple of examples: did you know that 90% of Native Americans in the US are in favor of the baseball team Redskins keeping its Indian name? Did you know that Native Americans are strongly pro-weapons, the ethnicity most favorable to Trump (including Whites) and that which is more in favor of immigration restrictions, according to a 2018 Congressional poll?

  1. Warren is remotely Cherokee, by the way, according to DNA tests. More so than Trump’s taunting would have us believe, but even less than Ross, though.

About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.
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1 Response to The Weirdness of Being “Native American”

  1. Pingback: The 21st Century Dystopia & Its Defining Characteristics | Neotenianos

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