Are you Indian enough? The Hierarchy of Aboriginal people.
by Steve Julian
You ever hear the terms, redbone, apple, nosebleed, wannabe, Mooneyash, wemittigozhi,waabishkizi, baakwaayish, and wiisaakodewinini? Probably not. If you are an Indian you may not appreciate other Natives saying those things to you. There is a real battle going on in Indian country and it is the battle of identity.
We are battling among ourselves as to who is an Indian. Can’t really blame us for being in that predicament. The governments of both countries, the United States and Canada, tried to eliminate the Indian. They attempted to get rid of the Indian by many different means; genocide, persecution, prosecution, sterilization, and assimilation. Governmental Policy has always been a tool to get rid of the Indian. The latest policies have Indian being killed off by categories.
In the United States Natives or American-Indians are being “de-rolled” or denied enrollment into Bands/Tribes. There is a Blood Quantum policy used by the Government and the Tribes to determine who is Indian enough to be considered Indian. In Canada the Indian is defined by the policies of the government. Legislation (laws) have been enacted by the Federal Government that decides who is Indian enough to be called an Indian. The Bands/Tribes really have no say in who is an Indian in their community. The outside government makes that decision with the notion of “Status”. Status cards are issued to Indian who make the cut.
The Old Status cards did not come with an expire date and you could get the card at your local Band office. That is not the case anymore. The new status cards are being issued. It will be like making an application for a passport. I am not sure but I guess the government does not trust the local Bands in handing out Status Cards. It’s funny when I was a kid we didn’t call ourselves “status Indians”, we were called Treaty Indians. I guess the Treaty thing is more permanent wording and status is better for government as it is a policy thing. Get it? Just changing a word can change the whole dynamics of a mind-set. We no longer refer to the Treaty, where we maintain many of Rights are entrenched, but rather we refer to Status, which is a policy that can be changed at the will of the government. And we just accept that. The Government has changed who is an Indian through their Indian Act. In this act there are categories of degree of Indians; 6-1, 6-1(a), 6-2. In this category system it will be a few generations where no one will be Status. It will not matter that your family was signatory to the Treaties. There is no Treaty Indian anymore. Treaties will be empty because under the policies of government no one is Indian anymore. Ingenuous and diabolical. The only way for the Status Indian to survive is to marry another Status. With the world shrinking that is difficult. Unless Indians go into a breeding program. Just kidding.
But where the heck was I going when I got side tracked with the status thing, Oh yeah, the Hierarchy of Indians, who is more Indian.
Indians are fighting among themselves (regardless of the government policies) about who is nose bleed, and who is Indian. Indian people want to be in the FBI category; Full Blood Indian, ah-ho! (Oops getting a little carried away there)
Well not everyone is FBI. Does that make them less Indian? I guess it does. Wait wait, let me explain. There are those that say well I am Indian in my heart. That’s good, I guess. But really what makes us Indian? The DNA of our Ancestors? The language, the songs, the Teachings, the lifestyle, our financial situation, the environment? Good question. I am not sure but this what I see, but don’t necessarily understand fully. There is a hierarchy of Indian-ness. At the bottom of the pyramid or in this case the bottom teepee (instead of pyramid, get it? Both are Triangles or maybe I should just have said ladder, that way it would be easier to envision) is the wannabe.
AT the bottom of the hierarchy, the wannabee has no Indian blood or connection but has been drawn to the image of the Indian and desperately wants to be Indian. This person will wear their hair long in some cases. They will go to Sweats. In some extreme cases will move to a Reserve and marry and Indian. Ah – HO! Now that is commitment right there for sure. If you really want to examine the Wannabe, there are several layers of Wannabe. There is the bottom of the ladder Wannabe; the classic German and the Karl May and the old Shatterhand (cool name by the way) image. There is other types of Wannabes, like the Academic. A cool professor, wears his hair long, or she wears the scarfs and long skirts, goes to all the Indian Gatherings and sits in Talking Circles. I kind of like those Wannabes, they work hard at Ceremonies. There are other Wannabes that are higher up on the ladder and these are the “other ethnics” who claim Indian heritage. You know the like the Hondurans or the Uruguayan people (Which is kind of crazy because they were/are Indigenous people of their own right). There is a really weird Wannabe, those are the ones that learn to speak the language of the Indian and become fluent. These guys can be higher than even the dark skinned ethnic wannabe. These are amazing people.
At the top of the Hierarchy is the Full Blood Indian (also known as the flat broke Indian). These are the people that have not gone to Residential school. Speak their language first. Have a Traditional link to the Land. Still know the Traditional Teachings of their people. Have not been indoctrinated by Christianity. Are not educated in a western school. However, these are very few, so we can forgive the schooling category in their otherwise Ideal Indian-ness. At the top with FBI are FBI’s from Isolated Reserves/Reservations. People that live with the Land and have many connections to family ties, cultural activities, BUT, are Christianized Indians. Many communities are in this category. They have the Land and language along with a bit of sustenance lifestyle, but are worshipers of Jehovah (and other saints and angles.)
Just below that is the Indian that is full blood and cannot speak fluently but can understand the language and knows enough to follow a conversation and respond to a fluent speaker in English. He or she has not been indoctrinated in Christianity. The numbers of these people is still significant but threatened. As the Golden-Agers and Baby-Boomers start to die off, the FBI will become less common.
Next on the ladder is the mixed Blood Indian that is fluent, has not been indoctrinated by Christianity, still maintains links to the Land and knows the Teachings of their people. This is a controversial ranking as the mixed blood with the stronger language skills could be higher on the ladder than the full blood who can’t speak. It is a toss up between the two types of Indians. In many cases the mixed blood, who still looks Indian will be higher on the ladder of the Full Blood who can’t speak his/her language.
As you move down the ladder the battle for who is higher on the tipi continues. You have Full Bloods that have been adopted out and raised in White families. They by chance of who and how they were raised, are not very high on the ladder. They are very close to the bottom of the ladder as well. Environment ways heavy against them in this case. It is the case of the real Indian looking dude that knows absolutely nothing about his/her heritage except for the movies, Dances with Wolves and Hondo. They look good but are sadly lost in the world. This leads to another type of Indian low on the tipi scale (hierarchy of Indian-ness); the Born-Again.
Born-Agains want to be on top with the FBI’s, but can’t understand that even some mixed Bloods are higher Indians than them. The BA’s boss other Indians around, tell them what a ceremony is really suppose to be. They tell you how many Pipes they now have. How many names they have been given, how many times they dragged skulls, how many Grandfathers (rocks) they have had in a Sweatlodge. They even become Elders in their thirties. Born Agains are tolerated by other Indians. Quite frankly, they scare the shit out of people (Indians). They try really hard to speak Indian with really heavy White accents. This Indians are the ones who give Whites a really really hard time. They are not on the bottom of the ladder but are can be at different levels. Some Born-Agains are high on the ladder if they look Indian and have gone to the Rez sometimes throughout their childhood. Others that look white and have been to the Rez more times than the darker Indians will struggle as to their spot on the ladder/hierarchy. There are many Born Agains, some sit in the middle of pack but some are pretty high up on the ladder. Because they have all the elements of the Full Bloods and the Traditionalists, but were originally ignorant of their own Indian-ness. But they re-evaluated their essence and have climbed up the ladder.
We touched a little bit on environment and that is where the battle really heats up again for Indian-ness. There are the born, raised and went to school in the REZ Indian? By nature of where they were raised sit pretty higher middle and some are even close to the top of the ladder (depends on their language skills, their up-bringing and education). The born on the Rez Indian will sit at different levels of the ladder by nature of their blood. More Indian blood, higher on the ladder. However, this could be off-set by their Teachings. Heavy Christianity knocks some of the Indian-ness off of the Indian. So a lighter Indian by way they were raised could sit higher on the Indian-ness scale (you know just like Moh’s rock hardness scale). So the Born on the Rez fair skinned Indian may have higher standing than a browner skinned Indian that has no bush ties, like a cement stomping Indian (city born and bred). Even good old cash plays a part in your Indian-ness scale. The poorer you are the more Indian (in some cases) you are. You may not be as Indian if you were raised in a rich neighbourhood. It’s true. You have cash and you don’t have the community links that are part of being Indian. You become a “drive-by” Indian. Drive by the Reserve or drive by the hood.
There is the born in the hood (inner-city and other really poor areas of the city) Indian. These are the crazy ones. Strong voices and wanting to be high on the ladder. The Rez Indians resent these Indians and they have the most fierce battles on Indian-ness. Much of the Born in the Hood Indians have stronger Indian accents than Rez Indians. Many of these Indians sit a little higher on the ladder because of their social and economic backgrounds. Many of them have never set foot in a bush or a canoe, but will maintain that they are “keepers of the Earth”. It is frightening to put them low on the ladder. Their fierce grip of an Identity (however distorted) makes them middle of the pack on the Indian-ness scale.
The lines are pretty muddled in the middle rungs of the Indian-ness ladder. But someone will put a chart out there to show who sits were on the hierarchy of Indian-ness. Interesting to note, some of the Indian-ness scale is influenced by hardship faced by the Indian. Also the Residential school attendance is fashionable right now, and increases the Indian-ness factor.
Sorry if I didn’t get to all categories but this is just an Introductory Indian-ness and you will have to sign up for the advanced tutorial on Indian-ness; check out this and take a course with this fellow. (His standing on the scale notwithstanding ). If I think of it, I may come back to clarify the ladder rungs a bit more, or the Moh’s Indian scale or Maslow’s hierarchy of Indian-ness scale.