I am of Mixed Blood. Most of the world’s population of human beings are Mixed Bloods. We are the creation of love, conflict, and the intermingling of genes, cultures, and ideas. Yet, there remains in the media, and in the culture at large, a notion that pure is better. As a result I’ve been thinking about blood lines and blood quotients.
Blood lines are our genetic heritage, and tie us directly to our ancestors. Blood quotients are bureaucratic tools, which, along with tribal lists, determine who can be recognized by the Federal Government as “Native”. Both blood quotients and tribal rolls become genocidal when First Nations peoples intermarry with non-Natives. Even as the number of Mixed Bloods increases, the number of Federally recognized “Indians” decreases. Eventually, while there will be several million Mixed Bloods who identify as First Nations, or as Mixed Blood, there will be no “Natives” remaining, and the genocide will be complete. (Resource rich tribal lands would, then, at least theoretically, revert to the U.S.)
Seen another way, blood quotients punish First Nations people who wish to assimilate. Proponents of blood quotas assume assimilation implies a rejection of cultural and relational ties. Given the treatment of First Nations people, both on and off the reservation, during the past two hundred years, assimilation by those able to do so actually makes sense as a survival strategy; hiding and assimilation can be acts of resistance. For apologists of lists and blood quotients, if one chooses either passing, or assimilation, even as an active of resistance, one stops being “Native”. This belies the many peoples around the world who have been closeted participants in their cultures of identification for hundreds of years. (There are Jews in New Mexico who passed as Catholics for so long they forgot their Jewish identity, yet continued to practice Shabbat rituals in hiding until very recently.)
On the other hand, there are real threats to First Nations survival and identity, besides state and Federal governments. For instance, there are now apparently many people claiming First Nations ancestry in order to gain tribal membership, and with it access to gambling and oil revenues. This clearly compromises the welfare of tribal groups who stayed and endured poverty and deprivation. Another group of usurpers includes those who sell real, or imagined, tribal knowledge without the permission of those to whom the knowledge belongs. (In the Amazon basin this has gone so far as to have multinational corporations requesting pattens on plant medicines used by local First Nations people for thousands of years.)
There is also the dominant culture’s apparent wish to forget the history of genocide in the United States. First Nations peoples were here for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the European settlers, yet American History begins with the European Explorers. The U.S. Constitution was influenced by that of the Iroquoian Confederacy, but we do not speak of First Nations peoples as our founding Mothers and Fathers. (Many First Nations peoples in the Americas are Matrimonial.) The erasure by European Americans of First Nations peoples and our influence remains a grave issue, and a form of cultural genocide. (If you need a graphic example of this, listen to the NPR talk show, “On Point,” which daily discusses the culture, history, and politics of the U.S., and almost never acknowledges First Nations people.) The genocide of Africans in order to support our European ancestors economic aspirations is also forgotten and erased.
Its complicated! Sometimes I get the sense people are uncomfortable with us Mixed Bloods (Native, European, African, and Asian genes all swimming around together!), even though we are, or soon will be, the majority. This discomfort creates much suffering for everyone. Yet, when one pays attention to the Blood Lines, to the voices of all the ancestors, one begins to hear complexly, for each ancestor has something to say about life, and our experience of living.
I like to think the shamanic understanding of the world is itself Mixed Blood, sharing the knowledge of both the local and the regional, focused in one culture and learning from many, and always standing with feet in multiple worlds. When we realize we are each an unimaginably complex cosmos of awarenesses, we see that hybridity is the nature of the world. When we understand the mind as a gathering of many beings, we begin to soften our ideas of self, and to realize our connection to, and dependence on, the other, human and non-human. Then, being Mixed Blood gets really interesting.
To read another view of some of these issues, see the blog post by Turtle Heart.