Way back in 2010 I posted the following piece. Given all that has happened in the world since then, this seems like a good time to reprise it. I do want to let you all know that this week we finally had a good deal of rain, and the landscape has sprung back to life.It is a relief to be blessed with an abundant rain.
My father insisted that our family is 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.
18 thoughts on “Blood Lines and Blood Quotients”
This is a very difficult subject. One aspect that is rarely discussed but hard to ignore is genetically inherited health issues. New Mexico is particularly interesting to medical researchers because we have a wide variety of genetically distinct groups who have issues ranging from hereditary brain aneurisms to a gut-related form of cystic fibrosis instead of lung-related etc. I am not at all sure that genetic isolation is an indigenous practice, and I am sure that when it is enforced as a government policy it becomes quite dangerous.
I do not know what answers might help indigenous peoples survive, but asking the difficult questions is the first step…
I loved my time in New Mexico. I just could not figure out how to make a living.
Historically, most tribes were rather porous with their membership. This allowed for the exchange of ideas, technologies, and genes. Fixing any people in time ends up harming them. Of course, this was the intent….
yes, NM still competes with Mississippi for bottom of the rung in health, education and welfare. Looking at indigenous survivors in Europe does offer some ideas on how to hang on to cultural and genetic identity. The Basque people have kept their language and culture distinct for millennia and I met an English Elf a few years back whose tribe was recognized because they had a specific genetic profile. Some combination of language, culture and genetics seems the best route for recognition…
Sara, It is a quagmire. I have pretty much given up trying to find a way through it!
Thankfully culture does not depend on any one person- I like thinking of the circle as a trampoline, as long as we all stay centered and hold our own position the whole is resilient. It collapses if everybody rushes over to the same spot, or if they give up entirely. 😉
Wonderful analogy, Sara! Holding the center is the task and is so difficult. For now, the center clearly does not hold.
Blood quotients to erase “Native” people and the one-drop rule to increase the number of African-American slaves – obviously there is a bureaucratic goal to these inconsistent assessments, and it’s not about treating humans with respect and dignity or offering them inclusion in the power system. 😦
Exactly! I am often reminded that the Nazis used our government’s ways of dealing with Native people as a model for the Holocaust.
Oh, wow. Didn’t know that. Ouch.
Scillagrace, I think this history is largely unknown, a condition I find remarkably confusing and alarming. Those laws and practices continue to o much harm.
Brilliant post and brilliant thinking, as usual, Michael.
Oh, Lara! Thank you!
valuable discussion, Michael!
imagine a place where health care,
employment, services and other needs
were provided without needing to
prove anything; just show up 🙂
O, what a beautiful dream you have called up! Yes, let’s imagine that, and make it so!
Very interesting post Michael. I read it about a week ago and came back to reread. I read an article recently in the Globe and Mail about society being close to accepting people who identify as whatever race they choose regardless of blood. The article went on to say drugs are being developed to darken skin colour. Of course this therapy will be aimed at Caucasians and there will be no shortage of takers. What a better way to confine white guilt that so many pack around. This therapy is the height of white privilege. In Canada to imitate or speak on behalf of First Nations people without having aboriginal blood is considered, right or wrong, disrespectful even sacrilegious. One of Canada’s esteemed authors, Joseph Boyden, has recently found this out, as W. P. Kinsella before him. Both authors are now considered frauds. Is that right? I am not sure. Last summer I went to our local art gallery. A long time local artist was showing his recent work. In the past he has done many forms of artwork, woodwork, graphic design, painting; at this show he was dressed as a First Nations person and his art was ‘borrowed’ from traditional aboriginal designs. The whole performance made me uncomfortable. I always enjoy reading your articles. I hope you are well. Take care. Bob
This is such a complex issue, Bob! I think the only sane thing to do if one is not enrolled is to very carefully lay out what one understands one’s identity to be. Cultures have always borrow from one another, which is different I think from appropriation. Stealing others identities is just plain immoral.
The late effects of Polio remain what they are. I am as well as one could hope! Thank you!
I hope you are well.
So well explained and expressed, Michael. It’s such a complex issue, and so very much depends upon it.
Naomi, you are right, and the issue seems so very intractable.