Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Red Paint

The 8th Annual Red Paint Powwow was held in Silver City at the Western New Mexico University intramural gym Jan. 20 to 22. I went on the 21st.
The gourd dance was happening right when I got there. It’s a dance to honor the veterans. These veterans usually wear a type of shawl that is blue and red and they all have rattles and step to the same beat. I was surprised to see so many of them there, even a bunch of women were honored as warriors.
The grand entry brought out all the dancers in all the categories:
The traditional dancers stepped slowly. The women’s shawls whipped back and forth to the drum. The men stomped around the floor. The traditional dancers wore a more traditional outfit, no flashy bead designs and no outrageous colors.
The fancy men dancers stomped and twirled around while nodding their heads. These guys wear the large fan of feathers on their upper and lower backs. They are flashy, colorful and take up a lot of room. The fancy women are equally as flashy with leather, beaded moccasins up to their knees and intricate and colorful shawls across their shoulders.
The jingle dress dancers added another sound to the drums and singers.
The grass dance men are somewhere between the fancy men and the traditional men, their outfit is usually decorated with hundreds of strands of string, yarn or thin material.
The chicken dancers stood a little taller than most dancers because they usually have two long feathers coming from their heads.
The tots, fancy and jingle, got most of the attention. They have just as many feathers as their large counterparts, but are 10 times cuter. Some of them already have some nice steps.
Somewhere in the middle of the powwow, the Apache Devil Dancers, or Crown Dancers came out and performed.  These guys are sort of scary. They have black hoods all the way around their heads, covering their eyes and faces completely with a large white crown on their head decorated with colored symbols. On the bottom they have a belt made of loud bells holding up the leather wrapped around their waists. They are painted white with black smears.
This is Apache land and that was a protection dance.
All day the dancers danced hard. I thought it was over around 5 p.m. but they were taking a break for dinner and would start up again that night and again on Sunday morning.
It was a good experience. I saw a lot of familiar brown faces and a Hopi from Gallup who jokingly put up her fists to fight my sister and I when she found out we were Navajo and we found out she was Hopi. “Aye!”

There are four dancers representing the four directions and one in the middle representing life

Apache Devil Dancers (at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial)

Friday, January 13, 2012

For real? Tribal membership and blood quantum

I have a Certificate of Indian Blood (CIB). And it says that my Indian blood quantum is 4/4 and I am a member of the Navajo tribe. This entitles me to free health care and a whole bunch of exclusive scholarships and programs. In some cases, rich (casino) tribes issue monthly checks and “per-cap” checks to all their members. In some cases, tribes pay for utilities, homes and education.

My Certificate of Indian Blood (CIB)

You can see how non-Natives would be enticed to register with a federally recognized tribe to get all these benefits. And you can see how tribal leaders might become greedy and cut their membership down by a few thousand members to increase their own pay out.
That part of the issue seems to rear its ugly head most often. It’s awful to hear about tribes cutting their membership, especially small tribes. It’s an abuse of tribal power for money, I say.
Tribal officials will turn around and say that they are cutting out the people who are not qualified, or have less than adequate Indian blood quantum, and they are taking advantage of the tribe — these things that are rightfully owed to Natives.
I’m torn.
The tribe is right to clear out those who do not have the correct amount of Indian blood, especially when their financial resources are limited.
I can’t imagine being “cut” from the tribe. In fact, I never gave much thought to this issue. It never affected my family because we’re all full-blood Navajo. We’ve never had to explain that way back in our lineage we had a Native American grandmother.
The truth: each tribe has the right to determine who is part of the tribe or not. The U.S. government has no say in this matter because tribes are sovereign governments. Having the power to decide who and who is not part of the group is all part of being a sovereign nation.
I think this power is sometimes abused when tribes decide to lower their Indian-blood quantum and suddenly kick out hundreds or thousands of members ... “members.”
Then again, the tribe may not be able to support everyone so cutting those with less Indian blood makes sense. Cut the halves or cut the sixteenths? Sometimes they have no choice. Sorry to Mr. Blonde Hair-Blue Eyes.
I’m going to say it like I think it is: Sometimes full-blood Natives do not take “mix bloods” too seriously, especially when they look totally Caucasian, or they never lived on their land before or they don’t know anything about their own culture or language.
There is an attitude there and I sometimes have it. Being Native doesn’t mean saying you’re Native. It’s living like one, knowing something about your land, people, culture and history.
Sometimes it is just a number or piece of paper, but if you have a number or paper, be happy that you do. This country has tried hard to get rid of you, but they failed. You’re living proof.
It’s pretty sad to think about this issue because it looks like the Native population could decline in the next few generations. Take me for example: If I had children right now, they would only be half Navajo. Whose to say my son or daughter will have a non-Native partner too? My grandchildren will be a fourth Navajo and my great-grandchildren will be an eighth Navajo, which, technically, isn’t Navajo.

Update Jan. 26 — Statistics state that 2.3 million of 5.2 million people, almost half, who claim to have Native heritage, also claim another race. That's up from just 1.6 million in 2000, according to recent U.S. census data. Read the story here.

Read a column about the same issue here.

“How did tribal membership/blood quantum come about?” you ask.
During the General Allotment Act 1887 the government gave each individual Native a piece of land; a brilliant plan on the U.S.’s part because this Act allowed them to legally steal more Indian land.  They rounded the tribes up and gave them enrollment cards. Sometimes they brought in scientists to measure their features and faces. Thousands of Natives were not given enrollment cards or tribal identification.
On top of that they put Indian land in trust for only 25 years. When 25 years was up, the Natives had to pay regular taxes and fees on their land, which they could not afford. Many Natives sold their land or had it “legally” taken away.
They thought this would help the Natives by forcing them to live like Americans; a piece of land, a house and a farm. But the Natives have been nomads since their origins; living off the land and moving around with the seasons. This Act threw the Natives further into poverty.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In your own county, state and country

I always did wonder why people take off to Africa or Mexico to help the starving population or the illiterate kids there. It’s some righteous mission from God to help those less fortunate in other countries because other countries are the “third world.” People in other countries live in poverty, they have no electricity, no clean water and they just can’t seem to help themselves because of their governments and lack of funds and productivity.
Maybe these righteous missionaries didn’t grow up where I come from.
At anytime, my tiny house is filled with 15 people; my grandparents, my parents, my aunt, my uncles, my siblings and my cousins. I share a bedroom with four of my cousins and sometimes during the summer, we sleep in the bed of my uncle’s truck.
My neighbors never have electricity and we thought it was just for fun that they always used candles and ceresin lamps. My other neighbors haul water three times a week to bath and cook.
Disease ravages the people too. Many legs have been lost and many eyes have been rendered useless. The mortality rate where I come from is easily higher than those who live in the United States. The crime, suicide, poverty and other rates are higher too.
Our government is very one-sided too, and that side is usually their own. Many officials are greedy and uneducated and don’t know how to do what’s best for 600 to 300,000 people.
 Invisible borderlines and boundaries keep American businesses away from our foreign land. There are no stores. There is no fun. From the inside, our government and land systems are a mess. Nothing gets done and no one can ever say, “I have a business.”
Where I’m from you need a passport to live there but you don’t need anything to get out. I live in every one of the United States. My  foreign land is surrounded by America and Americans. I’m American.
Maybe it’s because we have “American” attached to our name. “American” makes it sound like we live a good life full of HD TV’s, nice clothes, good health and full refrigerators. It makes it sound like we don’t need help because we live in this great country.
We need lots of help and ideas.
And my thinking is: we should help the people in our own country, especially those who had everything stolen from them, before we go off across the globe on some righteous mission to feed and educate the world. Take a look at your neighbors, take a look at the tribes and find out what you can do.