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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Indian Identity - It's complicated in New England!
By Trace L Hentz (Eastern Cherokee by blood)

Living in New England (yes, it's still called that after 400+ years), I have come to understand how Native Americans here evolved through some of the most troubling, extreme and dangerous circumstances --- yes, dangerous.
Many non-Indians here have deeply-embedded fears of Indians, because of stories passed down in families.
Many New Englanders are of the mindset Indians are of the past, not the present. We are no longer a threat like we were in colonial days.
Today Massachusetts has no great track record of dealing fairly or honestly with its tribes. One example, the Mashpee Wampanoag had their federal recognition delayed over 30 years.
There are many more Indian people here who are not in federally-recognized tribes and have no identity card to show other Indians or the demanding media. 
This issue is affecting Senate-hopeful Elizabeth Warren (Democrat) who is running against Scott Brown (Republican). Elizabeth's ancestry is Cherokee. Her Cherokee ancestors might have been educated in New England, maybe at Harvard or Dartmouth. I don't know.
Since Elizabeth is not enrolled with the Cherokee, her lack of an identity card is a huge problem for the media and other Indians.
HEY! Indians in New England get it. She's one of us. We have our own stories passed down in our families, too.
Granted it's not easy to trace your ancestors from the late 1800s to secure that government-issued Indian Identity card. (My friend Russ calls his tribal ID, "My Holocaust Card.")
Why is Indian identity so complicated? 
Long-standing racism by state officials on the East Coast who wanted us dead - and a backlog of over 250 recognition bids sitting in the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington DC.  Delays are notorious. Tribal Elders who started the petitions are often dying before they see their petition recognized. 

In the 1800s, there was absolutely no benefit whatsoever if you were Indian. Saying you were could get you killed: After the Pequot War, hunting down the Pequot was common - there was a bounty on every Pequot - man, woman or child.  Bring in dead Indians and you get paid. The media never covers this.

So back to identity... tell me, could you provide records to the exact day your immigrant ancestor arrived here on a boat? Yet Indians are supposed to prove they are Indian?
In this part of the world, Native people intermarried for survival. After the Indian Wars, Native woman married outside of their tribes since there were so few men left who had not been killed in war.
Their survival was not complicated, it was necessary. 


"It seems to me one of the ways of getting rid of the Indian question is just this of intermarriage, and the gradual fading out of the Indian blood; the whole quality and character of the aborigine disappears, they lose all of the traditions of the race; there is no longer any occasion to maintain the tribal relations, and there is then every reason why they shall go and take their place as white people do everywhere," said Anthony Higgins, a U.S. Senator from Delaware, in 1895 congressional testimony.

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