Indigenous Caribbean Network

Response to Musings on Tribal Legitimacy by Michelle Kellaway

I read this essay with much interest and can identify quite a bit with what Michelle is saying when speaking of the attitudes encountered when interacting with the native peoples of the US.

I am of the opinion that some of the native peoples of the US have been convinced into believing that a piece of paper gives them authenticity. As their ancestors were brainwashed into believing the fences around their reservation, they have been brainwashed into the fences around the nation called United States of America. They have forgotten their own history, that recognition as an Indian meant that you were part of the local wildlife; it wasn’t until 1879 that they were legally recognized as “people”, a century after the US was established. They have forgotten that “Native American” is not defined by political borders, it’s defined by being born in the Americas and what tribe recognizes you as their own. Because of the 230+ years the US has had to flourish and create new “Native Americans”, native peoples have bought into the propaganda given to them by the federal government. I have heard some indigenous people say the South American Indians were just “South Americans” and not recognize them as brothers. Very rare is the fellow native that recognizes the Taino people as one of the first nations attacked by the European invasion.

As for our Latin nations, they are still suffering in the throws of colonization practices of old. To be white is to be superior, to be smarter, and to be prettier; the term “Indian” or “Apache” is an insult and suggests an ignorant, lazy or uncouth person. People in Latin America use lighteners by the gallon and stay out of the sun to avoid darkening the skin; wear contacts to change eye color and dye their hair blonde till it falls off in tufts. They have bought into the Americanized Barbie doll ideal as well as the disrespectful notion that natives are uncivilized barbarians, with no idea of the value of the lands they sit on thus don’t deserve to keep them; lands, way of life, religious beliefs… Thus the decimation that began when Columbus landed continues unchecked.

And thought I agree with your thoughts that many people carry a romanticized image of what it is to be “Native American” I have to take exception to the comment that the Taino as a people would not be willing to face the discrimination and the hardships that the Natives in the mainland have faced. We have already done so! Reading up on Caribbean history will reveal the horrors inflicted on our ancestors. In the feudalistic system the colonizers established in the Caribbean, the lord or master of the fief, had the right to the wedding night of any marriage or union on his property. This was part of the genocidal plan; impregnate the woman with Spanish seed before she is impregnated with Indian or Black. If the child came out fair skinned, he could be taken away by the master, sometimes recognized as son, and raised "properly", if not he could stay with his parents and work. Added to this was the understanding that the lord could take any woman he wanted when he wanted to because he was the master after all. And all this was happening before the natives in the US were put into reservations! And even then, those natives in the northern mainland were still allowed their identity while ours was punishable by death. The fact is that although the natives in the US had to face abuse and discrimination and horrors of their own, they didn’t face the kind of genocidal tactics imposed on those conquered by the Spanish and French. US Indians were allowed reservations where our people had to go underground. We were forced into invisibility; to the point that people don’t recognize themselves today. The US got us as spoils of war in the 1800's but didn't allow us the "honor" of citizenship until they needed bodies to fill out the infantry during WWI. You could say we were an island reservation... To take it a step further, we are not even recognized historically. Everybody knows Columbus “discovered” America, but the Indians he met remained generic and no one seems to question that.

How much more do we need to suffer to be considered “worthy” to be called Native American?

As for federal recognition, I don’t see that it can be possible due to record keeping practices of the Caribbean. Puerto Rico is under Federal law and to be recognized as a tribe there is a blood quantum requirement- the US’ more humane way to genocide. This requirement also extends to the possibilities of receiving any federal benefit ($$) provided to Native Americans by the US government. To receive such benefits one needs to provide a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, which is a document non-federally recognized tribal members cannot apply for. However, a tribe, although not federally recognized, can still be recognized by they state they are located in. Puerto Rico, as a commonwealth, can (and I believe may have already) recognize the Taino as a people.

Because the Caribbean islands are politically separate, identification in one country will not offer automatic identification in another; one would have to meet the requirements of the laws of each country, much like doctors and teachers are required to do. Because the US natives have federal recognition and federal law blankets the 50 states and territories, their identity is recognized across the nation, but different countries may have another view. Each branch of the Taino will need to be recognized by their own country respectively although they, as a nation, may recognize each other. Much like what happens to the tribes that live on or near US border lands, between Mexico and Canada, when they wish to share with their relatives on the other side of the political fence.

As for your questions on definitions, standards, belonging and motives- I don’t believe those questions have a definite answer. Those who wish to control will set limits on who belongs and who does not, politically as well as socially. Blood quantum is not the answer, because it denies the native’s cultural traditions of adoption and absorption into the tribe. Who belongs then when the blood is mixed? And as for motives, well those are as varied as the people participating, ennit?

I agree with Max’ assessment that the Taino today is jumping the gun. The few people I have contacted and spoken with regarding getting together and sharing have sounded much more like a social club, or an organization as opposed to a “clan” or “tribe” in the social sense. Everyone wants to be chief and be the one with all the answers as opposed to just being a group of people willing to learn, share and grow together. Yes, a tribe or clan has a hierarchy, and I see nothing wrong with people taking on a position; but when it becomes an issue of charging a monthly fee to participate and be added to a list of names so as to be recognized as Taino, or the “positions” become more important than the people- well, that is just dispiriting. It shows the group for what it is, like Max said- a veneer; a front, a bunch of people getting together and “playing Indian”.

Then again, we are young and still learning.

What I feel is most important now is that those who identify as Taino take the steps to get to know themselves first and begin taking responsibility for their actions; like the Lakota would say, Walk the Good Red Road. We have a lot of baggage and our egos get in the way. Just as people living in this day and age we have baggage, let alone recognizing who we are, what that may imply to us, our family and the bigger picture, what is still being taught in schools, what continues happening to our relations in South & Central America and what our place may be in the whole “menjunje”. I feel we need to tackle ourselves first before getting all gun-ho about being Indian, taking on a new persona half way, and with it society as a whole. Instead, we can focus on our personal and spiritual growth, face our shadows and make peace with them, help heal our children and our society. Yes, we do need to focus on society but we can only give what we have given ourselves first. And if we haven’t given ourselves the time and space to grow into our identities how can we help others do so?

Thank you, Michelle, for the opportunity to engage in such interesting conversation…

(c) Anita Pagan

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Comment by Rixturey on October 15, 2008 at 2:05pm
I just ran across a blog http://www.ageofconversation.com/aoc2/ with a podcast on their collaborative book with over 100 contributors. Worth looking into.
Comment by Anita Pagan on October 13, 2008 at 7:40am
Keisha~

I think photos are a wonderful idea! I do believe that it will be an attractor to children and lazy readers. The pictures draw in the eyes and maybe can offer a little reading... What about getting photos from local photographers? It will not be exactly your vision, but you can pick and choose from the visuals offered?

Orocobia~
"The idea is to start healing and strengthening our community from within, before we begin the arduous task of "setting the record straight" in the outside world."

I love you vision statement, girl! And it's exactly what I was thinking when this thread went the "way of the book". Although, we could work on one thing at a time, we are not limited to only one book. Different types of books attract different people, age groups, interest groups, etc. I don't wish to spread myself, or this idea, too thin. What I offer are possibilities, and those are endless :)

With regards to a first book, I think a review (or a rewrite) of where we come from and where we are now may be a good place to start. It will teach we are not extinct, why we come in technicolor and where we stand at this time.
Comment by Arenahi on October 12, 2008 at 3:42pm
"I'd take the Chickasaw Press' Chickasaw: Unconquered and Unconquerable as an example. It's a collection of photos and essays by community members, telling about their visions of what Chickasaw is. We could aim to do something similar."

You know I totally want to do something like this but with Kalinago people on all the islands. It's just getting the money to travel and money for a camera. There are a lot of things I'd like to do but I just don't have the money to do them.
Comment by Anita Pagan on October 12, 2008 at 9:47am
Ok, so ... Orocobia, Max, Turtle and Keisha-

What is our book about???
Comment by Maximilian Forte on October 12, 2008 at 2:51am
I will second, third, and fourth the comments on going ahead and writing the book(s). Lulu.com really is a marvelous resource, and I have bought books and CDs from it and they are very high quality productions. The key is you don't need a cent to start. You can also try regular book publishers too -- academic texts are really suffering these days since books written for the general public, or written by journalists, do so much better in the market.
Comment by Turtle on October 12, 2008 at 2:38am
Actually if you just put out an e-book with a paypal account you can start educating people, making a bit of money to get you started, take that money and put your book in print for those that dont have internet access, then offer to sell those books via amzon or other known bookstores local and national. But start the print version after the religious zealots and "ologists" crap their pants reading about how there are still "savages" left to tell stories and feel proud of who they are without being dissected or having their bones exhumed and placed in museums for the OOOOHH- AAAAHHH factor. Wanna write a book? Buy a dictionary, a thesaurus sit your butt down and write a damn book!
T
Comment by Arenahi on October 12, 2008 at 1:19am
Wanna write a book? Head to lulu.com, you set your own profits and they only print a book when someone orders it. You have total control! :) I like lulu. They should pay me, i'm always promoting them lol.
Comment by Anita Pagan on October 11, 2008 at 11:32pm
Hmmm... Orocobia,

I don't think a PhD is necessary to write a book... I mean, look at what is out there! LOL! It takes vision, a mission and dedication.

What is this book about to begin with...
Comment by Anita Pagan on October 10, 2008 at 10:47am
Thanks, Ray~

I appreciate your encouragement. :) As for Tribal Recognition, although it may seem to bring benefits, I don't think it's worth the hoops we have to jump through to get them. If you look at the reservations in the US, they are not in the best of shape. With all the hoops they jump through, they still have to choose between food or heat over the winter and many die as a consequence. The Dine are still fighting to keep their lands from miners and other reservations are dying because their lands and waters are being poisoned.

I think we have better things to do than suffer through requirements we cannot meet for the kinds of crumbs that are allowed by the feds. We can create a new identity as natives instead of checking ourselves into a slowly dying category created by the US to commit genocide. Most US tribes that have money, do so by building casinos, not by any "rights" given them by the US.

I do honor your intent, Ray, and I want to make this happen; I would just go about it differently. How? I dunno... Sounds like a great topic for a thread to me... ;)

Michelle~

I am so glad to know you took my words in the spirit in which they were meant. Passion can be misinterpreted and at times it can even get in the way of expression. The good thing is that writing allows us to put our thoughts out there and we get to see different points of view, different perspectives, that challenge us to change and grow.

I know exactly what you mean about not wanting to feel disregarded. If I may, I would like to offer you some of the solace I have found for myself. This is not really an easy thing, but if done, can bring peace in this area of thought.

I had a friend who was almost 400 pounds of "big beautiful black woman" (her own words). She was huge and needless to say, did not quite fit the stereotypical ideal of American beauty. However she was amazing! She dressed well, partied her ass off and had a line of suitors that circled the block. She took care of herself in body, mind and spirit. She studied (I met her in college) and eventually opened her own business. Although I no longer keep in contact with her, she left me with an incredible sense of empowerment.

You see, she taught me that we devalue ourselves before anyone else does. She taught me that the value of who and what we are, how we choose to identify ourselves comes from within us, not from outside sources. She was gorgeous because SHE believed it, and because she believed it, others believed it. But it started with her, within her. Now, eeplace "big, beautiful, black woman" with "tenacious, intellectual, contemporary Taino" and we've got it made!

Now granted, just like my friend didn't get every guy, we may not get every native. But by the time you have convinced yourself you ARE, others won't really matter. :)

With regards to the suffering of our people, I can admit I was reacting to the many comments I receive from Natives and Non-natives alike when I identify as Taino. I didn't go to school in the US mainland, so I don't know what is taught here, but I am realizing that not many people are aware of the history of the caribbean. What really chaps my rear though, is that folk don't even know the Taino were those who met Columbus! By the same token, many don't know their OWN history, so I guess I can see where the misconception of Tainos just wanting to join the New Age bandwagon would come from.

I am glad that I could encourage you to grow within yourself. I think it's one of the most amazing adventures we can experience.

Turtle~
Thanks for the encouragement, brother. I think Fruit Loops has a BIA card you can cut out from the back of the box!

Max~

It's always a matter of perspective, ennit? One can say "Misery loves company" while another says "Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone".

My opinion is that US and Canada natives are stuck in the past because much of it is still happening. Not all rez are covered in gold, some are much worse than others. The US/Canada governments not only have to admit what has been done historically, but what they are doing now and make reparations for both- they can start with giving back stolen lands.

Could it be that the latino indian (for lack of a better word)is looked at differently because although we have suffered atrocities, it was at the hands of a different conqueror? I mean, the truth has been hidden from us- the one's who lived (and still live) it, why should the US people be more aware?

Maybe we can educate, put out books- Michelle's a great writer- and expose our history. Make it available, not only to the lost ones, but to the natives here in the mainland, to professors and libraries? Then maybe the suffering can become a non-issue or a social glue.

Nanu

Arrghh!
Comment by Maximilian Forte on October 10, 2008 at 4:10am
The discussion here, and around the network, is just fantastic. Orocobia, if I may add this point, I think it would strengthen those who challenge the de-legitimation of the "Nativeness" of the Taino. You wrote:

"What I did mean to suggest was that many Native peoples define a large part of their identity on communal suffering (as do many minorities), not just a shared legacy of ancestors who suffered, but of a lived reality from day-to-day. While I do not think this is the most positive way to aproach a group identity, it is, in many ways, one of the most powerful. And people delegitimize others from groups all the time when they perceive that a newcomer only wishes to receive the benefits of that group without having to share in the pains."

This could be (mis)understood to suggest that people who identify as Taino know none of these pains. Just for the sake of discussion, let's totally strip away all Tainoness, and simply call of these individuals Puerto Rican, Dominican, Latino. I would bet that members of these groups have suffered a great deal of discrimination and marginalization, and without the benefit of a Nation -- think of the few that own super profitable casinos, or the Cherokee Nation that owns companies that are defense contractors, or just having land. I don't mean to start a "misery competition" -- I realize I risk inciting such comparisons, which are divisive. Also, I realize you might not have been speaking of relations between Tainos and American Indians, but rather about American Indians alone and how they might perceive those Americans who wish to reclaim their Indian identity. Sorry if I misunderstood at any point.

My argument here is very simple: those who identify as Taino have had a ton of ongoing pains, they are no more privileged than American Indians. Either this is a non-issue, that is the issue of suffering, or it should be yet another bridge between Tainos and their mainland counterparts.

Notes

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