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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I am my Percentage.....

I was watching the movie 'Snow Walker' the other night (if you haven't seen it you should) and there is a scene where the main character asks the other main character (Inuit) what her name was, and she reaches into her parka and pulls out a medallion with her number on it.  And I was thinking to myself how horrible that was, and how it echoed a very tiny bit like the Holocaust years.  And then I realized that this type of stuff still goes on, right here in the U.S. in fact, and that it was amazing to me that something like this could seem so normal and so foreign to me at the same time.

As a Alaskan Native I have a number.  A card really.  From the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs).  It lists my name and my birthdate, my tribal name, the blood quantum percentage, and a number.  I also have another card from my tribal Corporation.  With my name and birthdate and blood quantum and number.  When I actually look at these cards I am bothered by the numbers.  Mostly I am bothered by the blood quantum number. 

You see, most people don't realize that I am only half Inupiaq.  The other half is a very exotic mix of African American and North Korean.   But that's a very long story for another topic. But what bothers me is that they list my blood percentage in the first place.  Why do they need the percentage?  In this day and age it is a normal thing to be only part Native.  When the diseases demolished our numbers we were at one point left with only 1,200 known Inupiaq, from an estimated 600,000 members.  And there are suspicious reports in  ship log books about carrying sick people and making them visit as many people in the villages as possible. But that is another long story.  What it comes down to is that one day, the government came and chopped up Alaska into sections, and they deemed anyone in that section a certain type of Native.  In our area it was Inupiaq, Athabascan, and Yupik. The registered everyone and gave them numbers and cards.  

There was no actual way to tell if you are what you say you are.  Back in the day my people were very war like.  We had the largest territory pretty much in Alaska.  It wasn't cause we were good at making treaties either.  The extremely submissive wife-sharing Eskimo you see in a lot of old films was a thing made up in Hollywood.  We warred.  Thousand were killed in the struggle to keep hunting territory lines.  Children and women were never killed, instead they were adopted into the tribe.  Especially Children, as they are very much treasured and not many survived in this type of land.  Adoption is a common practice still in my culture (though not as a result of war) , and once adopted you are seen as what you parents are, no matter where you came from. Family ties are paramount.  So as you could imagine the 'type' of native we are is blurred.  Even more so when you realize that we did not adhere to political lines, and that we share bloodlines with Russia and Canada.  It is seen as the reason that there are different dialects of the same language, it just depends on who your neighbors were.  Our people are incredibly nomadic.  A real thing of beauty if you ask me.  It was also not uncommon to adopt travelers into your family, people with no real blood ties.  In our culture we have many types of relations.  The strength of those ties do not rely on blood lines, and some of them even rely on spiritual ties.  This of course could have blurred the lines even more, as some family ties are determined by just your given name.

To make it even more complicated there is now evidence that we traded with other Nations.  Shells and trinkets from far away are found in the possessions of the ancient Inupiat, even boats and tools.  Some as far away a the Polynesian islands.  Evidence of different foreign technology is also found mingled in our history, like Chinese and Greenlandic.  I could be a mix of Polynesian -Inupiaq-Mongolian-African American-Korean.

So we mixed and melded with people and other is completely normal and expected.  But one day the government came in and froze it.  Mixing and mingling began to be closely tracked.  It's even deemed punishable. In my tribe if you are less than 1/16th Inupiaq you do not qualify as Inupiaq. This number differs from tribe to tribe and is set by the Tribal government, some tribes are even more strict than ours. It does not matter who you were adopted by or how you were raised, or wether you speak the language or wether you know ancient hunting techniques, as the government has deemed this so.  And I always wondered what exactly was the purpose of this blood quantum?

We as Native Americans get free health care and other important stuff because of the treaties.  Our subsistence hunting rights are also determined by the government.   You really should read that section at the BIA website, I must have snorted at least 10 times at the wording they chose.  But it means that they needed some way to identify Natives from the general public.  Our cards allow us some health care, and some assistance from the government.  But all the government has to know is wether or not we are Native American, why do they include the percentage? 

Some say it is a 'out' for the government on the treaties.  A contingency plan or expiration date on their responsibilities.  Because of you think about mathematically there will be a time when the Native population will not exist.  There have been some tribes deemed 'extinct' by the government already, because they have too little members with enough blood quantum.  It chills me to think that one day we will be deemed 'extinct' because we are mixing and mingling like is expected and normal.  The blood quantum restrictions could not exist for anything else, could they?  The government requires us to adhere to their own idea of what 'family' is, and this is such a culturally unique concept that it is amazing to me that it has never been challenged.  It is again another way the United States tries to make everyone conform and sever ties with differences.  The government closes their eyes to everything different, instead of celebrating it.

And this of course is nothing new.   And no I am not a government hater type.  It's just sometimes I get a little suspicious and I wonder if anything could be done about it?

1 comment:

  1. Hello, from France it seems very strange (and chocking) to imagine that official papers indicate anything about your ethnicity - we have only one kind of citizens; that doesn"t mean ther are non racists who think you can't be a proper frenchman if your not white, catholic with a french-sounding name. but for the law the colour of your skin, your religion, your origin don't exist !-- then I sure agree with you : my niece was adopted she came from india when she was 7 monthes old and for me she is 100 % french- and concerning people or many origins and culture maybe we should say they are more than 100% - I mean some of my friends have parents coming from poland, the parents spoke polish at home cooked polish dish followed polish traditions but the children never lived in poland, never spoke the language (they understood perfectly) for me the are 80 % french and 50% polish - and algerian people in the same situation would be 80 % french 80% algerian because there are many algerian people in France to feed their culture (not so true for polish poeple) - its of course more than 100% but for me having more than 1 culture makes you richer than having just one ! - and what mekes people different is much more about culture than ethnicity. so I give you a 100% !