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Saturday, February 23, 2013

What makes me Inupiaq?

What makes me Inupiaq?

I think about this question a lot.  It is a key player in my inner battles of self doubt and identity.  A weak brick in the foundations of Me.

According to the BIA it is the presence of a card.  My Indian card.  Here in the U.S. you inherit your ethnicity.  But I often squint at this system with suspicion and anti-trust.  Though it affords me certain things and minimal health care it also comes with miles and miles of strings attached.   Lists of rules and tittering stacks of paper and red tape.  They judge you solely by your blood quantum.  'Blood Quantum' sounds like the title of some sci-fi book.  Some sort of vampire sci-fi book, where the lead character lives off of blood and travels through time.  Or something.  The system is built to eventually relieve the U.S. of their duties to our ancestors.  The U.S. is a melting pot of races, where people blend themselves and blend themselves.  According to the U.S. if you dilute yourself too much you become...nothing.  I am, for instance, only 1/2 Inupiaq by blood bequeathed to me by my mother who was full blooded.  I am a portal to diluting the blood even further.  But after the diseases ravaged the Peoples numbers we began mixing with other races, and as the doors opened to people from around the world, it became easy and not even weird to strengthen the numbers and avoid pairing with relatives.  The government came one day and wrote down the names of the survivors and began tracking them.  But they did not understand the Inupiaq mind.  That we see race as being fluid and untied to blood.  Some of our ancestors were probably not technically Inupiaq, through war and adoption...even adoption through war....Polynesian trading, Russian encounters, you could not bet for sure that an Inupiaq was 100% Inupiaq at the time.  But they took this fluid beautiful system and tried to freeze it in time, damning anyone that would stray to far.  Eventually when we become too diluted or our numbers fall they will delete our race entirely, which they have already done to several other Native nations.

But is being Inupiaq just blood quantum?

I know several Inupiaq people who were adopted out and have found their way back to us. Who grew up without experiencing the culture.  And they all speak of a feeling of separateness from the Mother population.  A feeling of not quite belonging.  A feeling of Lacking.  When I moved to California I experienced the same thing.  That I was something else.  That I was lost and not quite was I was supposed to be.  When I went home to visit I felt like my Inupiaq kin could see this plain as day on my soul.  And in a way I feel like moving back and being Inupiaq meant more than having just the blood quantum.  But eventually I realized that this view was ever only created by me, this self flagellation.

Are there different levels of being Inupiaq?

Is there a ethereal ruler somewhere that we keep and polish to determine how Inupiaq ones soul is?  If you know how to speak the language fluently does that make you more Inupiaq than you were before?  If you know how to sew caribou skin mukluks does that make you more Inupiaq than others?  Does living in a village and not being nomadic like our ancestors make us automatically less Inupiaq? Why did people accept me more as an Inupiaq than they did my pale skin brother even though we have the same blood quantum? If you do not live on traditional Inupiaq land does this make you less Inupiaq?

Sometimes I think that we as a People have unconsciously created a system to determine if one is Inupiaq or not.  And we use this imaginary system like a cane to hurt ourselves or others.  Sometimes I wonder why we never actually sit down and talk about how this imaginary weapon is hurting our communities and our far away cousins.  Why do we not want to talk about it all?  Why are we afraid to do what the government had no problems doing for us?

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we celebrated our younger generation like we celebrate our elders.  Some days it feels like the only real Inupiaqs ended with our last elders, that you cannot be a real Inupiaq anymore no matter what you learn or do or accomplish. That anyone after a certain generation...or if you own a ipod and snowmachine...cannot truly be a real Inupiaq.  That real Inupiaqs were defined only by suffering and pain.  And it makes me sad to think it.  And sadder that others feel it and not recognize what it could be, this burden on our Inupiaq souls.

And I know just even thinking that last paragraph will make people angry at me.  Will call down harsh words, and even harsher opinions.  That people might think that I would object to giving any Elder their due.  That it might mean that I do not respect our or not.  But it doesn't.  Because I believe that you do not have a limited amount of respect to give. That it should only be one or the other.   I believe you can still respect the elders and the new generation for their accomplishments and it will not take away from one or the other.  It is just like Love really, that you can love many people...that there is no limit on love.  I also believe that by telling the younger generation how they are not Inupiaq does such deep and painful harm that it might never be able to be repaired.  And that this pain will echo through generations.  This is a daily occurance that I have witnessed, this Inupiaq on Inupiaq anti-sentiment. 

But I hope that at the very least people will think about it.  Let these questions enter their minds and dwell.  Make a few people examine how they define themselves, how they define others.  And how those rules became as natural as breathing...