Several weeks ago on my Blog site I had some strange communications with a person who seemed to resent my very existence. The reason for his hatred appears to be that I am a mixed-blood Lakota and he is a full blood. He is apparently a racial purist, or a pure racist. If the only reason for his rage is that I am a mixed-blood, I take some comfort knowing that I am not alone, for 90% or more of his own tribal members are also on his hate list.
His attacks were cynical and sarcastic, and some of his posts were obviously meant to be hurtful, such as his suggestion that my father was a bad white man who impregnated my Lakota mother so he could get her Indian land. He didn’t know my father at all, who died in 1937, before I was two years old. I think my dad’s motive was pure love, for there were seven daughters and six sons who were born to their union. I am the last.
It was a mean and hurtful experience, and put an Iyeska like me in a strange situation, for what could I do to assuage his anger and bitterness? I could offer to commit Seppuku, the ritual Japanese suicide in which I would disembowel myself with a sword and die slowly and painfully, to atone for the sins of my father and mother, who tainted the purity of Lakota blood by sharing their love and racial heritage in marriage. But from the tone of his posts, I knew that Seppuku would not satisfy his thirst for blood – tainted Iyeska blood. And try as I might, I could not demongrelize my body by leaching out the white blood.
So he’ll just have to live with my Iyeskaness.
I don’t mean to make light of this strange experience, for if this man’s bitterness is typical of anti-Iyeska resentment on the part of even a minority of full-blood people, it is time to be concerned. If it continues to fester, such seething hatred is dangerous to the survival and hope for the future of our tribal system and our children.
I have written before about this, in a column titled, “Iyeska: Notes from Mixed-Blood Country,” in which I tried to justify full-blood peoples’ resentment of their mixed-blood tribesmen. I tell about how we mixed-bloods have gotten the lion’s share of benefits meant for all our tribal people, including scholarships, economic assistance, housing, and job-preferences. This, it seems, is because our “white” connection gave us an advantage in understanding the system, and more confidence and aggressiveness to take advantage of it.
On the other hand, most mixed-bloods I know are not ready to concede that they are the root cause of the blood schism in Lakota tribes, and likely in tribes throughout the country. Most feel, as I do, that we are, above all else, individuals. We have needs that must be met for our survival, as people, as families, as tiospaye and communities, and as tribal nations – in that order. As individuals, we had no control over our birth or our parentage, but we do have control over the way we choose to live. And at some point we made the choice of identifying ourselves as Lakota. And that choice we made was based mostly on our parentage, but also on pride in the heritage. To be sure, some have only latently chosen their Lakota heritage in order to take advantage of economic opportunities and benefits accruing to our tribes, but I think it is mostly pride of heritage.
On the other hand, full blood and more traditional members of the tribe have often appeared to not be interested in such opportunities for advancement, feeling perhaps that it would mean one more irreversible step toward or a leap into the melting pot of assimilation. That, of course is a personal, individual decision as well.
I, for one, am very proud of my Indian blood; and I have always claimed to be Indian whenever I was asked to list my racial background. And I don’t do it for personal benefits that are meant for Indian Country. I have never taken advantage of Indian scholarships, Indian preference for federal or tribal employment, or Indian housing. My pride is of the Lakota blood that pumps through my heart.
It could well be that the full-blood/mixed blood tension is not primarily one of blood quantum, but of traditional culture versus progressive culture. It could be that the traditional community sees their world view as superior to that of the more acculturated and assimilated community on the reservation, and have chosen their lifestyle accordingly. Could it be that the full bloods and traditional people are disdainful of the mixed bloods rather than resentful of them; or both?
Ultimately, I think that the tensions are most likely a matter of “haves” versus “have-nots,” for the economic poverty on our reservations is most often among the full bloods.
Considering these factors, what can be done to ameliorate the situation and make for a better community of people? Perhaps we should, first of all, assess the situation to learn the extent of the hard feelings, then to devise a process of reconciliation or tolerance.
I have not lived on the reservation for many years, and am not attuned first hand to their problems of today. But I do have many relatives there, and go back home as often as I can – sadly, in recent years, all my trips back home have been for funerals of loved ones.
I do know that life on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and perhaps at Rosebud as well, is not the idyllic life we would like to think of as Indian country. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and gangs are pervasive, crime is rampant, and there is much fear among the people. These are problems that only Lakotas in the reservation communities can define and overcome. But it is going to take a united effort, calling on the strengths and resources of everyone, especially the spiritual strengths of elders in the traditional community.
This cannot be done if there is distrust among our people, and a schism down the line of traditional adherence or blood quantum. There is, after all, no such difference in the blood that flows from the wounds of our young people – mixed blood or full blood, who die in car accidents, in drunken fights, or gang warfare. It is all human blood, Lakota blood.
Charles Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association
in 1970, and served as executive director of the National Congress of American
Indians from 1972-78. He may be reached at email@example.com or at iktomisweb.com
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