Jay Tavare: Divide and conquer -- disenrollment among tribes

"I have witnessed much bickering and criticism, even within the smaller racial demographics. Just look at how a black person's skin tone puts them in a different category among African Americans, as in "high yellow," a derogatory word meaning "light skin." In Japan, "kusekke" is a word used to describe people who have kinky or frizzy hair. In Mexico, "güeros" or "blancos" are words used for light skinned Mexicans of European decent.

Even in the Indian nations, I have seen how Indians living on the reservation look at Indians living an urban life, as outsiders. If you are raised in a white society you are called an "apple" -- red on the outside but white inside. A few even think being a real Indian is based on the percentage of Indian "blood" in your ancestral line, as if somehow your blood quantum makes you more or less Indian. And what is being a real Indian anyway ? My Elders say it's a way of life; it's the Red Road you walk that defines you, not the way you look or the blood that runs through you. This last issue has become a sensitive one, considering how many mixed Indian people live in United States, and not necessarily on the reservations.

The Seminole Indians were one of the first nations to give shelter to black slaves, hiding them within the tribe. So there their have been black Seminole Indians for a long time. But in 2004 some tribal members who were descendants of those slaves (the Freedmen) were shocked to discover they would not receive any share of a monetary settlement received on behalf of all the tribe members, in resolution of a legal dispute.

The Cherokee Nation, who were one of the first tribes to mix with other races (having blue eyed Cherokee people among them as early as the 1800's) decided, in 2006, to dis-enroll Freedmen from their tribe. Many tribe members found this especially odd, since the Cherokee have historically encouraged marrying outside of their tribe, and incorporating the new spouse's culture into their own. The 2006 decision was overruled in January of 2011 and the Freedmen are once again included in the Cherokee Nation."

Get the Story:
Jay Tavare: Divide and Conquer (The Huffington Post 8/24)

Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Decision:
Cherokee Nation Registrar v. Nash (August 22, 2011)

Related Stories:
Cherokee Freedmen lose right to vote in upcoming chief election (8/24)
Decision allows Cherokee Nation to remove Freedmen from rolls (8/23)

Join the Conversation