Opinion | Federal Recognition

Opinion: Being second-class undocumented Native American

"I am among those who identify as part Native but am not officially enrolled in a federally recognized tribe. I identified as Native during the time period when there was no official category for people of mixed race or “more than one”, which is the category I began claiming as soon as it became available. In the U.S., mixed is an official census category but it is not a recognized tribal identity as it is in Canada. In Canada the tribe of the Metis, meaning people of mixed white and Native ancestry, is recognized by Canada’s government.

For those like me who are old enough to remember being forced to choose between one’s parents, the mixed category came as a great relief. Some ethnicities fought against the mixed category or against being able to claim more than one ethnic or racial category on the census and other official documents, because they feared that would result in being counted as a smaller percentage of the population, and thus less important.

However, Native American tribes in general have historically struggled to exclude as many people as possible because the federal government grants money and privileges to each tribe as a whole and more tribal members would mean less of the pie for each member. Thus, U.S. government policy towards tribes, ostensibly meant to preserve tribal sovereignty, has resulted in tribes naturally tending to become more exclusive over time, even to the point that recenlty the Western Band of the Cherokee kicked out a group of previous members because their ancestors had been slaves."

Get the Story:
Erin Lale: Second Class Native Americans (The Las Vegas Guardian Express 8/20)

Join the Conversation