Chris Bethmann: An Oneida Indian without official documentation

Chris Bethmann. Still image from Time Warner Cable News

Chris Bethmann shares his experience as a descendant of the Oneida Nation of New York without official tribal documentation:
I remember a friend saying to me once, “Chris, you’re not a real Indian. And if you are, you’re the whitest Indian I know.”

At the time, I shrugged it off, thinking to myself that he just didn’t understand the complex world of Native American identity. Hell, I didn’t even understand it myself then, and I still don’t. It’s a topic that keeps coming up again and again throughout my life in conversations with random people, with friends, and with myself. I know that I’m not alone among Native people in feeling like I have one foot in each canoe—the “red” and the “white”—but at points in my life, the feeling has been undeniable.

Ever since I can remember I have been an Indian. I was raised in a normal American suburban community outside of Rochester, New York, a city that lies in the heart of Indian country even though most people who live there don’t know it. New York State is home to the Haudenosaunee, the great People of the Longhouse who played an essential role in 18th Century diplomacy and are even said to have inspired American democracy just as much as the Greeks, Romans, and the Enlightenment thinkers—at least, that’s what my grandparents told me.

“The American Constitution is really an Indian constitution,” my grandma always used to say. “Every good idea the white man ever had, he took from us Indians,” she would say smiling.

Get the Story:
Chris Bethmann: An Undocumented, Unofficial Indian (Indian Country Today 9/6)

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