Students at Flandreau Indian School in Flandreau, South Dakota. Photo from Facebook
Shamed for being neither white nor Indian
Devaluing the iyeska as iyeska
By James Giago Davies Most Lakota are not even Indians. They are mongrel breed Iyeska. That others might write that distinction off as hair splitting, speaks to the fundamental stumbling block most breeds face in their life—identity imposed by the circumstance at hand, Wasicu, Lakota—but never both or neither. There is no socially acceptable Iyeska identity. Flandreau Indian School doesn’t accept students, even if they are enrolled tribal members, if they are less than ¼ Indian. This means Flandreau Indian School has determined—for us—that a person of ¼ or more is Indian, and a person less than ¼, is not. At no point in that either/or equation, whether the breed was accepted or rejected as a student, was the mongrel breed reality of the iyeska honored, respected, or acknowledged. That is a destructive way to think; ignorant, small-minded, institutionalized bigotry. I am not an Indian, even though I am an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and I am not Wasicu, even though my ancestors came here from Northern Europe, and even though my dad was fully White. I am something else. I am a mixed blood, an Iyeska, and that is what I am all day every day, not just for the expedient sake of your need to define me, and for whatever reason you think is important enough to determine I must be legally or technically something else besides Iyeska, something else besides my actual self. I am not less Indian than an Indian because I have Wasicu blood, and I am not less Wasicu than a Wasicu because I have Indian blood. Just as the internal Lakota alters the way I interact with Wacisu, the internal Wasicu alters the way I interact with Lakota. There is no correct way to interact, but the Iyeska is pressured to be one or the other, and so at some point, is prompted to internalize shame for being neither, or for being critically tainted by both.
James Giago Davies
Some Iyeska are clearly Indian by appearance, and others, even though they are siblings, look completely White. This gives each Iyeska a different life experience. Even if he looks classically Lakota, he is no more Lakota by blood than his sibling who looks Wasicu, and may even be more Wasicu in terms of attitude and temperament. The reverse also holds true. But each will be treated differently based upon outward appearance, not internal identity. This is because the genetic difference between Lakota and Wasicu is slight, no matter what racist Wasicu or science ignorant Lakota elders tell people. You can breed a full-blood out in two generations. Hard science indicates that as recently as 30,000 years ago, some Indian and White people spoke the same language, were the same people. Indeed, most of the good that happens in Indian country, in tribal government, in individual or group activism, is the product of Iyeska intelligence, talent, industry, and sacrifice. And most of the bad is the product of Iyeska failings. Yet all of this is labeled “Indian,” and the overarching Iyeska reality is discounted, dismissed, and never recognized. It is something less than the pedigreed value of being Indian or White, not by proclamation, but by real life practice. For the better part of a century Iyeska have been the prime contributive factor to all things Indian, and even though tribal elders and Wasicu media, government and historians have no clue, the Iyeska also have no clue, do not see fellow Iyeska as fellow Iyeska, and seldom if ever galvanize and organize on their behalf as Iyeska. My 11 siblings had to negotiate a path through this life based on that reality, and the most impressive among us, the most gifted, and articulate and intelligent—my brother Jerry—impacted his breed Lakota world, and all the lives he touched, at a level I can only envy. He was an outstanding songwriter and artist, a singular character, with a sense of humor seldom equaled by professional comedians. Internally, he was hardwired Lakota, outwardly, he was a scruffy, ruggedly handsome breed, and if not for a single misfortunate event, how differently his life would have gone. My mother failed to get a birth certificate for him because her estranged husband never showed up and signed it as promised. We are all enrolled tribal members, but because of this, my brother was not. Without his tribal ID, he was unable to sell his art as an Indian, so what would have sold for thousands sold only for hundreds. He fiercely identified as Lakota but the world would not recognize him as such. As the years rolled by, and the frustration built into an unbearable weight, he came home to Rapid City, and in a shed less than a mile from where he was born in 1952, he closed the shed door, sat on his Harley, turned the key, and remained proud and upright, until the exhaust fumes overcame him. He was not a gentle soul when riled, he was a fierce personality that put fear into the hearts of his detractors, but he did not take others with him, he resorted to no last minute acts of brutal bitterness. How different his life would have been had his birth certificate been processed and had the world not been blind to Iyeska reality. Suicide among breed Lakota should never shock or surprise us; it is wonder it is not even worse. My brother was not a weakling or a quitter, he remained true to himself for 62 resilient years, and then in the most private of all possible moments, he decided to quietly leave behind a world incapable of honoring and respecting him for being the truly remarkable Iyeska he was, an Iyeska the likes of which we may never see again. (James Giago Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org) Copyright permission Native Sun News
Join the Conversation