Sacheen Littlefeather controversy: who call themselves aborigines?

On Saturday, a bombshell report from the opinion pages of the San Francisco Chronicle sent #NativeTwitter into frenzy. The report, written by Jacqueline Keeler (Deneh/Yankton Dakota Sioux), claimed that the White Mountain Apache/Yaqui revered activist Sacheen Littlefeather falsification of her identity According to the Littlefeather’s sisters, she was not actually aboriginal.

This comes four months after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Send Littlefeather an apology For her mistreatment at the 1973 Academy Awards, when she interfered with Marlon Brando’s film and declined the award due to Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans.

It comes only weeks later Little Feather’s death.

For controversial journalist Keeler, who has been accused several times of conducting an unethical and racist “witch hunt” to “get out the protesters,” the timing seemed awkward at best and arcane at worst.

Not only that, but Keeler’s article stirred up a lot of complex feelings for the natives, myself included. As a registered tribal citizen (Muscogee/Cherokee) routinely told that I “do not look Native”, despite having a near-complete mother, I am deeply disappointed when I read any story about the so-called “Protesters” – the non-Native people who claim Wrongly they belong to a tribe.

The so-called protestors do a great deal of damage – taking situations away and claiming space from the actual indigenous people who spoke or replaced their voices.

But with Littlefeather, it’s more complicated than many people – especially non-Natives – think.

Thank you, colonialists.

First, we are the only race that has a physical card that tells you how much original blood you have. (You might be curious about my blood quantity, but other Aboriginals, some in my family, might scold me for sharing this information.)

They were saying, “It’s none of anyone’s business.” This is true.

“You’re just playing into the colonial mentality.” true again. After all, wouldn’t I just invite non-native people to express their opinion?

“The amount of blood is bullshit.” I agree. Why do the tribes want to empty their population by limiting the qualification as a tribal citizen?

The original identity must be simple. Either you or not, right? And for some people, it is.

But even as someone with so called ‘proof’ (tribal identity cards, Indian blood degree certificate), it wasn’t easy for me. Yes, I grew up in Oklahoma, where my tribes are based, but I lived in cities – not in small Reese’s “protected dogs” style. I only know a few words of my tribal languages, and I’m not what you would call “Tradish”.

“Am I citizen enough?” It is a question that has haunted me for most of my life—or at least my life after I told my mother as a child, to the horror of my parents, that I didn’t want to be an Indian. I just wanted to fit in.

As a journalist who has interviewed many Indigenous people, I have noticed that this question gets asked a lot. This just goes to show the effects of people who are constantly fighting to not be wiped out.

So what about Littlefeather?

First, I don’t suppose I know about her tribal connections. What I do know is that she was a powerful voice in the Aboriginal community and that she created space for other Aboriginal people to feel empowered in their origin.

Also, since citizenship requirements vary from tribe to tribe, this contact is to invite their tribes – not anyone else’s.

But not only that, what many people don’t understand about indigenous existence is that some indigenous people are not registered. Some indigenous people reconnect with their tribes. Some indigenous people do not have enough “Indian blood” for registration due to the minimal amount of blood. Some indigenous peoples have nearly had their tribes wiped out to the point that records of organized citizenship simply do not exist.

It is chaos, this original life. And for a reporter stalking a deceased woman just honored for her contributions to the existence of Native Americans, who claimed that the Yaqui Nation — a tribe that fought extinction, partly by moving from its origins in Mexico to Arizona — has ignited an understandable community that feels constantly threatened by erasure and genocide.

And being targeted by someone is especially annoying.

While the protestors are real threats to the indigenous population, sucking up oxygen from the authentic indigenous sounds, the sinister practice of trying to ruin reputations after death also doesn’t sound right. Especially when the writer was called due to misreporting in the past.

The indigenous community has a lot to be proud of. After all, we’re still here – a feeling for which I am humbled and grateful, given that my ancestors literally walked the tearful path to get to Oklahoma.

We also have a lot of other issues that need to be investigated – land and water rights, missing and murdered inhabitants and tribal sovereignty, for a start.

But even knowing my family history, I still feel insecure about how original I am. Do I know enough about my tribe? Is my hair dark or straight enough? Are my eyes brown enough? Is my skin the right color? It’s ridiculous, I know, because natives come in every shade.

With my own questions always haunting me, though, the last thing I want to worry about is that I’m not local enough for someone else.

Laura Clark (Muscogee/Cherokee) is the deputy editor of In The Know by Yahoo and global co-leader of the Yahoo Native American employee resource group.

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