Saturday, September 3, 2011

Are you Indian enough? The Hierarchy of Indigenous people.

You ever hear the terms, redbone, apple, nosebleed, wannabe, Mooneyash, wemittigozhi,waabishkizi, baakwaayish, and wiisaakodewinini? Probably not. If you are an Indian you may not appreciate other Natives saying those things to you. There is a real battle going on in Indian country and it is the battle of identity.
We are battling among ourselves as to who is an Indian. Can't really blame us for being in that predicament. The governments of both countries, the United States and Canada, tried to eliminate the Indian. They attempted to get rid of the Indian by many different means; genocide, persecution, prosecution, sterilization, and assimilation. Governmental Policy has always been a tool to get rid of the Indian. The latest policies have Indian being killed off by categories.

In the United States Natives or American-Indians are being "de-rolled" or denied enrollment into Bands/Tribes. There is a Blood Quantum policy used by the Government and the Tribes to determine who is Indian enough to be considered Indian. Status cards are issued to Indian who make the cut.

In Canada the Indian is defined by the policies of the government. Legislation (laws) have been enacted by the Federal Government that decides who is Indian enough to be called an Indian. The Bands/Tribes really have no say in who is an Indian in their community. The outside government makes that decision with the notion of "Status".

The Old Status cards did not come with an expire date and you could get the card at your local Band office. That is not the case anymore. The new status cards are being issued. It will be like making an application for a passport. I am not sure but I guess the government does not trust the local Bands in handing out Status Cards. It's funny when I was a kid we didn't call ourselves "status Indians", we were called Treaty Indians. I guess the Treaty thing is more permanent wording and status is better for government as it is a policy thing. Get it? Just changing a word can change the whole dynamics of a mind-set. We no longer refer to the Treaty, where we maintain many of Rights are entrenched, but rather we refer to Status, which is a policy that can be changed at the will of the government. And we just accept that. The Government has changed who is an Indian through their Indian Act. In this act there are categories of degree of Indians; 6-1, 6-1(a), 6-2. In this category system it will be a few generations where no one will be Status. It will not matter that your family was signatory to the Treaties. There is no Treaty Indian anymore. Treaties will be empty because under the policies of government no one is Indian anymore. Ingenuous and diabolical. The only way for the Status Indian to survive is to marry another Status. With the world shrinking that is difficult. Unless Indians go into a breeding program. Just kidding.

But where the heck was I going when I got side tracked with the status thing, Oh yeah, the Hierarchy of Indians, who is more Indian.

Indians are fighting among themselves (regardless of the government policies) about who is nose bleed, and who is Indian. Indian people want to be in the FBI category; Full Blood Indian, ah-ho! (Oops getting a little carried away there)

Well not everyone is FBI. Does that make them less Indian? I guess it does. Wait wait, let me explain. There are those that say well I am Indian in my heart. That's good, I guess. But really what makes us Indian? The DNA of our Ancestors? The language, the songs, the Teachings, the lifestyle, our financial situation, the environment? Good question. I am not sure but this what I see, but don't necessarily understand fully. There is a hierarchy of Indian-ness. At the bottom of the pyramid or in this case the bottom teepee (instead of pyramid, get it? Both are Triangles or maybe I should just have said ladder, that way it would be easier to envision) is the wannabe.

AT the bottom of the hierarchy, the wannabee has no Indian blood or connection but has been drawn to the image of the Indian and desperately wants to be Indian. This person will wear their hair long in some cases. They will go to Sweats. In some extreme cases will move to a Reserve and marry an Indian. Ah - HO! Now that is commitment right there for sure. If you really want to examine the Wannabe, there are several layers of Wannabe. There is the bottom of the ladder Wannabe; the classic German and the Karl May and the old Shatterhand (cool name by the way) image. There is other types of Wannabes, like the Academic. A cool professor, wears his hair long, or she wears the scarfs and long skirts, goes to all the Indian Gatherings and sits in Talking Circles. I kind of like those Wannabes, they work hard at Ceremonies. There are other Wannabes that are higher up on the ladder and these are the "other ethnics" who claim Indian heritage. You know the like the Hondurans or the Uruguayan people (Which is kind of crazy because they were/are Indigenous people of their own right). There is a really weird Wannabe, those are the ones that learn to speak the language of the Indian and become fluent. These guys can be higher than even the dark skinned ethnic wannabe. These are amazing people.  There are people that are not at the bottom of the ladder like Chantal Kreviazuk. She is famous and has been found out to be Metis. Too bad for her as she is now being called down by the Storm Front (I won't put a link to these people). Just because her blood is tainted by Indian.

At the top of the Hierarchy is the Full Blood Indian (also known as the flat broke Indian). These are the people that have not gone to Residential school. Speak their language first. Have a Traditional link to the Land. Still know the Traditional Teachings of their people. Have not been indoctrinated by Christianity. Are not educated in a western school. However, these are very few, so we can forgive the schooling category in their otherwise Ideal Indian-ness. At the top with FBI are FBI's from Isolated Reserves/Reservations. People that live with the Land and have many connections to family ties, cultural activities, BUT, are Christianized Indians. Many communities are in this category. They have the Land and language along with a bit of sustenance lifestyle, but are worshipers of Jehovah (and other saints and angels.)

Just below that is the Indian that is full blood and cannot speak fluently but can understand the language and knows enough to follow a conversation and respond to a fluent speaker in English. He or she has not been indoctrinated in Christianity. The numbers of these people is still significant but threatened. As the Golden-Agers and Baby-Boomers start to die off, the FBI will become less common.

Next on the ladder is the mixed Blood Indian that is fluent, has not been indoctrinated by Christianity, still maintains links to the Land and knows the Teachings of their people. This is a controversial ranking as the mixed blood with the stronger language skills could be higher on the ladder than the full blood who can't speak. It is a toss up between the two types of Indians. In many cases the mixed blood, who still looks Indian will be higher on the ladder of the Full Blood who can't speak his/her language.

As you move down the ladder the battle for who is higher on the tipi continues. You have Full Bloods that have been adopted out and raised in White families. They by chance of who and how they were raised, are not very high on the ladder. They are very close to the bottom of the ladder as well. Environment ways heavy against them in this case. It is the case of the real Indian looking dude that knows absolutely nothing about his/her heritage except for the movies, Dances with Wolves and Hondo. They look good but are sadly lost in the world. This leads to another type of Indian low on the tipi scale (hierarchy of Indian-ness); the Born-Again.

Born-Agains want to be on top with the FBI's, but can't understand that even some mixed Bloods are higher Indians than them. The BA's boss other Indians around, tell them what a ceremony is really suppose to be. They tell you how many Pipes they now have. How many names they have been given, how many times they dragged skulls, how many Grandfathers (rocks) they have had in a Sweatlodge. They even become Elders in their thirties. Born Agains are tolerated by other Indians. Quite frankly, they scare the shit out of people (Indians). They try really hard to speak Indian with really heavy White accents. These Indians are the ones who give Whites a really really hard time. They are not on the bottom of the ladder but can be at different levels. Some Born-Agains are high on the ladder if they look Indian and have gone to the Rez sometimes throughout their childhood. Others that look white and have been to the Rez more times than the darker Indians will struggle as to their spot on the ladder/hierarchy. There are many Born Agains, some sit in the middle of pack but some are pretty high up on the ladder. Because they have all the elements of the Full Bloods and the Traditionalists, but were originally ignorant of their own Indian-ness. But they re-evaluated their essence and have climbed up the ladder.

We touched a little bit on environment and that is where the battle really heats up again for Indian-ness. There are the born, raised and went to school in the REZ Indian? By nature of where they were raised sit pretty higher middle and some are even close to the top of the ladder (depends on their language skills, their up-bringing and education). The born on the Rez Indian will sit at different levels of the ladder by nature of their blood. More Indian blood, higher on the ladder. However, this could be off-set by their Teachings. Heavy Christianity knocks some of the Indian-ness off of the Indian. So a lighter Indian by way they were raised could sit higher on the Indian-ness scale (you know just like Moh's rock hardness scale). So the Born on the Rez fair skinned Indian may have higher standing than a browner skinned Indian that has no bush ties, like a cement stomping Indian (city born and bred). Even good old cash plays a part in your Indian-ness scale. The poorer you are the more Indian (in some cases) you are. You may not be as Indian if you were raised in a rich neighbourhood. It's true. You have cash and you don't have the community links that are part of being Indian. You become a "drive-by" Indian. Drive by the Reserve or drive by the hood.

There is the born in the hood (inner-city and other really poor areas of the city) Indian. These are the crazy ones. Strong voices and wanting to be high on the ladder. The Rez Indians resent these Indians and they have the most fierce battles on Indian-ness. Much of the Born in the Hood Indians have stronger Indian accents than Rez Indians. Many of these Indians sit a little higher on the ladder because of their social and economic backgrounds. Many of them have never set foot in a bush or a canoe, but will maintain that they are "keepers of the Earth". It is frightening to put them low on the ladder. Their fierce grip of an Identity (however distorted) makes them middle of the pack on the Indian-ness scale.

The lines are pretty muddled in the middle rungs of the Indian-ness ladder. But someone will put a chart out there to show who sits were on the hierarchy of Indian-ness. Interesting to note, some of the Indian-ness scale is influenced by hardship faced by the Indian. Also the Residential school attendance is fashionable right now, and increases the Indian-ness factor.

Sorry if I didn't get to all categories but this is just an Introductory Indian-ness and you will have to sign up for the advanced tutorial on Indian-ness. If I think of it, I may come back to clarify the ladder rungs a bit more, or the Moh's Indian scale or Maslow's hierarchy of Indian-ness scale.Until then keep up with your reading on Indians.

I apologize for not looking at the Apple Indian. Now that is a branch of another tree.

Later Indians.


  1. Where does someone fall who has mixed Indian blood? Meaning, 2 (or more) different tribes? Is that frowned upon? Just curious. :)


  2. I would think it is a good thing. :)

  3. The identity issue can be really complex and a serious concern for all Aboriginal people. Although I put some fun into the post, it does not mean I am not aware of how complex it is. The government has done a masterful job trying to "get rid of the Indian". Thankfully that has not happened. The Spirit of the People is really really strong. However, there are some residual effects of the all the attacks (legislative, physical, cultural, spiritual) on the People. That is where we are at now, Just dealing with the aftermath of the assault on our Psyche, our Being, our Essence. Don't despair we will overcome.

  4. Interesting analysis. I know them all. I have seen it, but this helps me to understand it. I'm wondering where I fall in. I am not Indian. I am not a "Wannabee". But I do believe it a shame that the Indigenous culture of this land is not dominant. I believe it is sad that all immigrants to Turtle Island did not take on the culture of the "land", as the French did during the Voyageur days. Would we not have two much better countries? Perhaps there is a new kind of "Indian", the "Seven Fires Prophesy" Indian. Or maybe a "Citizen" Indian. If Indian Nations were to grant citizenship to those such as I, in time you might have your land back. Give me a culture/history/citizenship test and I'll end up somewhere in that teepee. Weweni.

  5. Generations from now, as races become even more mixed and interrelated, people will look at this discussion as irrelevant. I come from both Irish and English heritage and have no problem celebrating both, as part of me. Am I more Irish because I know their history/culture better than someone else? NO. Throughout history minorities have been discriminated, looked down upon and even eliminated, whether for race, creed, color or religion. Have pride in your multicultural heritage, embrace it and move on.

  6. Michael your are one of those people that likes others. Not trying to be Indian. There are lot of people out there that Like others. I like others as well, but I know where I stand.

    Anonymous, I don't believe that will ever happen. Where are known as multicultural. Humans have been around for a long time now, and the classifications are still here. Sure people now embrace other classifications, such as Canadian, American, Mexican, European, but there is always the heritage.

  7. Steve this is a great post ! I encountered this so much throughout my life in school kids teased that you were somehow less than if you had aboriginal heritage one learned to pretend you weren't if you could get away with it .
    Then at places like the friendship center aboriginal church I also enocuntered the your not Indian enough syndrome .
    what upset me most was the adults doing it , I guess I've more tolerence for children as they tend to just repeat what they've observed at home etc.
    at church one lady absolutly shunned me because I was not native enough , I guess because I mostly talk about my middle eastren / german side she assumed I was not aboriginal but that wasn't the case it is just that for whatever rason my family side which does have aboriginal heritage is the most dysfunctional & abusive and I've been estranged from them for so long .I feel blessed that my none aboriginal side is where I learned most of aboriginal heritage and my mum would take me to powwow and read literature as well all the aborignal crafts & medicines were passed down via that side who learned from native elders who still taught traditional ways of gathering , crafts and boat & canoe building .
    I don't think assimilation or segregation are gone at all just in new form . I debate to get my metis card now . I felt badly for other cultures who come to our church and expereinced the hate just because they were not indian enough etc. it is strange how often those who have expereinced full on dicrimination becopme the discriminator themselves and keep the cycle going .

  8. I consider myself an Anishinaabekwe of mixed heritage who strongly identifies with my Ojibway/Anishinaabe roots. I am here on the other side of the border in the colonized USA. I am not an enrolled member of my tribe because I am between blood quantum levels, I am very close to a 1/4, just under. If I were to go with another band of Ojibway then I could probably be enrolled. Another tidbit is we actually think we are more than what the records say. Many of the ancestors lied about their Native ancestry to pass and survive in the world. Regardless of all the politics, identity conundrum, etc, when I visit my family and relatives on the rez I am accepted and welcomed. There is no problem there. Additionally, my last name is a big name in the territories where the rez is located. Also my last name is a part of the origin story of the Ojibway people. Here is the link to the article -- Madeline Island (Moningwanakauning), Homeland of the Ojibwe, Michel Cadotte --

    Also in the territories where the rez is located there is just a lot of ties to our last name through treaties that were signed, etc. Many of my family and relatives work for the tribe. My great uncle started a health center that is on the rez.

    Once I was on a walk/protest and I was talking with an elder. Our conversation about the land, traditions, family and language was great. I told him I was also other things, French, Scandinavian. Because of the fact that I live traditionally, etc, he thought I was a full blood or close to it! It was a good validation to me about my spirit, heart, and the way I choose to live.

    Blood quantum is a touchy issue. I feel like people want to dissect me when I tell them I am Native. You have not right to dissect me. For too long Native people and our ancestors had to hide who they were, I am not hiding! :)

  9. I agree with some points, eventually the government may wish to do DNA as a prerequisite to being identified First Nation.Recognition as a First Nation shud be the the National Assembly with its own policies, protocols etc as opposed to the government....First Nations should stop using the INAC status card as a method confirming our identity...if the band confirms our community/band connection....why do we need any INAC status card? We are either accepted by First Nations or not accepted...end of story.

  10. I was thinking about this today, and I agree with you. Indians should just stop accepting the status cards and the identity that government is putting on us. We know our relatives and we know our people. That is the way it should be. If we can just convince our own people/leaders of this than maybe...

  11. Seriously do that - just stop "accepting the status cards" and start paying taxes like the rest of the world does. You buy whatever you want and plea "I'm, status & I don't have to pay taxes - see my card". Yet, you want to use our hospitals, paved roads, & all other things our governments provide for tax paying citizens. If your indian - live like indians - if your "not" and want all the benefits of being "non native" then pay taxes like non natives and enjoy them. Why do you think you get it both ways??

  12. Thank you. Your hospitals, your roads, and all the Tax payer items you suggest could not be possible without the Treaties signed in good faith with Indians. If the government did in fact honour the Treaties, you would not have access to the resources that Canada enjoys. It is simple as that. So having it both ways is something that Canadians have been enjoying for such a long time.

  13. I just found out My great grandmother was !00% Ojibwa..Is there any way I can prove it?

  14. Find out where her community is and you will be able to find relatives, that is your best bet. Take care.

  15. It is really sad that we are battling ourselves about who is Indian. It is sad that we face racism, oppression and hate within our own race.

    To see you state that it's "fashionable" to be a residential school survivor is disheartening. The heinous acts that have been committed against these people has systemically affected every one of us on some level.

    We have record high numbers in Canada of suicides, inmates in detention centers, and record high numbers of children in care of the ministry, and do you know why? Is this fashionable too?

    Yes, when colonialism set in and my grandmother was dragged off to residential school, my identity was stolen, and I wasn't even born yet.

    That Wannabe from Germany who happens to have love and respect for the Indian is worthy of being Indian in my books...

  16. Hi I was born and bought up in India. Am I aboriginal?

  17. im an ojibwa man the creator chooses who we are you had no choice in the matter red black yellow or white we are all the same to the creator. this shows me how far away we have fell from our traditions thats sad. real indians dont see colour they see the truth miigwetch

  18. ojibwa man.the lands no one can own there is no word in native that means this . the water the sky even the air we breath and our very lives belong to the creator we will all give acount when we pass into the spirit world he is the creator of life we are all one race the human race.true wisdom is found sitting at the feet of our elders and listening to their storys we are all one people to the creator to think other than this is disrespecting his creation miigwetch----carson

  19. Not that I entirely disagree but didn't the FBI sanction raids on Native tribes in the 1900s?