Sunday, November 19, 2017

Race and Racial Groups

Paint Chip Indians

 M. Alexander Pearl

  M. Alexander Pearl, Paint Chip Indians,  9  Unbound: Harvard Journal of the Legal Left (2015) (47 Footnotes Omitted)

MAlexanderPearlGreetings, non-Indian people!  Once again,  us tribal people (or "Native Americans" as our politically progressive white defenders demand we be called) must clear the air about the representations of Indians in popular media and mainstream culture. We must confront an age-old nemesis for the umpteenth time. Colonialism? Broken treaty promises? Diabetes? Undercooked frybread? No, worse: the continuing *63 degradation of our finely honed image. You may be familiar with my earlier commentary regarding the attack upon the image of the Authentic Indian.  As described previously, the work of the Unified Indian Image Steering Committee (UIISC) is never done. The entire purpose of the UIISC is to safeguard the image of the Authentic Indian and the stereotypical associations that white folks maintain about us tribal people. 

This time, however, our image is not undermined by that disgrace of a football team, the Washington Redskins.  Instead, we have to continue the uncomfortable conversation about race in America--but from a tribal peoples' perspective. The UIISC's work is never done. Monitoring these types of issues is a 24/7 job. Look, everyone gets all upset and uncomfortable whenever we have to talk about race in America. But the UIISC has already solved this problem for us tribal people through our use of something called the "Paint Chip Indian Principle."

In a nutshell, if a person is to be considered an Authentic Indian, they must be brownish--and certainly cannot be white. We have a spectrum of acceptable shades of brown, including but not limited to Pecan Sandie, Burnt Butterscotch, Matted Bison Tail, and Skinny Half Caf Frappuccino.  But, before us tribal people go on any further here, let me ask that everyone turn off their cell phone cameras--us tribal people cannot risk any leaked footage of what we say or the songs we sing when we get together. 

On to the task at hand. A new show, co-written by Superwoman herself, Tina Fey, includes some Indian characters. The show is on Netflix  and is called ""The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." Kimmy Schmidt is a delightfully uneducated white woman who was involved in a cult and held in an underground bunker for fifteen years. Upon her release, she moves to Manhattan to make a life for herself among the natives of New York City.  Eventually, she stumbles into a job as a nanny for a wealthy Manhattan socialite, Jacqueline Voorhees, played by Jane Krakowski. In episode three, we learn that Jacqueline is a Lakota Indian.  Now, no one has ever mistaken Ms. Krakowski for an Indian--few people are blonder or whiter. Plus, "Krakowski" does not exactly scream Navajo.

*64 Let me pause and remind everyone about how these Hollywood decisions are made. When a show wishes to include an Indian character, the television/film industry is supposed to consult with our liaison organization-- the UIISC. Remember that movie, "The Unforgiven"? The one with Audrey Hepburn wearing "war paint" and a little chicken feather in her hair? That was our call. The UIISC recommended the incomparable British and Dutch national treasure, Audrey Hepburn, to play an Indian child adopted by white settlers in Texas. Frankly, us tribal people needed to get on the map.  Images of us tribal people in popular culture were sparse--we needed to make a splash. Also, we felt she qualified as an Authentic Indian since she was a descendant of the Pocahontas.  First thing we had to do was put a combination of paint on her (Paint Chip: Warm Cherry Brownie and Paint Chip: Koala Bear Fuzz). Voila! Instant Indian. Thus was born redface. This had the effect of allowing famous white folks to play Indians in major films, thereby enhancing box office draw. It sounds bad, perhaps, but these palefaces simply portrayed us tribal people as we really are--bloodthirsty, vengeful savages with a penchant for starring off into the distance and communing with the spirit world. 

Ms. Hepburn's casting and redface usage further entrenched images and stereotypes of us tribal people in the minds of Americans. This is the core mission of the UIISC. The members of the Committee take this responsibility very seriously. All of the UIISC decisions must be in accordance with the Policies and Recommendations on Being an Authentic Indian. We have to ensure that the images, character, and actions reflect the traits that make us what we are today: mysterious, fierce, and completely incapable of changing with the times.  Fast forward to recent times, when the request from Ms. Tina Fey landed in our teepee,  we knew this would be big and we had to get it right. There was some discussion on whether to select a Native actor or not.  So, since there were three roles for Indians, we split it. 

*65 We recommended the incomparable Gil Birmingham (Paint Chip: Nutella Butter Croissant) and Sheri Foster (Paint Chip: Brown Bear Paw) to play Jacqueline's parents, and the show agreed. Sheri Foster is wonderful in the show, while Gil Birmingham has long demonstrated incredible range as an actor. He has played a member of a fake Indian tribe on House of Cards, a member of the Quileute tribe in Twilight, an animated crow,  and now a Lakota.  As for Ms. Voorhees's character, this is where our long and difficult history with Hollywood reared its ugly head.

We did not recommend Jane Krakowski for this role. Instead, our list included Salma Hayek (Cage Free Egg Shell), Sofia Vergara (Salted Cashew), Jennifer Lopez (Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough), Penelope Cruz (Malted Sunshine), and Eva Longoria (Coffee Froth). All of them have all the qualities of an Indian woman: gorgeous and brownish-skinned. Listen, Ms. Krakowski is great. But, the simple fact is that everyone knows Indians are brown with black hair. That's it! No deviation allowed. Ms. Krakowski simply cannot be believed to be one of us tribal people, what with her Blanched Almond Rouge skin.

Now, given the prominence of us tribal people using Dreamcatcher.com  we have some inter-tribal marriage. In other words, the shade of brown can vary within reason. Therefore, our UIISC had to come up with a spectrum of "browns" that were sufficient for Authentic Indian status. This furthers the mission of the UIISC--to *66 preserve our image and stereotypical associations. Skin color is certainly important.  This came to be known as the "Paint Chip Indian Principle" and some explanation of its origin warrants attention.

Early one morning in the Spring of 1958, the UIISC adopted a new section of the Policies and Recommendations on Being an Authentic Indian entitled the "Paint Chip Indian Principle." That afternoon, Jeanie Smith and Gregory Andreas went to the local paint store and picked up a color wheel. This was our measuring stick. The rest is history. Our Authentic Indian spectrum begins on the dark end at Mocha Delight and ends on the lightest color eligible, Sandy Winds. For purposes of comparison, Ms. Krakowski is, as previously mentioned, Blanched Almond Rouge. While there are hundreds of brownish shades within the spectrum, Ms. Krakowski falls well outside acceptable hues.

The story of the first internal application of the Paint Chip Indian Principle is a good one. The UIISC convened for the start of a long working session to get through applicants for Authentic Indian status. First, in comes Howard Vizenor. His mother is from Acoma  and his father is from Muncie, Indiana.  Jeanie held the paint chips right up right next to Gerald's cheek moving them one by one until she found a match. "Hedgehog Prickles!" she shouted. Most of the committee was super confused until they realized that Hedgehog Prickles was the name of the paint chip matching Gerald's skin color. Throughout the rest of the day, the UIISC processed hundreds of applicants, denying some and approving others for Authentic Indian status, based on their position on the color wheel.

Why the obsession with skin color? America is post-racial now anyway, right? Well, as true as that statement is, a primary concern for us tribal people is image confusion. Here's a quick thought experiment. Think of an Indian. What do you see? Us tribal people are all poor (or unfairly stinking rich from all that casino loot), we live on a dilapidated rez, look like the side of the Washington Redskins' helmet, talk in that staccato, broken, Dances-with-Wolves-English, and play basketball.  I hate to reference myself,  but this is about maintaining a consistent level of "Indian flair."  Without it, we have much greater difficulty being identified by non-Indians and our long-held associations wither away. Take Ms. Krakowski, for example. Viewers simply will not believe that someone as white as Ms. Krakowski is an Indian. If white people are viewed as having traditional Indian characteristics (able to track animals through the forest from birth  and get free government money),  then who are we as a people? We *67 lose those associations and we lose ourselves. So, of course, a major component of our Indian flair, and a threshold trait for Authentic Indian status, is skin color. It anchors us to our identity.

Another important point here is that racial identification should not be mixed up with citizenship. Just look at the recent United States Supreme Court case involving an alleged Indian child.  In Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl,  the Court considered whether the Indian Child Welfare Act precluded the adoption of Baby Girl  by a non-Indian family.  Justice Alito began the opinion by framing the dispute in this way, "[t]his case is about a little girl ... who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee."  1.2%?! Seriously? No paint chip necessary. With that amount of Indian blood there is no way she's darker than Slightly Toasted Marshmallow. Her biological father wanted to retain custody of her. The Cherokee Nation, of course, also wanted the child to be raised within the tribal culture.  The adoptive parents are lovely white people from South Carolina who did not wish to interact with the child's family, relatives, or tribal community. Fine by us--the Paint Chip Indian principle excludes her from being an Authentic Indian anyway.

*68 While Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl involves a legal issue and therefore something that the UIISC does not typically deal with, we were certainly impressed with Justice Alito's on-point decision regarding eligibility as an Indian. Indian status is based on skin color (and appropriate levels of "Indian flair"). Indian-ness is purely a racial question. Fact is, us tribal people are exactly like African-Americans,  just lighter. The experience of our two communities is precisely the same.  Our identity as tribal people *69 certainly has nothing to do with the sovereignty of our tribal communities.  Indian tribes are not at all like present-day nations like the United States or France. Those entities have constitutions  with provisions, and additional laws, concerning citizenship eligibility.  Us tribal people are not advanced enough to consider things like adoption or group membership before the birth of democracy through the Revolutionary War. Finally, it surely does not matter that the Supreme Court of the United States has said that us tribal people are not (legally speaking) a discrete racial group but instead we are "members of quasi-sovereign tribal entities."  None of that matters. Us tribal people are brown--the Paint Chip Indian Principle is very powerful.

The other benefit of emphasizing only skin color is that it authorizes non-Indian brown folks and other minorities to represent us. Well, progressives get clearance to speak for us too, since they are our "allies." That way, us tribal people are not bothered by media inquires, political discussions, or anything else. It is exhausting having to speak for yourself. Plus, this reinforces the idea that us tribal people don't talk much--an important stereotype.

Take the recent media commentary on Ms. Krakowski in "Kimmy Schmidt." Ms. Libby Hill is rightfully concerned about the authenticity of Ms. Krakowski portraying an Indian.  Fellow minority Ms. Yohana Desta also recognizes the primary problem that the character is "a white woman who plays an American Indian woman."  Ms. Molly Sanchez gets it too. She says, "... the idea that Jacqueline, an obviously Caucasian woman, has two Native American parents is weird."  Near the end of her article, Ms. Sanchez hits the nail on the head with charging the character as "another instance of a white person playing a culture they are not."  Yes! Exactly! People with light skin cannot be Indians, so why is Ms. Krakowski perpetrating this fraud on the online viewing public? It does not require a bachelor's degree in anthropology to understand this point. For example, take Mr. Ira Madison III: "I know next to nothing *70 about the intricacies of Native American culture and even I was like, um, this doesn't seem ... right?"  Mr. Madison is right in so many ways. Most importantly, despite his admitted ignorance, Mr. Madison knows that us tribal people certainly cannot look like that. In that regard, the UIISC is making progress.

So, thank you to every critic that has responded to the off-message idea that a light-skinned, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed woman could ever be an Indian.  Us tribal people appreciate your attempts to reinforce the point that unless Indian characters are doing what they are supposed to do (be brown, stoic, and silent) then they should not be represented on television and film. If we start peeling back the curtain and showing non-Indians that we eat twinkles, watch Family Feud, and vote Republican  then who are we? What happens to our identity? In other words, if the character on the screen doesn't match the Washington Redskins football helmet, then it needs revision.

Ms. "Blanched Almond Rouge" is no Authentic Indian. Why do you think we had to put Ms. Hepburn in redface? Believability. Ms. Fey and her staff must recognize the harm caused by undermining the connection between brown skin and us tribal people. Us tribal people are unwilling to start mortgaging our carefully tuned image in the name of the white-progressive-diversity-obsessed lead efforts of racial inclusion in Hollywood.


Enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Water Law and Policy at Texas Tech University School of Law.

American Indian Tribes

Abnaki Northeast
Ais South
Alabama Southwest
Apache Southwest
Apalachi South
Apola South
Arikara Northwest
Arivaipi Southwest
Assiniboin Northwest
Atakapa Southwest
Atsina Northwest
Bannock Northwest
Biloxi South
Blackfoot Northwest
Brule Northwest
Caddo Southwest, South
Cahinnio South
Cahokia Midwest
Calusa South
Cape Fear South
Catawba  South
Cayug Northeast
Cayuse Pacific Northwest
Chakchiuma South
Chatot South
Chauilla  Pacific Northwest
Chawasha South
Chehaus Pacific Northwest
Chemehuevi Pacific Northwest
Cherokee South
Chickasaw South
Chinook Pacific Northwest
Chip Midwest
Chiricahua Southwest
Chitimacha South
Choctaw South
Chumash Pacific Northwest
Coahiultec Southwest
Cocapah Southwest
Coeur D'alene Northwest
Comanche Southwest
Coree South
Costano Pacific Northwest
Coushatta  Southwest
Coweta South
Cowlitz Pacific Northwest
Creek South
Crow Northwest
Cusabo South
Dakota Midwest
Delawar Northeast
Diegueno Pacific Northwest
Edisto South
Erie Midwest
Esselen Pacific Northwest
Faron Southwest
Flathead Northwest
Fox Midwest
Gabrieuno Pacific Northwest
Gileno Southwest
Gosiute  Southwest
Guale South
Guiacarka South
Havasupai Southwest
Hidatsa Northwest
Hidatsa Northwest
Houma South
Hunkpapa Northwest
Ia Pu Northwest
Illinois Midwest
Iowa Midwest
Iroquoi Northeast
Iuiseno Pacific Northwest
Jeaga South
Jicarilla Southwest
Jumamo Southwest
Kalapuya Pacific Northwest
Karankaw Southwest
Karok Pacific Northwest
Kaskaskia Midwest
Kauspel Pacific Northwest
Kichai Southwest
Kickapoo Midwest
Klamath Pacific Northwest
Kootenay Northwest
Kusa Pacific Northwest
Lemni Northwest
Leni-Lenati Northeast
Lipan Southwest
Lipan Apache Southwest
Llanero Southwest
Mahica Northeast
Maidu Pacific Northwest
Makah Pacific Northwest
Malecit Northeast
Mandan Northwest
Maricopa Southwest
Massachuset Northeast
Mdewkanton Midwest
Menominee Midwest
Mescalero Southwest
Mesquakie Midwest
Methow Pacific Northwest
Miami Midwest
Michiganea Midwest
Micmac Northeast
Mimbreno Southwest
Missouri Midwest
Miwok Pacific Northwest
Mobile South
Modoc Pacific Northwest
Mohawk Northeast
Moingwena Midwest
Mojave Pacific Northwest
Monacan South
Mono Pacific Northwest
Montauk Northeast
Muns Northeast
Nanticoke Northeast
Napochi South
Narraganset Northeast
Natchez South
Nauset Northeast
Navajo Southwest
Nez Perce Northwest
Nipuc Northeast
Nisqually Pacific Northwest
Northern Paiute Southwest
Nottoway South
Nuth Chal Nuth Pacific Northwest
Oglala Northwest
Ojibwa Midwest
Oneid Northeast
Onondag Northeast
Opata Southwest
Osage Northwest
Oto Northwest
Ottawa Midwest
Paiute  Southwest
Palus Pacific Northwest
Pamlico South
Panamint Pacific Northwest
Passamquoddy Northeast
Patwin Pacific Northwest
Paviotso Southwest
Pawnee Northwest
Pecos Southwest
Pend Porielle Northwest
Pennacook Northeast
Penobsco Northeast
Peoria Midwest
Pequot Northeast
Piankasha Midwest
Piegan Northwest
Pima Southwest
Pinal Southwest
Pomo Pacific Northwest
Ponca Omaha Northwest
Potawatomi Midwest
Pueblo Southwest
Quapaw South
Quechan Southwest
Quinault Pacific Northwest
Salinan Pacific Northwest
Sans Arc Northwest
Santee Midwest
Saponi South
Sauk Midwest
Saukcfox Midwest
Sawokli South
Secotan South
Senec Northeast
Serrano Pacific Northwest
Sewee South
Shasta Pacific Northwest
Shawnee Midwest
Shawnee South
Shinnecoc Northeast
Shoshone Northwest
Siletz Pacific Northwest
Siuslaw Pacific Northwest
Southern Paiute Southwest
Spokane Pacific Northwest
Squamish Pacific Northwest
Stono  South
Susquehanna Northeast
Tamaroa Midwest
Taposa South
Tawakoni Southwest
Tawehash Southwest
Tekesta South
Teton Dakota Northwest
Thomo O'odham Southwest
Timugua South
Tin-Amook Pacific Northwest
Tohome South
Tompiro Southwest
Tonkawa Southwest
Tula South
Tunica South
Tuscarora South
Tutelo South
Tutunti Pacific Northwest
Umatilla Pacific Northwest
Unalachtig Northeast
Uninh South
Ute Southwest
Vowhatan South
Waco Southwest
Wahpeton Midwest
Wailaki Pacific Northwest
Walapai Southwest
Walla Walla Pacific Northwest
Walpapi Pacific Northwest
Wappinge Northeast
Washa South
Wea Midwest
Weapemeoc South
Western Shoshone Southwest
Wichita Southwest
Wind River Shoshone Northwest
Winnebago Midwest
Wintun Pacific Northwest
Wiyot Pacific Northwest
Yakima Tenino Pacific Northwest
Yamasi South
Yankton Midwest
Yanktonai Dakota Northwest
Yaqui Southwest
Yaquina Alsea Pacific Northwest
Yavapai Southwest
Yokuts Pacific Northwest
Yuki Pacific Northwest
Yuma Southwest
Yurok Pacific Northwest
Zuni Coyotero Southwest
 

 


American Tribes by Region

American Indian Tribes
 
Abnaki   Northeast  
Ais   South  
Alabama   Southwest  
Apache   Southwest  
Apalachi   South  
Apola   South  
Arikara   Northwest  
Arivaipi   Southwest  
Assiniboin   Northwest  
Atakapa   Southwest  
Atsina   Northwest  
Bannock   Northwest  
Biloxi   South  
Blackfoot   Northwest  
Brule   Northwest  
Caddo   Southwest, South  
Cahinnio   South  
Cahokia   Midwest  
Calusa   South  
Cape Fear   South  
Catawba    South  
Cayug   Northeast  
Cayuse   Pacific Northwest  
Chakchiuma   South  
Chatot   South  
Chauilla    Pacific Northwest  
Chawasha   South  
Chehaus   Pacific Northwest  
Chemehuevi   Pacific Northwest  
Cherokee   South  
Chickasaw   South  
Chinook   Pacific Northwest  
Chip   Midwest  
Chiricahua   Southwest  
Chitimacha   South  
Choctaw   South  
Chumash   Pacific Northwest  
Coahiultec   Southwest  
Cocapah   Southwest  
Coeur D'alene   Northwest  
Comanche   Southwest  
Coree   South  
Costano   Pacific Northwest  
Coushatta    Southwest  
Coweta   South  
Cowlitz   Pacific Northwest  
Creek   South  
Crow   Northwest  
Cusabo   South  
Dakota   Midwest  
Delawar   Northeast  
Diegueno   Pacific Northwest  
Edisto   South  
Erie   Midwest  
Esselen   Pacific Northwest  
Faron   Southwest  
Flathead   Northwest  
Fox   Midwest  
Gabrieuno   Pacific Northwest  
Gileno   Southwest  
Gosiute    Southwest  
Guale   South  
Guiacarka   South  
Havasupai   Southwest  
Hidatsa   Northwest  
Hidatsa   Northwest  
Houma   South  
Hunkpapa   Northwest  
Ia Pu   Northwest  
Illinois   Midwest  
Iowa   Midwest  
Iroquoi   Northeast  
Iuiseno   Pacific Northwest  
Jeaga   South  
Jicarilla   Southwest  
Jumamo   Southwest  
Kalapuya   Pacific Northwest  
Karankaw   Southwest  
Karok   Pacific Northwest  
Kaskaskia   Midwest  
Kauspel   Pacific Northwest  
Kichai   Southwest  
Kickapoo   Midwest  
Klamath   Pacific Northwest  
Kootenay   Northwest  
Kusa   Pacific Northwest  
Lemni   Northwest  
Leni-Lenati   Northeast  
Lipan   Southwest  
Lipan Apache   Southwest  
Llanero   Southwest  
Mahica   Northeast  
Maidu   Pacific Northwest  
Makah   Pacific Northwest  
Malecit   Northeast  
Mandan   Northwest  
Maricopa   Southwest  
Massachuset   Northeast  
Mdewkanton   Midwest  
Menominee   Midwest  
Mescalero   Southwest  
Mesquakie   Midwest  
Methow   Pacific Northwest  
Miami   Midwest  
Michiganea   Midwest  
Micmac   Northeast  
Mimbreno   Southwest  
Missouri   Midwest  
Miwok   Pacific Northwest  
Mobile   South  
Modoc   Pacific Northwest  
Mohawk   Northeast  
Moingwena   Midwest  
Mojave   Pacific Northwest  
Monacan   South  
Mono   Pacific Northwest  
Montauk   Northeast  
Muns   Northeast  
Nanticoke   Northeast  
Napochi   South  
Narraganset   Northeast  
Natchez   South  
Nauset   Northeast  
Navajo   Southwest  
Nez Perce   Northwest  
Nipuc   Northeast  
Nisqually   Pacific Northwest  
Northern Paiute   Southwest  
Nottoway   South  
Nuth Chal Nuth   Pacific Northwest  
Oglala   Northwest  
Ojibwa   Midwest  
Oneid   Northeast  
Onondag   Northeast  
Opata   Southwest  
Osage   Northwest  
Oto   Northwest  
Ottawa   Midwest  
Paiute    Southwest  
Palus   Pacific Northwest  
Pamlico   South  
Panamint   Pacific Northwest  
Passamquoddy   Northeast  
Patwin   Pacific Northwest  
Paviotso   Southwest  
Pawnee   Northwest  
Pecos   Southwest  
Pend Porielle   Northwest  
Pennacook   Northeast  
Penobsco   Northeast  
Peoria   Midwest  
Pequot   Northeast  
Piankasha   Midwest  
Piegan   Northwest  
Pima   Southwest  
Pinal   Southwest  
Pomo   Pacific Northwest  
Ponca Omaha   Northwest  
Potawatomi   Midwest  
Pueblo   Southwest  
Quapaw   South  
Quechan   Southwest  
Quinault   Pacific Northwest  
Salinan   Pacific Northwest  
Sans Arc   Northwest  
Santee   Midwest  
Saponi   South  
Sauk   Midwest  
Saukcfox   Midwest  
Sawokli   South  
Secotan   South  
Senec   Northeast  
Serrano   Pacific Northwest  
Sewee   South  
Shasta   Pacific Northwest  
Shawnee   Midwest  
Shawnee   South  
Shinnecoc   Northeast  
Shoshone   Northwest  
Siletz   Pacific Northwest  
Siuslaw   Pacific Northwest  
Southern Paiute   Southwest  
Spokane   Pacific Northwest  
Squamish   Pacific Northwest  
Stono    South  
Susquehanna   Northeast  
Tamaroa   Midwest  
Taposa   South  
Tawakoni   Southwest  
Tawehash   Southwest  
Tekesta   South  
Teton Dakota   Northwest  
Thomo O'odham   Southwest  
Timugua   South  
Tin-Amook   Pacific Northwest  
Tohome   South  
Tompiro   Southwest  
Tonkawa   Southwest  
Tula   South  
Tunica   South  
Tuscarora   South  
Tutelo   South  
Tutunti   Pacific Northwest  
Umatilla   Pacific Northwest  
Unalachtig   Northeast  
Uninh   South  
Ute   Southwest  
Vowhatan   South  
Waco   Southwest  
Wahpeton   Midwest  
Wailaki   Pacific Northwest  
Walapai   Southwest  
Walla Walla   Pacific Northwest  
Walpapi   Pacific Northwest  
Wappinge   Northeast  
Washa   South  
Wea   Midwest  
Weapemeoc   South  
Western Shoshone   Southwest  
Wichita   Southwest  
Wind River Shoshone   Northwest  
Winnebago   Midwest  
Wintun   Pacific Northwest  
Wiyot   Pacific Northwest  
Yakima Tenino   Pacific Northwest  
Yamasi   South  
Yankton   Midwest  
Yanktonai Dakota   Northwest  
Yaqui   Southwest  
Yaquina Alsea   Pacific Northwest  
Yavapai   Southwest  
Yokuts   Pacific Northwest  
Yuki   Pacific Northwest  
Yuma   Southwest  
Yurok   Pacific Northwest  
Zuni Coyotero   Southwest  

 

Death by Boarding School: "The Last Acceptable Racism" and the United States' Genocide of Native Americans

Ann Piccard

Excerpted from:  Ann Piccard, Death by Boarding School: "The Last Acceptable Racism" and the United States' Genocide of Native Americans, 49 Gonzaga Law Review 137-185 (2013-2014)(219 Footnotes) (Complete Article)


ABSTRACT


For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: His duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but also offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.

Ann PiccardThere is a special kind of racism in this country against Native Americans, and it is the "last acceptable racism." The author of that poignantly accurate description of most Americans' attitudes towards Native Americans, who is both a Native American and a Jew, noted,

Not that long ago, white administrators of Indian boarding schools told our children that the "Indian in you shall die." This kind of treatment and forced thinking has a lasting generational effect. It can be difficult to break through that type of programming. Many of our people, however, have shaken off these forced ideological shackles to speak the truth and demand long overdue respect. Our voice is getting louder.

Our words are being said with more frequency and emphasis. But people need to hear us. Societal racism should no longer be an ad hoc affair, which is routinely accepted when directed against a certain group. It should be universally condemned. Perpetuating past wrongs and dehumanizing concepts hurts everyone.

This last acceptable racism is rarely mentioned in the U.S. However, one day in a very small town in northern Minnesota, in an area that has been *139 economically depressed ever since the decline of the taconite and iron ore mining industry several decades ago, I watched two Native American men park a pickup truck in front of the local pawn shop.

I could tell the young men were Native Americans only because of the Bois Forte Band license plate on their truck; other than that, they looked, sounded, and acted like most of the other men in that rural north woods town. Upon reflection, of course, I realized that their skin was slightly darker than most residents of the town; I also began to notice that I did not see dark-skinned people working or shopping in any of the town's stores. My eye was untrained, a fact that I attribute to my upbringing in the Deep South, where I was in a small minority of white children who were raised by our parents to see and to protest (and refuse to accept) the prevailing racism toward African-Americans. The subtle differences in appearances between the Native Americans and the "whites" in Minnesota had gone unnoticed by my Southern eyes. But as we watched the young men take their chain saws into the pawnshop that day, my husband remarked that men in northern Minnesota who hock their chain saws must be in pretty bad shape, because how could they survive, let alone make a living, without such tools?

*140 The image of these two young men stayed with me, and led me to ask why and how the local Native Americans had been reduced to such dire straits in this rugged and isolated northern Minnesota town. As I began to pay attention, I realized that the Bois Forte people, whose reservation lands are so close to the town of Cook, were largely invisible. They were not in the post office, not in the bank, and certainly not in the restaurants or on the motorboats on the lake.

How this group of Native Americans lost their livelihoods, their self-sufficiency, and much of their own history and culture, in a relatively short time, symbolizes the last acceptable racism in the U.S. Even the name "Bois Forte Band" is a product of the federal government; the indigenous peoples of North America certainly did not use such labels for themselves. There are many factors that contribute to mainstream acceptance of racism against Native Americans. This article only examines the role played by the United States' Indian boarding schools in the genocide of Native Americans--genocide that destroyed a people physically just as much as it did culturally, decimating families, communities, and traditions--using the Bois Forte Band of the so-called Chippewa tribe in northeastern Minnesota to provide a context for the analysis. The Indian boarding school system examined in this article bears no resemblance to the handful of currently operating boarding schools that are scattered across the country. For example, the Chemawa school in Oregon has been in operation in some form since the late 1800s, but in its present form it requires that applicants submit a lengthy application not unlike a college application, and the school's philosophy statement explicitly recognizes that the students' ability to adapt to change must be "interwoven with reverence and the inclusion of traditional Native American tribal cultural values." This is a far cry from the old "kill the Indian, save the man" philosophy of the original Indian boarding schools.

Part one of this article provides an overview of why the United States, since its inception, has felt not just entitled but obligated to make every effort to bring about the complete annihilation of those peoples who were indigenous to this continent. It is not the goal of this article to chronicle the many, many ways in which the United States' people and government have abused, cheated, deceived, murdered, and decimated those people who were here before the first *141 Europeans arrived on this continent. Instead, this article aims only to demonstrate that the use of the Indian boarding schools was an act of genocide under international law, particularly with regard to the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. This narrow focus is the result of a conscious effort to avoid unnecessary stereotyping; every member, of every band, of every tribe of Native Americans is an individual human being, whose experiences are unique and personal. There is no point in casting a wide net that tries to snare all of those experiences and lifetimes in one neat package. As noted elsewhere, "Native peoples are not a monolithic group. Each indigenous nation has its own story to tell with regard to human rights violations." Part one of this article also provides a summary of the history of the Bois Forte band of Native Americans. It will especially reference the ongoing intergenerational trauma created by the federal government's mandatory boarding school "education" for the band's children, designed not to educate those children but, instead, to instill in them the whites' belief that everything "Indian" was bad, inferior, and evil.

The second part examines the development of the international human rights norms regarding genocide as a crime against humanity, and demonstrates why the United States' use of Indian boarding schools meets every definition of genocide, whether ratified or customary international law. Part three looks for a solution, and examines the Canadian government's response to its own system of residential schools for the Natives in Canada, including monetary reparations and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canada's response stands in sharp contrast to the United States' complete lack of response, and this article suggests that even an inadequate response is better than none at all.

*142 Finally, the fourth part calls for the federal government to adhere to its international human rights law obligations to prevent and punish genocide in all its forms. The U.S. attitudes that ignore the past and permit the "last acceptable racism" are indeed the same thing as killing the dead a second time.

 


 

Professor of Legal Skills, Stetson University College of Law

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